By: Miranda Babbitt
The very name “self-help” can evoke two meanings. One: Empowerment and a vision of you, cape billowing gloriously in the wind, triumphantly standing on a mountain, beaming out at this world that you’ve so thoroughly conquered. Two: a rather sorry sight of you cowering underneath a table of books, each one screaming out, “No, I can help you!” “No, me!” “Pick me, I was on Oprah!”
Now quite frankly, the second image may be a little more familiar, even if you don’t necessarily hide underneath the table (because if do, yes, you really do need help). Some people swear by self-help books, others scoff at the idea alone. Do they really have the miraculous power to change your life in just a few hours of reading?
As a whole, self-help books are an empire that have sold millions, if not billions, to those who are struggling with insecurities, problems and areas in need of improvement. It is these very qualities that publishers capitalize on. Any person who has wandered into the self-help aisle will inevitably be feeling a little lost, a little insecure. The more lost and insecure they are, the easier it can be for other problems that they hadn’t even considered to suddenly become a life or death situation that they need immediate help on. Now there isn’t simply one book to dutifully rest on your bedside table, but a pile of five others! All with problems you never even realized you had!
Self-help books don’t necessarily ensure ultimate privacy either, which they are so often hailed for. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want “Am I Secretly Bipolar?” or “I Don’t Want to Admit I’m a Cat Lady” or “I’m A Narcissist, Love Me for Who I Am!” casually lounging on my coffee table for any stray eyes of house guests to peruse.
And it seems obvious, but anyone who is stressed out enough to pick up a book on self-therapy isn’t in a proper state to be diagnosing themselves with disorders anyway. It’s more as if they have walked half way down the path to legitimate help, and stopped to pick up the brochure by the wacky, waving, inflatable tube-man instead, who just looked so damn convincing in his abilities. Cue the author nonchalantly leaning against a wall, perhaps a beret atop his balding head, and that smile that just announces to the world, “Me? Having it all together? Oh you.”
Now, even though I have often said that Google knows more about me than anyone else, typing a confession into this search engine certainly isn’t the same as allowing your insecurity to escape the confines of your own mind and into the hands of another who can help instead. A phone call, email, quick note, or a private conversation between you and a therapist or trusted friend will release insurmountable amounts of satisfaction that the words on a page don’t necessarily ensure. When it comes down to it, Google doesn’t have a heartbeat, and neither does a book. If you’ve spent hours crying into its pages, I’m sorry to tell you, it simply doesn’t care. Cruel when I put it that way, eh? But for some, that’s exactly the kind of help they need. Facts on a page, testimonials in margins, instructions on how to overcome their difficulties on their own. For all the flack we give self-help, they’ve got something – other than the praises of Oprah – to offer.