I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.
I read my first self-help book at 28. It was by Iyanla Vanzant and it was In the Meantime. I found it very useful at the time. Her premise was simple: you will get the love you deserve, In the Meantime, you've just got to get yourself sorted. It sat on my bookshelf, next to my Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
A few months after that, I had cause to hang out with someone who didn't have one self-help book, she had one bookshelf of them. She bought the CDs, the DVDs, went to the weekends and she was probably one of the most dysfunctional people I've ever met. Conversations with her were difficult; it was like fielding volleys delivered in Psych 101. An endless analysis of my 'issues'. It wouldn't have been so bad except I couldn't see where all the self-help stuff actually improved her Life and her relationships. All it seemed to do, was to give her a better vocabulary when it came to criticising other peoples' behaviour and motivation. Oh yeah, and mine. We don't hang out any more.
That experience made me somewhat cynical. Ultimately, it raised the question: does the guru walk their talk? Can someone who is in a dysfunctional relationship, is unhappy in their economic activity, is unable to maintain warm friendships, can they tell another person the best way to live their lives? How important is their present-story to their guiding someone else out of the darkness?
I'm asking questions. I don't have the answers. These are questions I ask myself daily.
How useful are self-help books, if instead of one, a person needs a whole book-shelf of them? Do they undermine self-reliance, or do they provide a valuable insight to Life, the Universe and Everything? Is there a clear cut answer, or is it like truth, a blending of the two?
If a person is constantly referencing their behaviour externally, i.e. they ask other peoples' opinions in order to understand what's happening around them, it shows a lack of confidence in their decision-making skills. No doubt, you've already met them. When you all sit down to dinner at a restaurant, they ask everyone what they're having before they can even think to chose something to eat.
The other end of the scale is the internally referencing person, who doesn't need to ask anyone, anything because they're right and that's that. I'm sure you've met someone like that too. Impossible to deal with because their view of reality is inflexible.
Those are two extreme examples, most people swing between the two, which I think is a good thing. Flexibility is one of the key behaviours which promotes good mental health and well-being. Being able to adjust to new circumstances and the surprises Life throws, rather than trying to impose a world-view on an entirely incompatible situation, dictates how well a person resolves inter- and extra- personal difficulties. This is the cornerstone of NLP. A person cannot change what happens outside, but they do have a choice in how they react and feel about it. It's about taking control. It's what I love most about NLP. Anyway, I digress.
Since 1998, I have acquired quite a few self-help books. Some of which I bought thinking: that'll be good to read, and they've sat bored on my bookshelf. Others, I've read cover to cover and over again. A year ago, I became a Licensed NLP Practitioner and in that time, my collection expanded exponentially. I was intrigued to find out what other people were saying about the path to wellness. I find I can't put them down. I read them and then compare and contrast with what I learnt from Bandler and his team last year. Many of the books are NLP manuals, the nuts and bolts of NLP techniques, some of them are not. I find some of them useful, some of them quite appalling. But over the next few months I'm going to be reading them all (did I mention I bought quite a few without reading them?) and I'm going to be sharing my thoughts on them with you.
In the Meantime, if you've got any suggestions and thoughts, for goodness sake: join in. The more the merrier. This is a journey we're all sharing and the more opinions and thoughts you contribute, the more enriched our time together will be.