There's Self-Help, and Then There's Helping Yourself

There's Self-Help, and Then There's Helping Yourself

By Gina B.

I was taking a critical look at my overflowing bookshelves the other day, deciding which books to keep, which to re-read, and which to donate. I decided to keep all of the books written by friends, as well as classics that I love. I reached the small self-help area, and couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

All of those books were purchased during times that I was in bad relationships, and I was looking for answers on each and every one of those pages.

The anger management book, with its screaming red spine, stuck out immediately. Next in line was another book that outlined the stages of love. A collection of articles introduced the concept of releasing and letting go. At the end of the shelf was an odd book that, according to back cover, featured the correlation between food, liquor and the need for love.

I remembered exactly what was going on when I read most of those books.

The anger management book was purchased when I was dating a particularly frustrating and unnerving guy. He was a selfish asshole, and I found myself having violent fantasies, and feeling like I was going to kill him any minute. I didn’t have an anger management problem; I hated him. My rage issue was healed the minute we broke up.

The book that defined love was bought to determine what I felt about a certain boyfriend. The conclusion? I didn’t love him. Next!

The anthology of essays compiled to teach me how to release and let go was great. But the real issue was that my then boyfriend refused to release and let go of his substance abuse problem. I released him and let go of the book.

Finally, the love/food/liquor book was still a mystery.  I don't know what that was about.  It looked as though it might have been bought while I was in school. I can’t determine what necessitated slapping $8.95 plus tax on the counter for that gem, but when I look back on my college “relationships,” the liquor was likely the problem.  As was the pizza that I was so fond of ordering.

Looking back on those titles, it was evident that I already knew the answers when I bought the books.  In each relationship, however, I was looking for someone to help me make a definitive decision – or to tell me that the dysfunction that I was experiencing was a normal growing pain in a healthy relationship.

But, honestly? I really didn’t need self-help books to tell me that that I wasn’t in love, that I shouldn’t be dating people who value drugs/alcohol more than me, or that grinning like a Cheshire cat as I plotted the untimely death of a significant other was unhealthy (and would land me a prominent feature on Dateline).

I knew all of those things. I just needed to open my eyes, look at my situation realistically, and make a decision.

It's called self-help for a reason.  You'll digest the reading materials, and perhaps attend seminars or meditation classes.   But at the end of the day, the onus is yours to help yourself and make a positive change.

I’m certainly not knocking the billion-dollar self-help industry. There are plenty of self-help books that provide necessary perspectives and suggestions. But I know that if I’m in a relationship that I’m struggling to make work, and I find myself spending extraneous amounts of time gathering reading materials and finding ways to “get in touch with my inner self,” the real answer is that I need to find a way to make myself happy – whatever that means.

Fortunately I don’t have the need to buy a self-help book at the moment, but if I ever do, I hope to have the presence of mind to attack the issue myself before seeking outside help. Because, really? When it comes to my relationships, mine is the only professional opinion I’ll ever need.

Although I could use the space, I might not purge the self-help books just yet.  They’re a part of my history.  And they’re so damned entertaining!

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