Self-Help on Breaking the Self-Help Addiction

NOTE:  I’m going to start some entries on some of my favorite self-help authors, so I’m kicking it off with this essay I wrote in 1996.   Because it was written over 10 years ago, some of the references to specific authors are a bit outdated, but you’ll get the point.

Every dummy needs a "Dummies" sometimes

Every dummy needs a "Dummies" sometime

In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was the only self-help book around, for at least a few thousand years, anyway.

But 20th Century Americans, in the spirit of free enterprise, have noticed that if the Bible could consistently break all sorts of best-selling records, just maybe they could profit by copying the winning formula of motivation and inspiration, with a few good proverbs thrown in.

And thus begat the mega-trend of self-help which shows no sign of slowing down.  As for me, I may just be at my saturation point.

I’ve ridden out all the advice from doctors on diets ranging from grapefruit to zero fat and from psychologists telling me how to get uncodependent and feel O.K. about myself.  Robin Norwood told me I love too much; Leo Buscaglia told me I don’t love enough.  John Bradford told me that 99% of all families aren’t working; Dr. Dobson told me how to be part of the 1% that is.  I’ve been colored beautiful and have put first things first in my life.

And so, having reaped the benefits of all this wisdom, I must be the most perfect person alive.  But I’m not.  Millions of self-help addicts like me must be equally disillusioned, because now the publishers have come out with advice that won’t be over the heads of its readers–advice in a series of books for “dummies” like me.  Personal Finance for Dummies. Time Management for Dummies.  Even Sex for Dummies.  In spite of all the reading I’ve done on self-esteem, I’m still heading for the books written for dummies.  Perhaps I could rectify this by reading a book called Self-Esteem for Dummies.

My husband thinks my obsession with self-help books is ridiculous.  He constantly tells me, “Just get off your _ _ _ and DO all this stuff you’re reading about.”  He does have a point.  Once I bought a book on decluttering which I never read because it got lost among the clutter under my bed.  It is somewhat ironic that in order to read the book Do It Now you have to stop doing “it.”  There should be only one chapter in any self-help book on procrastination:  “Chapter One:  what are you doing lying around reading this book?  Get off your lazy butt and get busy!  Now!”

So, instead of buying the next level of books for the improvement-impaired, I’m going to quit the self-help thing altogether.  Here’s my advice for others addicted to words of advice:

  1. Say this affirmation daily:  “My parents taught me just as much, if not more, as M. Scott Peck ever could.”  My life has never been significantly impacted by any single self-help book.  Did Martin Luther King need motivation from Normal Vincent Peale to lead his March on Washington?  Did Kennedy rely on Dale Carnegie to boost his charisma?
  2. Realize that in this age of recycling, the one thing that gets recycled the most is advice.  An article on improving your love life by any other name is still the same old stuff on improving your love life.
  3. In a moment of weakness, when you are compelled to run to Barnes and Noble for the latest opportunity to become a perfect human, go back to the beginning.  Read your Bible, or your Koran, Torah, or just your own gut.  Read classics, where self-help abounds.  After all, Shakespeare never said “To thine Wayne Dyer be true.”  It’s to thine own self he said to be true to, whether you’re a man from Mars, or a woman from Venus, or just a typical self-doubting earthling.


  1. Best Wishes says:

    How true! Just be yourself and decide what you want in your life. Cheaper than a library of books. Good luck

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: