I hate self-help. I always have. So it’s interesting that over the past year I’ve been entrenched in reading at least two self-help books a month. My friend Misty asked if I liked self-help, because she was starting a podcast about it. “I bleeping hate it,” I replied. I didn’t say, “bleeping.”
Misty and I have good comedic chemistry, so we ventured off into the world of self-help and podcasting. She was a frequent visitor to self-help, I a first-time tourist. We were both finding our footing with producing a twice-weekly podcast.
When Self-Help Doesn’t Help
While production details with a fun, reliable, amazing partner like Misty turned out to be the easiest portion of the journey, my problems with reading self-help began immediately. I recognised the inherent privilege oozing from the (predominantly) white, male, educated, able-bodied authors. Sadly, it didn’t help when we read female authors: their demands that I Be a badass/Take control of my life/Think only good thoughts/Do All The Things made me feel more lame, more overwhelmed, more self-critical and more frustrated.
Why wasn’t there room in any of these books for my clinical depression? For my serious uncertainty about the choices I’d made in my life – including moving to LA later than most, trying to become an actor when I wasn’t a size 00, being unmarried and not really interested in putting the energy into dating, and financing the beginning of my career on debt instead of earning a solid pay cheque? I was all of the things these writers seemed to be helping readers overcome – lack of money, lack of relationship, and lack of a body desirable enough to be comfortable in.
Why Do You Need To Be Thin, Rich And In Love To Be Happy?
Looking back, it’s no wonder I resisted. They weren’t speaking to me, and they never intended to. The best-sellers it seems keep perpetuating the myth that being thin, in love and rich will make you happy. Sure, not all books promoted this. But a shockingly high number of self-help books seem to think that wealth and “health” (e.g., being thin) will make you happy, and able to find a relationship/marriage. Even books on finance used fatphobic terms like “flabby budgets”.
About six months in, I had a breakdown. Misty and I were consuming (and still do consume) self-help at a voracious rate. We read it to truly comprehend, present and summarise, not just perusing for what strikes us and leaving the rest. And all that self-help was taking a toll on me. In addition to giving me helpful, insightful tips and tricks to “hack my life”, it was making me feel paralysed and incapable. On a phone call to my best friend Sarah, I cried. “I feel so stupid because of all these ideas I’ve learnt and I’m still sad and frustrated.” She gently pointed out that this was exactly what we needed to talk about on our podcast.
Lisa (right) and Misty started having honest conversations about self-help.
Me vs The Self-Help Industry
I immediately called Misty and told her how I was feeling. A credit to our friendship (and who she is as a human being), she said “screw the podcast. If it’s making you unhappy, let’s ditch it.” But Sarah’s insight prevailed, and it led to one of the most vulnerable episodes we’ve had. In the moment when Misty acknowledged that self-help books do not validate or acknowledge an individual’s experience – I felt a wellspring of sadness and relief open inside me and I exhaled, finally being seen and understood. My entire body relaxed. I didn’t feel like I was Don Quixote, fighting against the ever-present windmills of self-help. Once I understood why I disliked this genre so much, I could actually move forward and process my experience.
Holy Shit, Therapy Works!
So, I guess self-help did help? Yes… sort of. In the sense that after feeling alienated and alone, my years of therapy (over twenty combined individual and group therapy) kicked in and I reached out to the support system I’d created, named and identified my emotions and then sat with them, tolerated them and received input from trusted sources – leading to an emotional release and eventually my ability to move on and make peace with the deficiencies of self-help. Note: therapy is not self-help.
Self-Help With A Pinch Of Salt
I’ve read over thirty self-help books in the last year. Some were mildly useful, some truly great, some so unbearably awful I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. Have I found things that are helpful? Sure. Have I changed my life? No. Do I recommend self-help to people? Not really. Do I have a deep-seated distrust of self-help books that do not come from an intersectional perspective? Of course. And don’t even get me started on the inherent problem with the “self” of self-help. The idea that individuals are tasked with doing it all alone. Self-help is truly an American creation, so it makes perfect sense that we expect individuals to pull themselves up by their bootstraps… even when their communities, governments and social systems fail them epically or even take their boots out from under them.
So, for now, I enjoy being the challenger of self-help on our podcast. It fits me. Don’t tell me otherwise, because… although you know me much more after reading this, YOU DON’T KNOW ME.
Check Out Lisa’s Podcast
Lisa Linke is co-host with Misty Stinnett of Go Help Yourself, a comedy self-help podcast to make life suck less. You can find episodes anywhere you get podcasts, or take a look at their website.