Can We Trust Self-Help?

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Personal Development, Psychology

Recently I came across a report called ‘A Cheat Sheet for Writing Blog Posts that Go Viral.’

Even though I was fully aware of the triggers of that particular headline… I downloaded it. It told me that we were secretly all  insecure hypochondriacs, and that a blog post promising to cure something, dispel myths or describe symptoms of a problem/threat with a proposed solution ensured popularity. I’d proven the author right by downloading his report. Because it’s a fact that most consumers will go for products that promise them “real” change with a minimum of effort and commitment. If there’s two fixes, all other things being equal, we’ll go for the quicker one. We like the cheat sheet.self-help

But whereas a report on headline hacks might be effective as a quick fix, others promised by the online self-help industry can lead to greater problems. A dismissal of professional help as useless or even as part of a greater conspiracy. A constant play on our desires and wallets for instant gratification.

Working as a blogger in the field of personal development I am part of this phenomenon, which gives me a duty to address this danger. The title of this blog for example, was created from the advice from the report. If you’re reading this article then you can be sure the trick worked. You – like me and many others –  are susceptible to the sensationalism and speculation that entices us to try and understand our brains and behaviour better1.

If you’re still reading now (and haven’t shut your browser in disgust) you can also be sure of one other thing. Our obsession with our brain is on the rise. If pop culture is the external barometer which shows our internal desires, our interest in our brains is growing. It’s the underlying focus of movies like Inception, Trance, Total Recall, The Bourne Identity, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Other movies such as Awakenings, The Notebook, Driving Miss Daisy, and A Beautiful Mind explore the, at times, devastating effects of mental illness. TV series like Star Trek use mind manipulation on a regular basis, and even shows like Friends use the brain as a plot device for entire episodes. When Joey gets a new brain his character Doctor Drake Ramoray is transformed into the character of Jessica Lockhart, previous owner of said brain. Our brains are what makes us, us. And we do like us.

The primary consumer goals for brain self-improvement include self-mastery, self-invention, effective competition, improved quality of life, and emotional and physical security. Those who have achieved it are at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  So in our effort to improve the self, differentiate ourselves from the masses, and repair our emotional wounds online consumers flock towards sites like mine, investing money, time and effort into the aspiration of self-actualization. Much like attractiveness, it would seem that there is no such thing as too much brainpower or mental ability. But beware.

We are all vulnerable with our own individual life circumstances. And with the increased accessibility of information we are also more likely to seek out the quick fix solution because quite simply it is in our nature. Alternative therapies with little validation apart from easily fabricated satisfied customer testimonials are tempting. We need group validation, avoid pain and seek status as a matter of survival. Nor does it help that traditional solutions involve mind numbing drugs and the endless uncomfortableness of psychotherapy.

This illusion that so many internet marketers sell – that people who seek more brainpower are more responsible, more superior and overall just more worthy – is not true and is something that I try actively to dispel. My articles describe mental breakdown, alcoholism and self-destructive promiscuity in the most honest terms (with admittedly, some of the most clickable headlines) and regularly outline the fact that the very definition of ‘enlightenment’ as a concept also encourages division and the definition of the opposite – if you are enlightened, there must be others who are not. The fact I have overcome some of my own challenges does not make me better or more worthy. It just means I have found one way to shake off the shit. It might work for you. And it might not (thank goodness for money back guarantees… use them).

If you are in it to ‘win it’ then you will be disappointed and probably a lot poorer. Because superiority is just one of the ways we try and feed our self-esteem. And if your self-esteem is tied to actions and accomplishments, it is built on a house of cards. One gust of wind will topple it leaving no lasting change. It’s more important that we realize we are worthy of love and admiration even if we don’t overcome our own challenges. That people with problems are simply that.

So can you trust me? Can I even trust me if one of my goals is to make a living off this blog?? My conscious goal is to provide guidance, but that I even downloaded a headline hack report shows you I like anyone else seek to make my impact on the world and the popularity of this blog certainly feeds my self-esteem.  I am human just like you. While I take great joy in helping others, it is also my career choice. That’s the truth. But what is also true, is that I don’t believe I will be successful in helping if I lie to you.

You can trust that I don’t promise a quick fix… because in life there are no quick fixes, just a series of revelations which may help you towards happiness. My solutions are not band-aids, they require deep soul searching and a willingness to face the fears that many of us try and avoid. You can trust that I don’t hide the shit, my own experience shows that it’s not plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination. You can trust me when I say that I have found huge joy and a meaningful life purpose through personal development. You can trust me to tell the truth as I see it at the time, and to admit when that changes (as several blog posts testify). But above all, I ask you to trust not in me, but in the fact that if and when you do overcome your challenges, you will be far happier.

1. Can We Trust Consumers with Their Brains? Popular Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain Images, Self-help and the Consumer http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2428160