Leave Room for Fallibility in Self-Help

Updated on July 8, 2020
Holley Hyler profile image

Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.


The New "S" Word

A quick peek at the front page of Medium has revealed many writers disillusioned with the self-help world. Phrases like "toxic positivity" and "toxic spirituality" are among the top headlines.

Maybe this has been a long time coming. During Marianne Williamson's run for President, I observed that a lot of people used the title "self-help author" when they wanted to discredit her or make her seem lacking as a candidate. Somehow, within the last year, "self-help" became a dirty phrase.

This could be more common now because of world events. Increasingly, people are finding that their ways of coping and belief systems do not feel sufficient anymore. Here is an excellent piece on exactly that.

No one has the answers, but it is natural, in a state of fear, to go seeking them. However, we have to remember that everyone giving advice is human too. We cannot know what happens behind the screens of social media. We should not be shocked when we find out a "mommy blogger" is getting divorced or even that sometimes her kids kind of get on her nerves.

We, the readers, can put a lot of pressure on self-help writers to have perfect lives. It is no wonder they try to portray that on their Instagram accounts.

What If I Enjoy Self-Help and Find Value in It?

You may consider yourself among those who have benefited from positivity despite circumstances. No, you were not trying to be toxic or push away your feelings. You were simply trying to attract better through means that worked for you.

If you are on Facebook, chances are that your news feed is a mix of politics, Farmville (haha), random, and those people who get on your nerves by posting about their lives as though they are living on cloud nine.

We all have that one friend who is always at a park with her boyfriend looking happy or surrounded by friends in her posts. There she is again, doing her yoga on top of a sunny mountain. Sure, she has bad days, but she does not choose to post about them. That's her right. She can post whatever she wants on her page. Similarly, if she wanted to share her bad days in order to get support, that would be her choice too. She does not deserve judgment either way. Her positivity is not meant to be toxic to anyone. It is an approach to life she uses that apparently makes her feel good. We all deserve to feel good - obviously, we do not want to harm anyone or commit any illegal act in our aim to feel this way.

If an approach has worked for you, then you should keep it up. If a method you read about in a book, or a way of thinking about and approaching the world, helped you gain a better sense of clarity and peace, then it was and still is valid.

It does not matter if the writer got a scandalous divorce, lost their fortune, or otherwise behaved badly on social media. It does not matter if someone has written an article decrying the book or material that helped you. If it helped you, then it helped you.

What has worked for you may not work for everyone. This is why some people love the book The Secret, and others hate it. You could insert any self-help book in place of The Secret above. Being positive all the time might help some people. Nothing is wrong with you if it helps you, just as nothing is wrong with anyone it does not help.

How to Approach Self-Help

When feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, here are a few ways to safely approach a new book or teacher:

  • Know that the person writing the self-help is human. Shocker, I know. But it is so easy to forget, put people on pedestals, and forget that they have made and will make mistakes.
  • Be a little skeptical of everything. If you feel a little skeptical, you can still have an open mind without putting your trust in someone who does not deserve it.
  • Be wary of big expenses. Generally, retreats and one-on-one sessions get costly. If you are really drawn to a writer or teacher, take advantage of the free or lower-priced materials they offer. If they do not offer any free material and only have high-priced options that would require you to dip into your savings, consider that a red flag. Be on the lookout for a situation that might make you feel isolated or obligated because of the amount of money you spent on it.
  • If you have already spent a lot on the above point, try not to feel bad. Count it as part of your exploration. Think of what you learned from it, and move forward applying what you learned from it.
  • Do not take everything the writer says as gospel. They will have their own biases and advice that may not apply to you specifically. Yes, it is okay to read a whole book and only find one chapter or even a few sentences that are meaningful to you. Resist the urge to give the author a scathing review, because you may unintentionally scare off someone who could be helped by that material.
  • Don't feel ashamed for reading self-help. You don't have to tell people about it. Just be gentle with yourself. Go toward what makes you feel even the slightest bit better, but take your brain with you.


Life offers us countless ways to solve our challenges. No matter what we are facing, someone else has been through it too. Not all will share, but some will try to use their experience to help others. Some will have the best of intentions, and some may only be in it to get their name out there or a bit of money. We have to be mindful of this when selecting a book or teacher so that we are not surprised if we discover anything unpleasant.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Holley Hyler


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