Exploring the World of Self-Help Literature Exploring the World of Self-Help Literature
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I love a good read, especially one that is filled with insightful wisdom about life experiences and how to navigate the world’s fair share of challenges. There’s just something about knowing that your problems aren’t unique and you aren’t the only person on earth doomed with their peculiar set of circumstances. I repeat, I love a good read. There’s just something about holding that fresh book in your hands that brings an exhilarating rush of adrenaline. Combine that with the potency of a catchy title that seems to match your current dilemma and bingo; self-help junkie alert!

I love self-help books. I think some books offer really fresh perspectives and can help you view things in a much broader lens, when read objectively. That is, when you’re in a fresh and objective frame of mind, or just reading for sheer entertainment. But that’s the catch. It took me some time to fully analyze the psychology behind the world of self-help literature and it helped me understand some of my own motivations for being drawn towards self-help.

They call it “self-help” for a reason. The aim of such literature is to offer a fast and easily accessible solution that one can refer to when faced with a particular glitch. Self-help books can range in all fields be it business, relationships, socio-politics, etiquette, you name it. However, whatever the specific niche may be, the common denominator is that they are aimed at offering help, that one can readily apply to the “self”.

While most self-help books have become extremely popular and trendy to the point some have even turned into blockbuster movies, one must constantly remind themselves to always enjoy their read with a grain of salt. In the back of their minds, one must always remember that at the end of the day, no matter how awesome the book may be, they are still nevertheless the opinions of the author, shaped by the author’s own set of unique experiences. While this may be a good thing, as experience tends to be the best teacher, it also has its drawbacks. People’s experiences change people, especially negative experiences; some experiences make one better, other experiences make one bitter.

I was reading a book the other day by a fairly known author. The book caught my eye due to its catchy title, and from the outset seemed to be addressing the kind of issues that were plaguing my mind at the time. Until, thirty pages or so into the book I realized something, something just wasn’t right. I actually felt really terrible about my situation and to some extent almost angry… Somehow, the contents of the book had managed to trigger something in me and it didn’t feel good. Now this may very well be subjective as we all have our unique trigger points. So I decided to take a step back, put the book down and truly analyze what it is exactly that I was feeling or what was going on here.

So I observed the nature of the language in the book, the jokes and references I had read so far and finally the overall tone and message of the book, and to be fair, the book though entertaining to some degree, was pretty condescending and down right toxic. And that’s when it hit me; one has to really be careful about the books one decides to read, especially in the arena of self-help. The reality for most people is that we often resort to self-help books when we’re in a moderately vulnerable space and desire to gain information that will help us solve a certain issue or offer some type of insight. Authors and marketing gurus know this, hence make tonnes of effort into formulating the most eye-grabbing and trendy titles.

The downside is that at your most vulnerable state if not careful, you may find yourself reading a book that perpetuates your negative emotions even further at the end of the day without really offering much help, except giving you a more cynical view of the world. Granted, not all books are supposed to be peachy and read with rose-tinted glasses, but at the very least they can be respectful and to some degree sensitive. What we read and the content we consume in our minds has an impact towards our mental space. A reckless dive into the world of self-help can actually lead to self-destruction as opposed to the very help that one aspires to get. So what should one do to have a positive, fun and beautiful learning experience in the world of self-help?

Read those reviews!

Nowadays, with apps like audible, amazon and the likes, it’s quite easy to read reviews made by previous readers. Read those reviews before you waste your hard earned money, valuable time and mental effort. Within those reviews you will notice a particular vibe in what others think of the book and be able to make a well-informed decision. If a book is decent enough you’ll know! Do this before putting your mental health on the line and reading something completely toxic. Once that toxicity gets in, it lingers for some time and it takes quite the effort to get it out.

Ask yourself what you genuinely expect to get out of the book

It’s important to truthfully assess what you expect to get out of a book and have realistic expectations. If you’re honestly looking for a strong dose of tough love, then maybe a certain type of book is for you, if you’re in a bit of an emotional space and desire something more sensitive and nurturing then aim for something that embodies those aspects. But the last thing you want to do is find yourself reading something extremely insensitive or dismal when you weren’t mentally ready to receive it!

Review the author as well

Usually authors tend to write books that have a similar train of thought or overall message at the end of the day even if they’ve written several books. Reviewing an author before hand will give you a general picture of the author’s perceived personality and writing persona, which ultimately influences their overall content. This will assist you in deciding whether the works of a particular author may or may not be up your alley.

Only take what resonates

Remind yourself that at the end of the day, the book was written by a human being just like you and I who is prone to flaws and error. Reminding yourself of this before hand will help you develop an objective and discerning state of mind well in advance and prevent you from entering the negative pitfalls of toxicity that can sometimes be hidden in self-help literature.

Written by

Hilda Tizeba

Guided Path Tanzania

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Hilda Tizeba
Written by

Hilda Tizeba

I am a lecturer and the CEO and Founder of a mental health organisation called Guided Path. I strive to eliminate stigma through education, advocacy and utilising the law to bring forth meaningful policy and legal reform in the mental health sector in Tanzania.

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