Do Self Help Books Really Work?

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On the road of life, you’re going to fall down once in awhile, getting cuts and bruises in the process. When you have a cut, you look for a band aid. But when you have an emotional injury, identifying the proper treatment method can be more difficult. How do you know when your emotional injury is treatable at home or whether you need to see a clinical therapist trained in treating depression?

It’s common to self-treat through a variety of positive and negative means. Self-help books can be powerful guides on the road to recovery. But they can also produce feelings of inadequacy and guilt on readers who are in a vulnerable state of mind. So how do you know if seeking a self-help book for depression is the right choice for you?

Doing a brief search on Amazon for “self-help and depression” reveals hundreds of titles promising relief from depression. Books of this genre promote personal transformation through a wide range of methods, all of which can be done independently. The modern American consumer is drawn to the philosophy of self-help – the industry is growing and does $10 billion per year. As the self-help industry continues to increase in popularity, however, we are often reminded that quantity does not necessarily equal quality.

How does a reader find “good” self-help books?

Self-help is a broad category, and to be fair, not all self-help books are the same. Along with the flashy, quick-fix titles are a number of well-written books offering reasonable advice. Many of these, such as Greenberger and Padesky’s Mind over Mood, come highly recommended by professionals and include practical exercises built around the evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

The search for a proper self-help book should be treated similarly to the search for a qualified therapist. Ask for references from friends, family and medical professionals. Do your research on the author. Some authors may hire ghostwriters to complete their works for them. Or, the author may have been well respected in the past but has since lost credibility. Make sure the author is considered to be a reliable, current source of information.

Try to read a sample of the book before purchasing or borrowing it. This can be easily done on Amazon for most books. Look for a “tone” or voice in the writing that you connect with. Reading a book that feels like work will be incredibly difficult. You need to find one that motivates you to continue progressing through the chapters.

Who are self-help books good for – and who shouldn’t rely on them?

The benefits of self-help books often depend on the reader’s state-of-mind. Does the reader believe they can achieve exceptional results – or do they feel helpless?

Depression can cause individuals to experience feelings of the latter, making it difficult for them to benefit from self-help books in their current mindset. For this reason, some of the most useful self-help books are in the “personal development” category. These books focus on improving one’s mindset and on forming healthy habits of behavior. Once these patterns are established, it becomes much easier to follow problem-focused guides aimed at correcting specific, complicated issues in one’s life. Without a solid foundation of positive thought and faith in one’s abilities, the odds are against the reader.

At what point are self-help books not enough?

The very nature of self-help books requires the reader to be capable of working through logical steps to solve a problem. However, individuals with clinical depression are plagued with irrational thought. Most self-help books will take a logical approach to this problem: replace irrational thoughts with rational ones. This may be helpful to some, but remember that a depressed individual is often incapable of maintaining positive, rational thoughts. This is not a flaw of the individual, but a symptom of the condition. Here is where the paradox begins to unfold. A depressed individual encounters a conundrum when attempting self-help; that is, effective treatment is dependent on the individual’s state of mind. That is quite a challenge to face.

A common theme in self-help is the endorsement of positive affirmations. The individual engages in positive self-talk about themselves; with the expected result that they will be able to overcome their negative self-image. Affirmations are repeated until they are accepted as reality. Unfortunately, people with ongoing depression often struggle with this method. They are rarely motivated enough to follow through with the exercises and generally lack the confidence required to believe they are capable of change. To make matters worse, failure to complete tasks creates further complications for someone who is already experiencing low self-worth.

Try to imagine the frustration that manifests. A reader, desperate for answers, discovers time after time that reading self-help material just isn’t helping. He assumes that he must be flawed in some way, as this is consistent with the belief that his situation is hopeless. You can see how easily this can translate into a self-fulfilling prophecy and further magnify depression.

Can a person overcome adversity on their own using self-help literature?

It’s possible. However, embarking on a journey of self-discovery is anything but easy. A person is often faced with harsh realities and can experience a number of difficult emotions. Some of the strongest held negative beliefs are deeply rooted in past trauma. It is more beneficial to work with someone that can help build self-reliance, rather than attempt to navigate through a series of general exercises. An experienced therapist can help keep the individual grounded in reality so they can avoid the dangers of self-help.

As humans, it is only natural that we are drawn towards the path of least resistance. A quick fix solution is far more attractive to the average person than the reality of what it takes for cognitive restructuring to take place. We are incredibly driven to improve our lives, but at the same time we are emotional and sensitive to criticism. We are often our own worst critic but for some, there is a very real need to seek professional treatment for negative self-thoughts. Often the best course of action is to seek out a trusted therapist in your area, meet with them and ask for a reference list of reading material to help you. This is the safest solution for you and offers the greatest chance at achieving successful results for the long-term.

9 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

Most people long to be in a relationship, but how do you know if you’re in a healthy or toxic relationship?

The biggest contributing factor to overall happiness is our connection to other people. We long to be heard and understood by people and to share our experience of being human with others. Friendships and family are critical to our feelings of being connected to one another, but romantic relationships and marriages are particularly important for most of us. We have these longings because of biological urges, cultural values, desires to feel loved, or inclinations to complete ourselves. It’s definitely not a bad thing to want to be in a mutually beneficial relationship. Unfortunately, if we are in too desperate of a rush to enter into one of these, we can end up settling for unhealthy relationships that harm us.

Here is a list of signs you’re in a toxic relationship, along with some tips for working towards relational health.

The relationship brings you more stress than happiness.

When two people come together to form a relationship, whether in friendship, dating or marriage, it’s common to have friction at times. In the beginning, this can be attributed to “figuring each other out.” As a couple becomes more serious over time, conflicts will surely develop. Occasional conflict is normal and is even healthy in relationships. Deciding on what to eat, where to take vacations, financial decisions and other joint efforts may involve a degree of conflict and compromise from both parties. But if you find yourself feeling angry, resentful, anxious, sad or in fear of your partner, this needs to be addressed. How often you have these feelings is also important. If the “bad days” significantly outweigh the “good days”, it’s time to reevaluate the health of your relationship. Talk with your significant other about what is making you so unfulfilled, or go to couples counseling to get a professional’s help to work on communication issues between you and your partner.

The Green-Eyed Monster is a constant presence.

Can jealousy ever be healthy? Maybe, in small doses. But if it’s always around in your relationship, this is a sign of toxicity. It is usually an indication of a lack of trust between you and your partner, and it often keeps people from being able to pursue their own friendships and interests outside of their romantic relationships. Sometimes extreme jealousy in a person is a symptom leftover from being hurt in the past. To get past it, it is important to develop a strong foundation of trust. It can be helpful to make a decision to trust each other unless either of you finds a reason to doubt. It is also good to clearly define boundaries, for example, letting your partner know if it’s not OK for them to go through your phone.

Your friends or family members don’t like your significant other.

Assuming that your friends know you well and are supportive people in your life, they often sense toxicity before you do since they aren’t wearing the rose-colored glasses of infatuation. You don’t have to accept everything they tell you as absolute truth, but it’s worthwhile to encourage them to get to know your partner and to listen to their concerns if they have any. One large sign of toxicity in relationships is if your partner attempts to create distance or limit contact between you and your friends and family. It’s also just easier and more fun for you if all your people can get along and enjoy each other’s company.

Sex is the only thing that brings you together.

The physical side of the relationship is important, but if it’s the only part holding the relationship together, you’re missing out on the potential for emotional support and a fully enriching relationship. Having sex is also not a long term method of conflict resolution. Problems in the relationship that disappear in the bedroom often resurface in the living room. Sex is but one facet of expression in a healthy relationship. Other important elements of a successful, happy relationship include expressing affection and praise for each other, performing loving actions for each other and respectfully giving one’s attention to their partner’s needs.

You’re not yourself.

It’s normal at the beginning of any relationship to try to impress the other person and show your best side, but in a long-term relationship it’s crucial that eventually you become comfortable. As cliche as it sounds, being yourself is important for your own mental health. Otherwise, you may experience stress, avoid your real interests and passions, and remain unknown by a significant person in your life. Things that keep you from being honest and real with your partner could include an overly critical boyfriend or girlfriend, negative self-esteem, or a bad experience in the past.

There are no outside interests.

It’s fantastic if you guys love spending time together, miss each other when you’re apart, or can’t wait to see each other again. It’s a sign of an obsessive, unhealthy relationship if you can’t enjoy yourself alone and have nothing outside of your relationship. Not only would this be devastating and isolating if you do end up breaking up with your partner, but it puts too much strain on the relationship. Definitely still enjoy each other’s company, but make sure there are other things you like to do. This could include hanging out with other friends and family members, joining a stand-up comedy class, baking cupcakes, really anything that brings you joy that you can pursue on your own.

Arguments are Frequent, Painful, and Unproductive.

This one may seem obvious too, but there are many people that stay in emotionally abusive or tiring relationships because of habit, strong feelings, or fear of the unknown. Physical and emotional abuse should not be tolerated in a relationship, but it takes courage to commit to leaving patterns of abuse that develop over months and years. Even relationships that aren’t typically classified as abusive can have their share of arguing and fighting.

As mentioned earlier, conflict in relationships is normal and to be expected. But couples should avoid the “Four Horsemen” of relationships: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, through decades of research, has defined these four extremely detrimental argument techniques. Each of these has a more productive approach that will lead to healthier conversations and outcomes that appease both parties. Sometimes taking a break to cool down from the heat of the moment can help you both get to a place where you can rationally discuss your feelings and the reasons why there’s so much frustration. Seeking professional counseling or taking a break from the relationship can also be healthy options, depending on your situation.

You fear or avoid personal growth.

This occurs when one or both of you are fearful of losing what you have, leading you to avoid any change. A healthy relationship will provide opportunities for both of you to grow and mature, and ideally you are continually doing this together. Encourage each other to pursue new opportunities, both personally and as a couple. Providing mutual support and having conversations about this can help couples stay on the same page about how they’re developing so they grow together instead of apart.

There is constant personal criticism.

The more you get to know someone and feel comfortable with them, the more you’ll know how great they are and also how great their faults are. Have you ever met a person that seems perfect after a year of knowing them? You’ll see the things no one else does, like how weirdly they brush their teeth or how they don’t pack their suitcase like a normal human. There might be bigger things too, like your partner may struggle with controlling their temper or staying humble or being a workaholic. This doesn’t mean you have to accept everything about your partner without having honest conversations about what bothers you, but if you really love someone, you love them even when you know their faults. Things to help you from being overly critical include regularly telling your partner all the things you love about him or her and reminding yourself of the times your partner is kind to you when you have faults too.

The biggest red flags in relationships often grow out of a desire to avoid all imperfections and inconveniences or a fear of opening up and showing someone our true selves. It’s unrealistic to think we’ll never be unhappy or have any of the problems listed above, but addressing these problems before they become deeply entrenched patterns are crucial to the health of ourselves and our relationships.