What I wish Someone Told me About Self-Help Books

Image result for in the storm
sail to the eye of the storm. There, you will find stillness

One of my favorite Gospel songs is titled “Held”, sung by Nathalie Grant. The song is about a Christian couple who lost their newborn child. On top of their sadness, they’re angry and feel it’s unfair that for dedicating their lives to God, they still experience a pain of this magnitude. Understandably, they (like me and a lot of you) believed that in giving their life to God, they’d be shielded for heartache.

This is the attitude that I too, adopted when following a particularly difficult period of my life, by pouring all my attention into self-help books. After losing a lot all at once, I swore to myself  that I’d never allow myself to sink in such a dark place. So I read all the books on self-compassion, self-acceptance, mindfullness, the power of intention and more. I didn’t all the yoga I could do, I prayed all the prayers, breathed all the breaths in meditation, I did it all. I did it until I felt I had built enough of an armor to help me power through life without being phased by anything.

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But that didn’t last long, because I experienced another heartbreak, had a few projects that didn’t pan out, for a while I worked a job that was suffocating my soul,  I lost my grandmother despite all the prayer to God to let her hold on long enough for my mother to see her, and the list goes on. I remember sitting on my bed, facing my mini-library of self-help books and wanting to burn them all. What was the point of it all then, to do all this work if I was just going to sink into despair every time I experienced a difficulty, or not get my way despite all the inner work I did?

That’s when I remembered the song, “Held”. The lyrics say,

“This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held”

Note the last sentence: “the promise was, when everything fell we’d be held”.  In one of her interviews, singer Nathalie Grant explains that the song was written for a couple who lost their newborn child, reminding them that giving yourself to God doesn’t mean you will never face heartache, it means you will have what it takes to not only survive, but also thrive. Because in beginning of your journey of spirituality or giving your everything to self-help books, you probably had in mind that one of those authors holds the secret to life. You thought there was one sentence in there, one mantra, one incantation that you’d just have to say out loud so your life could be transformed into happily ever after. But what it really is, is that self-help is a promise to carry you through the inevitable heartbreaks and let down of life. It’s to help you accept that life will be thunderous and stormy, and you are essentially cultivating the skills to help you navigate the tumultuous waters.

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Don’t let yourself drown in shame, frustration and resentment when you realize that despite all the work you did, you still didn’t get that job, still couldn’t get that person to love you back, didn’t figure out your life at the first try, or still haven’t mastered the art of loving yourself.

Self-help is about making a refuge of yourself when the world is cruel, but also about empowering you to be bold and relentless about building the kind of life you want. And it’s also about figuring out how to live your life in a way that makes room for others and their struggle to make it through. It’s all worth it.

Positive thinking is about being relentless in building a life of joy.

Mindfulness is about becoming more aware of your feelings so you can be proactive about your reactions to life’s setbacks.

Meditation is about inviting stillness in the chaos.

Self-compassion is about letting go of the idea that loving yourself is only possible after you’ve become the best version of yourself (which will be never).

So keep going after the life you want, knowing that you deserve it. And when you experience setbacks (because you will), what you learn with self-help is how to climb your way out of rock bottom.  You’ve got this. Go build the life you want. Whether your faith is in  God/the universe or self-help books (or both), know that you are building a strong  foundation to power through life.

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