I am sorry for breaking the bubble, but self-help is not for everybody. I wished it was, though. You see, some people who really need help to move on from trauma, to be more confident, or less anxious don’t try self-help therapies because they think it’s a hoax.
When you approach these theories with prejudice and distrust, you are only closing your mind to a possible solution. Instead, if you research, and try to see things with a different perspective, and dare to try new approaches that can’t harm you, that’s exactly how you start healing.
Today I want to tell you what you need to know about self-help, how to start practicing it, and why it may not be convenient for everybody.
What Is Self-Help?
Let’s start right from the beginning. I have met people who used to listen to the words “self-help” and immediately twist their mouths and roll their eyes. And that’s okay, really. We live in a world were questioning and skepticism are necessary, but only to a certain point.
Self-help refers to the process of becoming a better self through inner work and without relying on others (and by others I mean the mandatory presence of a Psychologist, coach, etc.) And even though it’s completely doable, not everybody chooses to see it that way, and for others, it’s a matter of incompatibility.
Self-help is not the same as self-care, although they are related. Self-care means to do good things for yourself to feel better or to heal yourself from past wounds. When a person is practicing self-help, to a certain point they are also practicing self-care, because they are doing things that nurture their awareness and improving their life experience.
For example, when you wake up in the morning and take the first five minutes for meditation, and then taking a nutritional breakfast instead of cursing the alarm and eating a plate full of bacon and eggs, that’s self-care.
Planning your week according to the goals you want to achieve, putting your attention into your feelings so you get to understand deeply enough why and when you feel like you feel, and being conscious enough to criticize yourself softly and only with improvement purposes, that’s self-help.
Why Is Self-Help Useful?
There’s a reason why self-help is also known as self-improvement: it’s not a passive way of healing. When I defined self-help and mentioned this is something that can be done without the central figure of a “leader” who tells you what to do, I left enough room for yourself and a group if needed.
Self-help is useful for many people in the world because not everybody has the time, disposition, motivation, or money to go to therapy. And some others, don’t have the family support, wish to remain anonymous, or don’t trust mental health professionals. That’s the harsh truth.
Self-help grew as a movement in the 20th century because it was answering the demands of individuals who had changed; we no longer have the time to be in a room with a therapist three times per week, but we still need to heal and become better persons, that’s why self-help grew so popular.
Mankind is capable of deconstructing itself, each and every single one of us can take a look inside and identify where we are hurting, the difficult part is knowing what to do and how. Hence the popularity of self-help books these days.
However, in the core of the self-help methods, there’s a beautiful thing called self-help groups, which are formed by other people like you who need to be part of a community that cares, or at least that understands what they are going through.
Since I have worked with self-help for a long time, and have mentored people who practice it regularly, here are some of the benefits of self-help I have counted over the years:
- Self-help empowers people of all kinds. This is a practice that can be performed by almost anyone in the world, no matter where they are or what they do. It’s emotionally satisfying to realize how far you have made it on your own, it makes you feel like you can conquer harsh situations, even if advice or sharing your feelings is a necessity.
- You get to customize your routine. For better results, I recommend people to design a plan about how they think they can start practicing self-help. And this plan includes everything from why you need to do this, and how to achieve it. Something that usually is designed by a therapist without asking for your opinion.
- It’s a time saver approach. We spend a lot of time working and trying to accomplish many goals at the same time, we deserve a break from that stress, and self-help allows us to practice it when we want to. As long as there are constancy and commitment to yourself, you can do anything.
- Enjoy your privacy. One of the hardest things about going to therapy is being completely honest with a stranger. It could take months or years before you feel 100% comfortable talking about your darkest fears to another; self-help helps you understand why you feel ashamed of some things but also respects your need for anonymity.
- It’s cheaper than therapy. I really wished money wasn’t a subject of discussion here, but some people just can’t afford regular therapy. They are brave enough to seek the help they need in self-help books, they experiment with their emotions until they find something that works for them. And I believe it’s not only courageous but also decisive. Self-help made possible the healing and improvement for people with less economic resources.
- It’s efficient. People who commit to this kind of approach avoid more mental breakdowns, hospitalizations, and isolation than those who can’t afford a therapist and do nothing about it. Also, around 80% of those who commit to self-help groups develop better family ties, hold on their jobs, go back to study, develop better self-esteem, higher confidence, and romantic relationships.
So you may be thinking “Okay, Baz. But if self-help is so great, why did you say it wasn’t for everybody?”. I said it because this approach may not be beneficial for certain people.
For example, those with a diagnosed mental disorder may find trouble facing their situation alone and may need more guidance than those who don’t have a disorder.
Also, those who think self-help is about reading a few books and miraculously becoming a better person won’t have a good experience with this kind of approach.
Self-help involves hard inner work. You will have to deconstruct and rebuild yourself many times. This is a trial and error approach.
Self-Help for Beginners
If you are considering joining a self-help group or practicing on your own, there’s got to be something about you that needs to be healed or improved, right?
To start this journey, you need to identify what that thing is. If, for example, your goal is to be more confident, you need to look yourself in the mirror and be completely honest with yourself.
Make the right questions. Why do you want to be more confident? Why aren’t you confident now? What do you think being more confident will help you somehow? Once you start understanding your motivation, you will have a better look at your self-help plan and how, to begin with.
Whatever goal you want to achieve, whether that is money, love, stability, happiness, or health. The better it is described and understood, the clearer will be the path to achieve it.
There’s only one small inconvenience: your lies. For this self-help approach to be functional, you need to be honest and keep your feet on the ground.
Don’t dream about getting married and starting a family if you know you’re not ready for a relationship. Don’t set the goal of being a millionaire when you still struggle with making it to ends meet.
Instead, set our goal as being emotionally responsible and opened to welcome a partner, whether that means a life together or not. Aspire to be more responsible about your economics, and start making arrangements in your budget.
See why is so important to sit down and deconstruct yourself?
Tips for Not Quitting Your Self-Help Practice
I have found out that people often quit their self-help practice because they are not constant enough, and of course, many feel bored because we are not used to be alone with ourselves for so long.
It is important to create habits and routines for a better outcome. My advice to you is to design a self-help plan with a schedule that suits you perfectly.
Some of the people I have mentored prefer to sit down with themselves and a diary every night to check how they have been feeling, some others prefer to do it on specific dates.
This is entirely up to you, but I recommend to keep regular hours for this matter, at least for a month or two until you get used to this kind of examination.
Another thing I have noticed that helps a lot is including self-care habits to your routine. I will show you some ideas, but feel free to add anything else that seems suitable for you:
- Take care of your body. Do you want to have a burger for dinner? Go ahead, but try to make the next meal healthier. If you have time to walk instead of using the subway, do so. Small changes lead you to big ones.
- Take care of your mind. Another weekend of Netflix? Really? I love binge-watching too, but our brains need some extra challenges: reading a book, solving puzzles, learning something new. It’s all about balance.
- Be more gentle. With others, but especially with yourself. Instead of mentally insulting you for doing something wrong at work, take a step back and see yourself as someone who is trying to improve, and that mistakes are part of being human.
- Listen to music. It helps you to relax and cheers you up at the same time. You can take a few minutes to listen to your favorite tracks or discover new ones on your way to work, before going to bed, or while cooking!
- Try meditation and/or yoga. You can begin with short guided meditations to help your brain learn to focus and notice how your body not only feels more flexible but also lighter. As it was becoming a safe place for your mind to habit.
- Avoid unnecessary confrontations. Some people just want to argue, without any purpose or reflection. Learn to identify these patterns and walk away from the end situations. Save your energy.
- Disconnect from your world. The real and virtual one. Give yourself the opportunity to be with you only. Manage to be comfortable around you and your thoughts. Try putting away your phone and TV for an hour a day, notice then how your productivity, patience, and awareness improve.
I am not going to recommend you self-help books right now, in fact, I’m sure you could recommend a few. Instead, I hope I have clarified what is self-help about, and hopefully, made you connect with the possibility of improving.
I still support what I said: self-help may not be for everybody, but I promise it’s worth the try. But doing it with a solid intention of becoming a better person, for you, your loved ones, and your bright future.
After giving it a try, if do not feel comfortable with it, you can always try a different approach. Self-help is not a dead-end, nor it will make you waste your time if you try it.
Be patient and kind with yourself, this won’t be a light road. But I am here for you if you need me, and I believe that only by reading all these lines, you have just started your way to self-help.