Donna Smaldone
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Wednesday / July 13 / 2011

Why “self-help” makes you squirm: we need to be kinder to ourselves

Ever walk into a bookstore, be told the title you’re looking for can be found in the self-help section, only to feign some sentiment about how much your dear friend will appreciate they have it in stock?

What’s the big deal about seeking self-help? Why does it have such a negative connotation? Why do I squirm when I think about the book I’m writing — my book — ending up in the “Self-Help Section”? Is it because when we hear “self-help”, we think, “weak”, “needy” or “babysitter needed”?

Time to get over ourselves. There’s strength in vulnerability. And I’m not just talking about books… they’re just scratching the surface.

The problem is that “help” is an antiquated term that means desperate — especially when preceded by “self”. I know you want to feel like you have everything under control. But you don’t. And PS… you shouldn’t.

I like how Rachel Held Evans discusses it in her post, “On being kinder to ourselves“.  She cites a great ‘for instance’ of finding herself in need of a nap but disallowing herself to take one, calling the luxury ‘wasted time’. But then when her friend posts on Facebook about taking a much-needed nap, her first instinct is to write an encouraging, “good-for-you” comment.

Day after day, issue after issue, we deprive ourselves because we don’t want to risk vulnerability — all the while happily helping our friends who’ve been brave enough (read: smart enough) to expose theirs (which by the way, we’d label ‘hypocrisy’ in any other situation.) Ah, yes, the ongoing battle between self-love and selfishness.

We spend so much time justifying why don’t need to help ourselves or seek help, that we neglect to recognize we deserve to. Who cares in which section a book is located? If mine’s in the “Self Help Section”, I’m planning to announce it to the world. Heck, that’s precisely where I’ve found many of the books from which I gleaned “a ha” moments.

It’s self-discovery. And self-discovery is a journey. When you stop growing or seeking to be a better “you”, you better be dead! It’s time to stop squirming and start taking Rachel’s advice. Befriend yourself. Be kind to you. FOLLOW the advice you give your dearest friends. Start right now. You deserve it.

12 responses to “Why “self-help” makes you squirm: we need to be kinder to ourselves”

  1. Sally Scuderi says:

    I like this, Donna. I think the Zen expression that we need to smile more at ourselves is so important. I am at the stage where being true to myself and looking after my yearnings is considered hip now. I am glad it is, but I feel that my younger sisters in life need to do the same.

  2. Donna Smaldone says:

    Well said, Sally. For some reason it’s easier to laugh at ourselves than it is to smile. But the truth is, if you think you’re worthless, you’ll be worthless. But if you think you have some value, you’ll act as though you have some value (more here: http://bit.ly/qUIg3M)

  3. Maury Thompson says:

    The thing about so-called “self-help” books is that most of them are actually “somebody else’s help” books. Sometimes you just don’t fit into someone else’s mold. You can get good advice from someone who has already conquered what you’re tyring to conquer. But you can’t take it as gospel. — Maury

  4. Donna Smaldone says:

    Your point is a good one, Maury. There’s no guarantee that any one “self-help” book is either good or appropriate for every individual. We’re each on our own individual journey and no two are the same. I err on the side of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. We have so much to learn from one another. Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. Dave Lion says:

    Donna, I think someone is strong and assertive for seeking self-help. They are taking command of their lives and their situations rather than the opposite. More power to them for being proactive. It’s kind of like using a How-to-do book.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      You are dead-on, Dave. We DESERVE to take care of and love ourselves. It’s about stepping out and embracing the journey of self-discovery.

  6. Jeff says:

    donna, we are planning to move to Florida to a 55 and over community called the Villages. We need to first sell our home here in Maryland before we can buy in Florida. We had a buyer who signed a contract and we went forward with plans to be in our new Florida home by the end of august. The buyer had second thoughts and backed out.
    This left us with the feeling of being in limbo not really being content with our current situation. I did a lot of praying on this. The answer that I got came clear as a bell. It is to not worry about tomorrow and enjoy our current situation. I don’t always get answers to prayers, but when I do they are crystal clear and not from me.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I applaud your attitude and outlook, Jeff. There’s strength in vulnerability and you and Ursula have certainly grabbed hold of the self-discovery journey. Way to listen to your “a ha” moment and be kind to yourselves. You deserve nothing but life’s best, and that treasure is evident in your “we”.

  7. Jessica says:

    Love it xo
    When I sit down to read a book it is always one that feeds my soul, feeds my love tank, feeds my mind, or feeds something I didn’t evening know that I was hungry to learn!! It is amazing how honest the reading can be and in my opinion if you can be honest with yourself while reading the book then you are smack dab in the middle of growth 🙂 Cheers!!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      “Smack dab in the middle of growth” is the best place to be, Jessica. Afterall, when you stop growing or seeking to be a better “you”, you better be dead! Don’t forget to water the growth. Nourishment is key.

  8. Rachael says:

    I honestly, never thought that way of the books in the self help section. In fact, I think most of my non-fiction books are from the self-help section…especially the Chicken Soup books. I love that when I read a self-help book, it will help me to learn.

    I think it is easier to tell ourselves that we have it under control because in all reality who wants to admit they are out of control. I know it is true for me. It is almost like if you don’t admit it, then you do not have to do anything about it! You said it right though, “we dont and we shouldnt”

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      So refreshing to hear from you, Rachael! You are a precious soul and I love your desire to learn.

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