Self-help is a booming industry. It offers greatly needed aid to people struggling with everything from closet chaos to serious mental illness. While self-help truly can offer a way for people to heal, improve their relationships, or solve personal problems, it is sometimes marketed in ways that may leave you with the feeling that you are defective in some ways and that you are falling short of a standard.
A way to reduce this harmful effect -- and get the greatest benefit -- from self-help resources is by being strategic in how you use them. Begin by recognizing that the resources exist precisely because many other people have similar issues. So you are not alone with your problems. By itself, this can help you feel better.
Then, rather than comparing yourself to other people, shift your focus to your inner experience. Consider how you think about yourself and how you experience yourself. Are you highly focused on what is wrong with you and what you “should” be like? Are you assessing yourself as you would a used car, essentially kicking the tires and looking for dents and other flaws that reduce your value? If so, that’s a serious problem. Viewing yourself like a thing that needs to be fixed has the serious downside of making you both think of yourself as a flawed object and feel essentially flawed.
Instead, try to recognize yourself as a person just like everyone else; as someone who has weakness, flaws, and who makes mistakes. From this perspective, rather than trying to “fix” yourself, it makes more sense to consider ways in which you want to grow and heal. You can more readily recognize the inherent value of simply being you in the moment, even as you consider ways you’d like to be different in the future. An important added benefit is that when you are more accepting of yourself, you will feel more comfortable in relationships, without the nagging feeling that somehow you do not fit in.
You can start feeling better by attending to your challenges, whether they be depression, insecurity in relationships, drinking too much, or anything else. Connect with this awareness from the inside, such as by paying attention to your fears and negative self-perceptions. Then step back. Relate to those inner experiences in the way you’d relate to someone else with those struggles. Empathize. Allow yourself to feel sadness for your problem and to feel compassion -- a desire to ease your own pain.
Then use self-help resources to solve problems, make changes, and nurture healing. But it is essential that you keep their guidance in perspective, as a way to direct your personal growth rather than fix your brokenness. There is no shame involved. Rather, you will experience yourself as a person with difficulties just as all people have difficulties. From this perspective, your self-help materials can guide you in moving compassionately toward the changes you’d like to see in yourself -- and also help you to feel more connected with other people.
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