The Self Help Sceptic

As a self help sceptic (reformed), the irony inherent in my blog has not been missed.

If you’d given me a web address or a self help book a few years back, I’d have turned my nose straight up.

There was a certain arrogance to my eating disorder (what would they know?) that sneered at self help (like it’s that easy) and people who claimed to “understand”; an automatic scepticism towards shop brought solutions and the hollowness of a few positive words that couldn’t possibly appreciate my pain –

I might have been wrong.

Since starting to engage with the world, I’ve come back to earth with a resounding bang. Contrary to my previous belief, I am not unique; I am, in fact, quite a predictable human being –

And, because I am not totally unique; and, as I appear to– whether I like it or not – fall under the category of regular human being, the advice and support and suggestions that I deemed irrelevant might actually have been useful.

Self help, as the name infers, might well have helped –

Which was possibly the problem.

Fortunately, when it came to tackling a few other little “issues” (nicotine addiction, the quest for happiness, and a touch of OCD) I was a little more open to guidance; and, self help slipped in the back way.

Whilst I wasn’t quite prepared to read what the eating disorder experts wrote and I was a touch scathing (or scared) of any food related advice, I was more open to a little habit-busting and happiness-finding and general change-your-life type guidance; and, the approach to change shares a few features –

So, although I’m probably preaching to the converted, and it’s more than likely that the other sceptics out there have already clicked off; I’m just going to summarise a few of the features that I wish I’d considered before turning my nose up and walking away.

A good description: From what I can gather, most self help books seem to start with a description of the problem. Whilst this could be interpreted as stating the obvious and generalisations can be a little off-putting; reading a well written synopsis helps to create a little objective distance. It can be strangely reassuring – and quite relieving – to see what you’re going through written in black and white; and, sometimes, it’s easier to admit to an experience through the medium of other people’s words. It’s even better when there’s a good –

Scientific (or psychological) explanation. When you’re not fully informed, it can be easy to come to the wrong conclusion and overlook a few crucial facts. Take smoking – understanding the chemistry behind nicotine addiction made it far easier for me to understand that the ‘just one more’ strategy was the trigger for the next one. Similarly, when I learnt that it took 21 days for a new habit to kick in, it was easier to keep the momentum going at day 3 when it (obviously) got a little ropey. If you’ve got a full understanding of what you’re fighting, you’re more likely to succeed – and less likely to beat yourself up in the process. Particularly when you move from thinking that you’re personally flawed to finding a little -

Empathy. Self help books seem to be filled with snippets and snapshots of other people’s lives. Whilst I wouldn’t wish suffering on anyone, realising that you’re not “the only one” automatically makes it feel easier. There’s nothing more isolating than fighting a problem alone and it’s amazing how much insight can be gained when you’re outside – rather than trapped within – an experience. It’s also far more likely that you’ll find a little -

Hope. Self help books are filled with hope. In the personal stories of achievements, and the proven possibility of change, and the fact that someone’s guiding you through the process, you can feel better even before you’ve started on the hard work, or followed up a few of the -

Practical suggestions. I don’t like being told what to do; but, I do like to make an informed decision. Self help books seem to be full of quizzes and ideas and tips and tricks to change your life. You don’t have to take them all; but, there might be a few strategies that you’ve overlooked or some tangible steps that can move you forward – or at least give you something interesting to think about.

Whether the stuff in self help book mirrors your experiences – or just gives you a useful point to kick back against – it’s worth a look; because, the great thing about self-help is that you can take it or leave it –

Providing you give yourself the opportunity to see what’s out there.

A few that slipped through the net:

Over the years, a few self help books miraculously appeared on my shelves, so if you’re buying for a self help sceptic or are already embracing the stuff that’s out there, I found that these ones seemed to help:

  • getting better bit(e) by bit(e) – Ulrike Schmidt and Janet Treasure
  • Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – David Veale & Rob Willson
  • Overcoming Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating – Peter Cooper
  • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers

And here are a few from other people:

  • Breaking Free from Emotional Eating – Geneen Roth
  • Overcoming Binge Eating – Christopher Fairburn

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4 Responses to “The Self Help Sceptic”

  1. Anon says:

    Just to add to your book list, I am finding Geneen Roth’s books great for helping with compulsive/binge eating; particularly Breaking Free From Emotional Eating.

    I borrowed it from a local eating disorder charity, and read it from cover to cover, before buying my own copy.

    I found it helpful to read the whole thing before doing many of the activities (though a few I strangely seemed to do anyway as I read!)because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel condescended by the author and also because I wanted to check that the suggestions would be managable and not petrifying, if not altogether comfortable.

  2. melissa says:

    Thanks for the recommendation! A lot of it came down to tone for me too, and I suppose it’s about experimenting until you find an author that resonates – and not falling into the ‘tarring them all with the same brush’ trap that tripped me up!

    It’s probably a great idea to start in libraries and charity shops too, otherwise you could end up with a whole shelf of stuff when often it’s just finding the right one that really makes the difference -

  3. Jane says:

    I know people who have found Overcoming Binge Eating by Christopher Fairburn very helpful. The Australian website bulimiahelp.org seems very positive.

  4. melissa says:

    Thank you! The ‘overcoming’ ones seem pretty good.