growth, Uplift

The Dark Side of Self Improvement


As a person who likes learning and reading self- helpy stuff, I wanted to share this TedTalk by Suzanne Eder. Sometimes with my keen interest, I ignore or forget the not so helpful and even insidious things that go on behind self-improvement. With self-improvement there seems to be an inherent assumption that something is wrong with you. Eder says this can be harmful because we end up antagonizing ourselves as we focus on goals and less on the natural process of growth.

” We’re whole and learning. The bud is not less whole than the blossom. It’s just at a different stage of development.” – Suzanne Eder

I scratched a little bit of this view of self improvement and found out that there are already several good articles out there outlining what this “dark side” is. One is from Goop (very iffy about this company though) where they shared psychotherapist Shira Myrow’s view that  there’s “a fine line between the drive for personal growth (healthy) and what she calls unconscious self-aggression (i.e. your destructive, judgmental inner critic).”

Again I am iffy about Goop and the awful health claims for their products and I don’t know much about this psychotherapist but just from her view of mindfulness and meditation, it is quite similar to what Eder relates as our “impulse to fix ourselves” with an obsessive look at goals and not enjoying the process and growth.

” A whole colony of self negating experience will flourish. If we think there’s something wrong with us, we put all of our truth in the advice of others. we effectively give our power away. “

“We disempower ourselves when we follow someone else’s path that is not our own.”

– Suzanne Eder

Compelled by the talk, I would like to share some points I’ve considered when consuming self-improvement material:

1. I see the importance of reminding myself that “self-help” is an industry! Like any other industry, writers and gurus make tons of money by churning out these books.

2. According to this article that used Good Reads stats, the self-help publishing is skewed with most writers being men and most readers being women. There’s already an imbalance there in terms of point of view.

3. It’s full of Type A people who want us to be extroverted entrepreneurs. This is from personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Haha. Not all of us want this.

4. The ones I (and probably other Pinoys) consume are mostly written in English with western, capitalist ideology. Many English authors we read are also from a Christian upbringing (whether they subscribe to such faith or not at the time of their writing still affects how they write ) while limited ideas come from other cultural and religious beliefs.

Surely there are translated versions of improvement material from other languages (Marie Kondo’s book from Japanese, Taoist teachings from Chinese, etc) but imagine the vast wisdom out there that we don’t have access to simply because of language.

There’s always something lost in translation. Sometimes one needs to be more immersed or open to the culture of the author to understand the self-improvement process they talk about.

Those are what I can think of at the moment. Do you read or listen to self-help? Do you think it’s lame? Why or why not? Do you have any recommendations and favourites? Or anything to add as things to consider when consuming self-help material? Let me know. I’m curious because I used to be embarassed about my self-help interest. But seeing that a lot of us are screwed up anyway and many are openly talking about therapy etc, now’s my chance!

One last note from Marie Forleo -a type A gal whom I listened to at a certain phase of my life. I just don’t nowadays because I’ve had enough of this kind of “genre” at the moment! She said that we can always choose to ” Step away from the self-help buffet!”


7 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Self Improvement

  1. Rae says:

    I found myself literally nodding throughout this essay. Especially with #s 3 and 4, and that’s what I gather too. The ideal, it seems, is to become a Type A hyperproductive capitalist/entrepreneur. Maybe they’re just the type to get motivated to write these types of books and the Type Bs be like, “nah, I’ma be here chillin’”

    Anyway, I’ve stopped mindlessly consuming self-help content. I still read or listen them but I am more intentional with what I consume now. The ones I read, I sought for. Example: When I was having a hard time quitting a bad habit (procrastination) that I’ve identified as becoming my pattern, isn’t serving me well, and is already affecting my relationships, I looked for something that would help me in this area. Before, I read whatever title I find catchy.

    I’ve started honoring and respecting myself and how I am. This is not to say I won’t try to improve, but now I don’t resent myself for not being hyperproductive go-getter. I am finding solutions to the situations I face, not by how these Type A people would, but by how things work for my personality and at my pace.

  2. Good point about point # 1. I find myself more convinced when reading books by women, though. Am now reading (actually, listening via Libby app) I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam…if you ever feel the need to brush up on time management. 🙂

  3. Hi Yin, dati nagbabasa ako ng self help books pero hindi sya masyadong nakakatulong HAHA. Hindi naman aplikable sa lahat ng tao ang sasabihin ng isang author bilang iba iba naman tayo ng mga experiences, situations at iba iba pang factors sa buhay.

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