I love the idea of self-help and a lot of the ideas the genre as a whole presents. But with that being said, there are many valid critiques of the genre, that even as a self-help lover, I notice and even agree with. It is important to take into consideration critiques no matter how much you love something, and that is what I did researching three articles that discuss critiques of the self-help genre.
First I read Improving Ourselves to Death by Alexandra Schwartz. (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/15/improving-ourselves-to-death.
I really enjoyed this article because it had a “real” feeling to it. I feel as though a lot of concepts in the genre of self-help can almost feel “magical” and unobtainable, and this article discusses the same feeling. In the article, Schwartz speaks about how inadequate self-help can make you feel. There are so many ways to “self improve” ourselves, from practices that “help” the inside, to other practices which only fix outer appearances. But inherently seeking help for something, means there is something wrong in the first place. So in pursuit of this “internal happiness” that is promoted through the idea of self-help, it can also do the opposite by convincing you that you are so broken you need to be fixed. A great example she uses within the article is from the book “Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimization Movement” by Carl Cederström and André Spicer. In this book, these two professors set out to try a new self-help technique each month and target those areas of themself that “need” help, for one year. In the end, Spicer reveals that “He doesn’t feel like a better version of himself. He doesn’t even feel like himself. He has been like a man possessed.” He says he spent the year doing things so unlike him he has lost touch with himself. And he also says he lost touch with others because he was so focused on himself. The whole article speaks on this concept of perfectionism within the self-help genre and how completely unhealthy and even selfish it can be.
The next article is by an author that is within the genre. Mark Manson creator of ” The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” discusses ‘5 Problems with the Self- Help’. Industry'(https://markmanson.net/self-help). I find this ironic since he is within the industry but also perfect for that very reason. At the beginning of the article, before he even starts the list, he says that self-help is “a market-driven, rather than a peer-reviewed industry.” This shows that the focus is not on making sure the information is the most accurate rather on what is the most sellable. The first and the last reason he discusses is similar to the critique in the previous article. He talks about how someone who is already feeling, feelings of inferiority might look at a self-help book and think “A Bad-to-OK person will read the same book and say, “Wow, look at all of this stuff I’m not doing. I’m an even bigger loser than I initially thought.” He says before learning any self-help lesson you need to have self-acceptance and see yourself as “a good person who makes mistakes”. Manson also discusses that self-help practices can easily become a tool for avoidance. If a person complains about not having a job because they drink too much. And they replace drinking with yoga but still don’t have a job, clearly, there is a bigger issue of laziness going on. Next, he discusses how unrealistic self-help can be. Promoting that through certain practices of self-help such as, suppressing certain feelings, or filling an already anxious person with information on relaxation techniques, only temporarily provides relief. Another problem he speaks on is the lack of medical credibility when it comes to the practices, he says majority of self-help information out there is either a placebo at best or complete bunk at worst.”
The last article I discovered was “Why the Self-Help Movement Keeps Leaving Us Feeling Helpless” by Alexandra Davis (https://verilymag.com/2019/05/why-the-self-help-movement-keeps-leaving-us-feeling-helpless).
This article touches on a few of the different critiques within the self-help genre. First, she discusses how self-help typically lacks the answer to “why”. Yeah, meditating can calm you down but why do you have those feelings of anxiousness in the first place. Davis states “And where does this leave us eager listeners? Drinking all the green smoothies, visualizing all the success, and opening all the retirement accounts, but still left wanting.” Meaning once you adapted all these improvement practices, what’s next once you don’t feel this overwhelming, relieving feeling. She also, like the other two articles, speaks on the feeling of inadequacy. And how in this age of perfectionism and seeking to improve every aspect of yourself is impossible to achieve because as a human you will make mistakes. And lastly, she touches on the subject of how self-help blames the victim. Gurus promote that you are in charge of everything in your life, but that simply is not true, and chronic diseases or loss of a loved one is evidence of that.
Schwartz, Alexandra, et al. “Improving Ourselves to Death.” The New Yorker, Jan. 2018, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/15/improving-ourselves-to-death.
Manson, Mark. “5 Problems with the Self-Help Industry.” Mark Manson, Mark Manson, 16 Apr. 2021, markmanson.net/self-help.
Davis, Alexandra. “Why the Self-Help Movement Keeps Leaving Us Feeling Helpless.” Verily, Verily, 21 May 2019, verilymag.com/2019/05/why-the-self-help-movement-keeps-leaving-us-feeling-helpless.
Self help critiques (Aryanna Smith)