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Unraveling dark side of self-help culture

www.sentinelassam.com | November 22, 2023

WHO (World Health Organisation) refers to self-help as a “typical (formal) or atypical (informal) organised group(s) within the structure of the healthcare system (i.e., already formed social groups with a common

WHO (World Health Organisation) refers to self-help as a “typical (formal) or atypical (informal) organised group(s) within the structure of the healthcare system (i.e., already formed social groups with a common—sometimes broader—denominator) that seek novel solutions for problem management, citizen autonomy, and humanism in health care delivery” (Flora et al., 2010). There has been quite a conjecture among scientists about how “self-help” is different from “mutual help”. Mutual help can be defined as offering help where both the involved institutions and individuals reap benefits (Flora et al., 2010).

The concept of self-help was initiated back in the 1930s, when today’s most prominent self-help organisations were established: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). It was not until 1970 that scientists wanted to study the culture of self-help, and even then, only specific organizations or cases were studied (Flora et al., 2010). Tracey and Gussow, in 1976, completed the first research assessment by analysing the increasing membership of self-help groups (Flora et al., 2010). The result of the study highlighted that 7% of the sample reported attending self-help groups. Among the participants, substance abuse problems were reported in 7.9%, and 9.7% had a dual diagnosis of a substance use disorder and another psychiatric illness. 5.1% suffered from other unrelated disturbances. AA conducted its first demographic survey in 1977, and ever since, similar data has been gathered at regular intervals (approximately every 3 or 4 years). This was reported by the official web page of the General Service Office (GSO).

The stigma encompassing mental illnesses remains a pervasive issue in today’s society. It does look like the times are changing for the better, but we are far from the ideal scenario. While scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, or rather doom scrolling, we would have all come across posts that claim “Psychology Fact-…” or “Psychology says...”. Multiple accounts all over social media put out information on the matter of mental health and psychology without any credibility or qualification. This not only undermines the credibility of mental health professionals but also confuses the consumers of such knowledge, making it harder to distinguish between accurate information and pseudoscience. To combat this issue, it is essential to promote mental health literacy and verify the sources from which we obtain information.

We live in a time where the pursuit of happiness has become everyone’s mantra in life. The self-help industry has grown into a multi-billion-dollar business with its promises of a healthy, bright, and fulfilling future. This sector’s rapid growth was noted by NPD Group (National Purchase Diary Panel Inc.), with yearly sales of self-help books in the United States reaching 18.6 million volumes, an 11% increase from 2013 to 2019 (McLoughlin, 2023). About the target market, under-35-year-olds purchased over half of self-help and popular psychology books in 2022 (till October), compared to 36% of non-fiction in general. While women surpassed men in 2020 and 2021, males rose back by 50% in the most recent year (Swope et al., 2023).

The cornerstone of why most individuals turn to self-help and self-improvement is the widespread belief that they are flawed and need to fix themselves. Our feelings of inadequacy and not doing enough or being enough in this 24x7 capitalistic culture drive us to seek inspiration and answers from our immediate environment to fill what we feel is supposedly “amiss”. However, in doing so, we run the risk of losing or deviating from our true selves because we permit external influences and societal compliances to override us to the extent that we forget our authentic selves. This amplifies the probability of self-neglect and even self-negation, which is a deadly outcome of constant comparison with others in terms of success, growth, development, or other superficial factors that encompass the meaning of success in conventional society. 

This is not to say that the self-help culture is entirely fraudulent. A lot of resources provide insights for personal development, but one needs conscious engagement, genuine realisations, and sincere effort to make their own decisions about their journey. It involves realising that no two people’s journeys will ever be the same and that the process of personal growth is unique and ever-changing for each individual. To break out of this normalised tendency, inculcating a growth mindset can help. It encourages people to perceive failures as the ladder to success and setbacks as opportunities to grow.

In summary, pursuing personal development requires caution. The self-help culture offers an abundance of resources, but it’s crucial to steer clear of comparison, self-neglect, negative self-talk, and rigid goal-setting. Having a sense of purpose, appreciating the present, and inculcating a growth mentality are the key features of the self-help path. By listening to our voices, understanding our unique paths, and enjoying the process, we may accomplish the change we seek without succumbing to the dark side of the self-help culture. This may all sound very cliché to most, but isn’t it cliché for a reason?

This article has been authored by Bhavika Devjani, Undergraduate Student, FLAME University and Prof. Moitrayee Das, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://www.sentinelassam.com/editorial/unraveling-dark-side-of-self-help-culture-675887 )