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Enough Self-Help Already

22

March 6, 2016 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

Reading-image-reading-36781450-785-1063

I’ve been doing a lot of reading in my attempt to explore contentment.

I have an intuitive sense that for me, contentment is going to involve paring down to essentials, and using more of the minimalist tools I’ve employed in the past. So the phrase “Enough Already” came readily to mind when I was trying to decide on a title for the post in which I announced the year’s theme. If I ever turned this blog into a book, I thought, “Enough Already” might end up being a good title.

So I did what many people do when considering a title for a book. I googled it to see if it’s been used before. It has. Three times. Reading these books seemed a legitimate research project. Though I have to admit that doing so at times proved challenging.

If you thought a blog on contentment would be free from carping and criticism, you are about to be deeply disappointed.

In fact it is my critical, perfectionist nature – turned on myself as often as it is on others – that has convinced me I need to practice contentment more. My tendency is to make a beeline for the negative, to foreground everyone’s flaws the moment I feel anxious, threatened or afraid. Which, let’s face is, is a fair amount of the time.

I come by this honestly. I grew up in a house with a deeply discontented, hypercritical, controlling parent who had his own reasons for being the way that he was. We all have our reasons. All the same, to understand why you think or behave the way you do is not the same as having the tools you need to change those thoughts and behaviors. It is, as the logicians would say, necessary but not sufficient.

Consider yourself warned.


In the MBTI Personality Inventory (that’s Myers Briggs Type Indicator, for those of you unfamiliar with the test), I’m an INTJ. That means that Introversion, Intuition, Thinking and Judging are dominant aspects of my personality. Despite the fact that my other parent influenced me by being more in Thumper’s Mom’s camp (“If you can’t say anything nice….don’t say nuttin’ at all”), I am likely to get a little judgy here.

I try to find something good in everything I read, and I am used to the self-help genre being a mixed bag. Nevertheless, the author of Ecclesiastes is more right now than ever before: “of making many books there is no end, and much studying is a weariness of the flesh.” I’m never going to get those hours back, so the least I can do is try to make some sense of why they were mostly misspent.

Only one of the three “Enough” books actually has contentment in the title.

Well, the subtitle anyway. So I can’t really blame the others for not addressing my chosen topic. That’s why I really don’t want to consider these remarks “reviews.” It’s also why I’m only giving the subtitles. If you want to figure out who the authors are on your own, that’s fine, but I’m not interested in giving anybody’s work bad press. Just because I didn’t get what I was looking for doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

The first book’s subtitle is Create Success on Your Own Terms. It is an earnest bit of life coaching from a young man not much older than my own children, whose experience with what could have been a life-threatening illness caused him to re-evaluate his priorities and leave his big money PR job to focus on “health and wellness, brand energies and sacred entrepreneurship.”

Alrighty then. Brand me skeptical. It’s part of my MBTI profile.

INTJ

The second book, subtitled Clearing the Clutter to Become the Best You! should appeal to my minimalist proclivities. Its author is a television personality, and, as I would know if I’d ever watched the Oprah network, Enough Already! was the name of one of his shows. He seems, in many ways, a kind and compassionate man, one who can bring out the tough love. But media celebrities on their third book who take the thing they are best at and expand it to cover All of Life can wear a little thin.

The third book is subtitled The Power of Radical Contentment.

It is published by Hay House, an organ of the New Thought movement. I had never heard of the New Thought movement before, but I assumed it was something New Age-y. Turns out I had the relationship backwards.

I often read several books at a time in different genres.  Coincidentally, while I was reading this I was also reading a memoir by Barbara Sjoholm called Blue Windows: A Christian Science Childhood. It’s a beautiful book, impeccably written – the only beautiful book I will be mentioning today – and I highly recommend it.

Sjoholm goes some distance to explain the history of Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science in the 19th century, as a means of putting into context her mother’s own tragic descent into mental illness when she was unable to faith-heal her own cancer. Mary Baker Eddy was a early disciple of Phineas Quimby, the founder of New Thought, and Christian Science has much in common with it.

A lot of the book is inspirational coaching.

Cheerful, uplifting, motivational pablum on being happy with your lot, practicing gratitude, realizing your own inner goodness, trusting the universe to support you. Inspirational coaching. Who could find fault with that? It may not be deep, but what harm does it do?

The author has contributed to Chicken Soup for the Soul, Paula; lighten up and sip the soup. I gleaned some wonderful quotations in the book, though there were some pretty terrible ones too. Personally I don’t think anything you label “source unknown” or “attributed to” has enough authority to be cited in a publication. But then, I was born before the Internet.

The difficulty I have here is the difficulty I have with most forms of New Age thought.

Or for that matter, Christian Science. To some extent I do agree that your thoughts can influence the reality you inhabit, and that you attract to yourself what you manifest or imagine. But that simply is not enough to explain the presence of suffering and injustice in the world, nor is it a sufficient tool to free people from these things. It is merely a form of self-hypnosis.

There are times when self-hypnosis can be a useful thing, but if you turn such a practice into dogma it makes it very easy to become complacent, to believe one’s good fortune is a product of one’s right thinking, and vice versa. To judge others – and oneself – for having “wrong thoughts.” It also makes it very tempting to stuff down negative thoughts, to deny their reality, and not to own your ugly moments.

Me, I have to own the ugly. I have to own it to let it go. And I’m not sure the Self-Help section of my local library is up to the task.

I may have to bring out the big guns.

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22 thoughts on “Enough Self-Help Already

  1. I love this post. 💕 The name is perfect for your book (if you don’t mind sharing…not sure my thoughts on that). The non-reviews are fabulous. The self-hypnosis thought is interesting. True. Does this make it less valuable? Depends, I think. On the situation, the person, the reason it’s needed. Well, Paula, that last paragraph is a kick in the gut. “I have to own the ugly. I have to own it to let it go.” I am the same way.

    This: “to understand why you think or behave the way you do is not the same as having the tools you need to change those thoughts and behavior.” So much yes.

    Also, I recently took the Myers something something test thinking…eh, what the hell. It is frighteningly accurate. I’m an INFJ.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ack! Sorry this got so long!

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      • No need to apologize for the length, Sarah, though I need to apologize for waiting so long to respond. Some weeks the day job is especially demanding, and I still don’t seem to be able to produce posts very far in advance. I just work them over more. I love the people who take the time to comment, but sometimes I wait until I have enough time to respond in kind and then I find myself ready to publish the next post without having responded to the last. Aargh.

        I do think self-hypnosis and positive self-talk are valuable tools that people can benefit from, especially people that are prone to anxiety, self doubt, and neurosis. (Yes, I am raising my hand.) I too, believe the wolf that comes to the door is the wolf that you feed. What I worry about are the people who skip blindly through the woods insisting there’s no such thing as wolves, and tell me I can’t conquer my fears unless I do the same thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. jan says:

    I try to stay away from the self-help sections – too much ugly for me as well! Take care and go easy on yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue Vincent says:

    Fluffy-thinking books seem to do far better than anything that actually wants you to think things through, look for a solution and roll your sleeves up to work for change. It isn’t that great a reflection on humanity’s ostrich tendencies…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Inspirational, motivational jargon actually brings out the worst in me. Maybe because I don’t buy the idea that the universe is all that benevolent. It doesn’t mind knocking you flat. Which might be good–to make you wiser, stronger–but it doesn’t always stop there. The idea of some poor kid changing child abuse by thinking happy thoughts annoys me. There are things beyond our control, things people should get angry about and change.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Annecdotist says:

    Judge away, Paula, your non-reviews really made me smile. Don’t forget the J in the Myers Briggs isn’t about being judgemental but orderly and planned. What’s not to like? I’m INTP, by the way.
    I’m in general agreement that there’s a shallowness in the think-yourself-happy advice, given that it often comes from people who don’t personally have an awful lot to be unhappy about, but there are also elements of positive psychology that support a more sophisticated practice of this, such as not dwelling on the negatives and particularly practising gratitude (much as it pains me to admit it, it’s that count your blessings mentality).

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    • Actually I like the whole premise of positive psychology; to study what makes for well-being. That’s often confused with, but very different from, denying the reality of suffering. And as I said in a different way to Sarah, I well know the dangers of ruminating, of over-analyzing and staying stuck in resentment, guilt or shame. I know that focusing on appreciating the things you want to grow and increase in your life can actually change how you experience their presence. Which, in my grumpy and begrudging way, I am gradually slouching toward.

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  6. elainemansfield says:

    More books I won’t need to read. Thank you and thanks for taking me along as you explore. I’m a sensation-feeling type. awed by intuitive thinkers (such as my dead husband who was in awe of my sensation-feeling functions, so a good match). I did the simpler Jung version of this test about forty years ago, but it doesn’t take a stretch to guess I’m a judge. Sometimes an unforgiving judge. I once considered myself extroverted, but now introverted because of changes in this life and body. That change began about twenty years ago. Trying to find the right label doesn’t bring me a sense of contentment.

    Self-help books wear me out. I was advised to make ‘Leaning into Love’ into a self-help book, but it isn’t my style. What do I know about what someone else should do unless something I did rings true for them? Self-help books, like advertisements for make-up and hair color, make me feel something is radically wrong with me. No contentment there.

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    • My son, who works in a bookstore, said to me last night, “I prefer the term self-improvement.” And left it at that. I, too, seemed to have changed in my type over the years, in that I am less extreme in my preference for thinking over feeling than I when I first took the test as a graduate student, and someone married to another INTJ. Labels can be both liberating (oh, THAT’s why!) and confining, both when looking at your own behavior and that of others.

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  7. caslee2000 says:

    If I don’t “own the ugly” I obsess over it. I have to acknowledge it and accept its presence before I can get rid of it. :) I had to chuckle when you stated your Myer’s Briggs – I’m INFJ. Although I am buried in my thoughts most of the time, I am so sensitive it hurts. But judging? Yep. Right there with you!

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    • Yup. Although as I told Elaine, my T and F are closer than they used to be. Where sensitivity goes, however, I’ve learned some skills for questioning those feelings – thinking them through – which helps assess whether they have any basis in reality. Often my default mode is “It’s about me, isn’t it?” when in fact it is actually not. David Burns’ book Feeling Good was very helpful in that regard.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Terry Tyler says:

    Most interesting post, Paula, and one that had me nodding my head. So much self-help is fairly trite and jargon filled, I find. And all those quotes that sound so ‘oh yeah, that one really speaks to me’ can so often be forgotten within 5 minutes, and only ‘work’ if they’re acted upon. I read lots of these sort of books when they began to be seriously in vogue at the beginning of the new age nineties, and only a couple of things ever stuck with me and altered the way I behave/think/react. I think experience and an analytical mind work as well as anything else!

    In 1990 I lived for six months with a friend. Both of us had just gone through a divorce. I dealt with it by getting straight out and into the world again (maybe too much too soon, but still), and J dealt with it by sitting in a chair and reading self-help books, searching for a way to contentment, knowing herself, working out what she really wanted in life. By the time I stayed with her again, 9 years later (following a break up after a relationship of 6 years), I’d had a couple of different jobs, met loads and loads of new people, written several novels and generally just got out and about. While I was staying with her I met the man who would become my 2nd husband. Meanwhile, J sat in her chair waiting for the perfect life situation to come along; she was so filled with all this theory that she hardly dared try to live in practice. I made lots of mistakes, and each time she would refer me (slightly smugly, it has to be said!) to such and such a book. But she never went anywhere or met anyone; it’s easy to be filled with inner peace if you never do anything to challenge it! Nothing beats LIVING, and thus learning.

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    • Self-help is great for finding contentment with yourself. It’s nice to know some strats on how to be more positive, love yourself and bear being around yourself especially when you’re alone. Lol. The MBIT test. Made my mom take it and she was scared a the results because it was so accurate. I think you would need to be real about the answers you give though, the blunter, the more accurate your results.

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    • I hope you’re not trying to tell me something, Terry. ;-) As it happens, both my chair and myself are moving in May, and for the first time since 2012 I will be living in my own place again. Then comes the meeting new people and getting more out and about. Because as much as I need time alone, and a place of my own, too much of it will surely drive me crazy.

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  9. […] was complaining last week about the shallow approach to soul-building often found on the self-help […]

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