Self help books can bring you down

I knew it! I knew that certain self help books weren’t actually all that helpful. Well, I didn’t know it but I suspected it – and not just because telling yourself that you are a wonderful, deserving and successful person seems so inherently un-Scottish. Repeating a mantra in the mirror to try and persuade yourself that you aren’t the worst person in the world always sounded destined to failure to me. Especially because I really think most people are happiest when they forget what they look like!

Well now a study has revealed that depressed people who repeated positive self-reinforcement actually felt worse about themselves. Take that self help industry (well, section of the self help industry that relied on cheap fixes – there are extremely helpful and useful parts of the industry too)!

Honestly though, as if no one ever thought that forced repetition of positive thoughts wouldn’t cause contradictory thoughts to also be reinforced in the minds of depressed people before. I mean, shucks, ever tried telling someone with an eating disorder something positive about their weight?

The problem is that some self help books attempt to exist in a vacuum and claim to offer sufferers a quick fix. While positive thinking techniques can undoubtedly help as part of a broader programme of recovery, the technique shouldn’t be embarked on in isolation as it seems it’s likely to have exactly the opposite of the desired effect.

Raising self esteem isn’t as simple as talking yourself up in front of the mirror, but it isn’t impossible. Ignore the tired line trotted out by books, magazines and TV shows and turn to people who can really help, whether professionals, friends or authors that chronicle the human condition and its pit falls for the edification of everyone rather than to make a quick buck.

2 thoughts on “Self help books can bring you down

  1. I’m glad this study caused a reaction in you; it’s good to exercise one’s intellect. The Canadians, however, did a disservice to people with low self-esteem. The masses will likely interpret the study as a rebuke of the well-established benefits of ‘positive thinking’. Much like your statement “The problem is that some self help books attempt to exist in a vacuum…”
    Can you honestly list some examples. Clearly your experience in reading these books has been quite different from mine. The Canadians got it wrong but not becuase they misinterpreted the results.
    I’ll be posting more on this in my own blog, soon.
    God Bless You,


    • Hi Jose – thanks for stopping by.

      I tried to make sure that my post did not tar all self help books with the same brush, but maybe not successfully enough? Right now there are 79,704 self help books listed on Amazon, obviously there are many books in this category written by experts in their fields, equally there are sure to be many that are designed to make some money.

      The problem I have is not with the books per se, but with the quick fix people seem to believe these books offer and the advice that is simply parroted without in-depth consideration. Books of the ‘Pocketsized guide to developing self worth’ ilk could do more harm than good, but if there’s money to be made then someone out there is going to abuse the market. That’s not to say that plenty of people don’t write advice books with love for their peers at heart.

      What can I say, I’m a cynic 


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