The Misery of Self-Help

This is going to be a divisive post and so let me say one thing up front: I’m not presenting fully-formed opinions here. It is my belief that a blog (at its best) can be a space to work through ideas with a community of readers, and it’s regrettable that our culture of outrage has forced many writers to shrink into a shell of “safe” topics.

What I’d like to do instead is simply ask a question that resurfaces every time I see people, women especially, being revered for “sharing truth.”

Do we celebrate brokenness too much?

I know it’s brave to admit the parts of our lives that aren’t working. As a friend of mine discovered when she publicly revealed her depression recently, it’s not only the first step to healing, but it’s also what builds a support network of others who have experienced varying degrees of the same pain.

Moreover, I’m acutely aware that it’s not the struggles we reveal that cause us the most shame, it’s the ones, like addiction for example, that we attempt to hide. As such, the more honest we become, the more we open the door for others to do the same. This creates a collective healing that could not occur without courageous souls who come forward and share from the heart.

All of this matters – and matters deeply. I have emerged on the other side of addiction and heartbreak myself, and so I know what it’s like to be broken. I also know what it’s like to feel the pain of others – whether it’s the loss of a child, a serious illness, PTSD, and the list goes on. These wounds are very powerful, and they are very real.

But why is it that the West is more wounded than the rest of the world? For example, global research has shown that France and the United States report the most bouts of depression while countries like China, India, and South Africa report the least. Astonishingly, regardless of the country, women are twice as likely to experience depression as men.

Again, why? Can we talk about this?

Have our lives somehow devolved into a quest to go from dysfunctional to functional – and is that really what we’re being called to do here?

As I type, the number one New York Times bestseller under advice is about how to handle feeling “left out, lonely, and less than.” For weeks, every time I log in to Facebook, I’ve seen an ad for a conference where women will “carry each other’s burdens.” And yesterday I received a marketing brochure inviting me to Costa Rica to “heal.”

All of these things are awesome. Holy even. But I can’t help but wonder: Is the cumulative effect of being exposed to messages of vulnerability that we become more vulnerable ourselves?

As I said before, I don’t know the answer here, but my feeling is that we are stronger than this. In other words, the goalpost of our lives should be far more than whether we are “functional”, but whether we live with meaning.

This begs the question: Does self-help (an industry which I feel a part of, by the way) often coddle the very wounds it claims to heal? If not, then how do we explain the higher rates of depression in areas where self-help is thriving?

I’ve posted this blog on Facebook and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Hope to see you there.

Xo –