When we’re suffering in a situation that seems to be carrying us along like a bad dream, chances are we’re stuck in a rut, behaving in the same way over and over and yet expecting things to change. When we’ve tried everything we know, we’re ready for new insights. Self-help books and tapes offer valuable new ways of looking at the world, new coping tools and new language with which we can communicate and understand our concerns. By reading and pondering, we can learn about what makes us tick and explore ways to feel better and act more effectively.
No matter how content we may feel at a given time, great changes arise in life, as we or people we love grow older, get sick, face addictions or out-of-control relationships, and the list goes on. At these times we struggle to find points of view and approaches that will put everything back into its proper place. As we search for new perspectives from which to approach our challenges, one of the places we can go to find deeper insights is the self-help shelf of our bookstore or library. Self-help books and tapes provide insights and give us new tools that help us plumb the depths of our issues.
General motivational books encourage us and give us insights that help us grow and become the person we want to be. Popular authors like Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer and Stephen Covey coach us to review our goals. Once we become clear about where we are headed, we can use methods and insights they suggest to help us get there, including valuable tips and tricks for maintaining the mental health we’ll need to achieve our goals.
Some books provide step by step exercises and homework. For example, David Burns the author of a powerful self-help book, “The Feeling Good Handbook” explains the principles of Cognitive Therapy, showing how our thoughts affect our feelings. Then he shows us how to apply these principles to improve a variety of issues such as depression, procrastination and other uncomfortable states of mind.
A number of workbooks help us tap into the creative side of ourselves. By exercising our creativity we may learn to step outside our worries. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a classic how-to book that suggests ways to reconnect with the artist hidden within. Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” suggests exercises to release the words that describe our innermost thoughts and feelings. By writing and journaling we reveal and heal deep places in ourselves.
Self-help books teach us how to handle many specific issues, such as surviving life with an alcoholic, recovering from child abuse, increasing our self-esteem, controlling anger, deepening our relationships, seeking spirituality, and a host of other topics.
Getting these new ideas is only the beginning. We also need to do our part to integrate the lessons into our own lives. Growing requires work. The blood, sweat and tears we put into growing now will pay us back in improved attitude, relationships, effectiveness at work, better parenting skills, and in many other ways that we may not even foresee. Sometimes we don’t understand how to apply the information at first, and years later we suddenly realize how much we’ve benefited from the things we’ve absorbed. Our effort to improve ourselves becomes a habit that is healing in itself. Making effort improves our self-esteem and reduces our sense of helplessness.
We need to work introspectively to understand how our past behavior and attitudes can be modified. But when we try to understand our own issues we are limited by our own perceptions, and often simply can’t see the blind spots that have created our problems in the first place. Counseling, whether individual, couples or group, provide guidance for issues we can’t see about ourselves, or to learn from experiences we have never had. Counselors are trained to help us become conscious of patterns that keep us trapped in our issues. Even after we gain insights from books and tapes, counselors can help us understand how to implement the changes, and discover aspects of our issues that are stuck beneath the surface.
Good mental health ultimately leads us into rewarding interaction with other human beings. None of us live in a vacuum, and while books may be good tools to help us heal enough to be open to others, ultimately we need to live and work with people. If our issues have kept us apart from others, or we’ve been stuck in destructive relationships, books and tapes are only the beginning. Getting beyond our issues with others requires working with them in new ways. When we feel we are ready to interact with people, we may search for a support group or social interactions that might help us heal. Twelve Step programs provide a set of tools for growth, along with a support network. Or we may seek individual or group therapy to help us integrate the lessons we’ve learned and continue to move forward.
A good strategy for growth is to read as much as we can, try as hard as we can, and be open to assistance on our journey. Whatever method we choose, our efforts to improve our understanding and to grow will have continued benefits for the remainder of our lives.
See also: Advice, Cognitive therapy, Counseling, Twelve Steps
Seven habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey
Awaken the giant within by Tony Robbins
Manifest your destiny by Wayne Dyer
Writing down the bones by Natalie Goldberg
The Artist’s Way : A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron