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In our Open Mike questions for February - July 2002 we asked readers about self-help books. Almost everyone has read a relationship self-help book, at one time or another. Whether it's The Rules, or Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, or any of so many hundreds of others, most of us have at least heard of them. Having posted Jandro's unkind look at the genre (Electrocution), we wanted to give readers a chance to share their opinions about these books. Below are some of the responses - a couple in favor, several against, and a couple more from readers who don't quite see it in black-and-white terms.
Generally in favor of self-help books
I haven't just read one, but several from authors such as the famous John Gray and his Men are from Mars..., as well as other books he published. Richard Calson and his Don't sweat the small stuff in Love, personal favorite. There are a number of other books and authors that I cannot even recall at this point, but I have to say that I got something out of every one of them. Even the authors who I feel really don't know what they were talking about, still had some kind of insight to offer. Any relationship book alone falls short when attempting to help people understand their relationships. But collectively, in my opinion based on my own personal experience, relationship books can assist a great deal with helping people to understand the opposite sex. My relationships have improved dramatically.
I have just come to the conclusion that it depends on the reader to determine what is acquired from any self-help book. For an example: My Mother has read all the same books I have on relationships and she is convinced that they don't work. Where she has a closed mind and is set in her ways, she cannot seem to learn the lessons given. Instead of understanding and being able to relate, she tries to follow what is read as if it were an instruction manual. Nothing is that black & white however, and we all hate taking the time out to read instructions. We want to be able to just do it in a way that makes sense to us and it must work the first time or we just conclude the directions were wrong. I do feel a lot of relationship books are filled with the author's "mumbo jumbo" filling up the pages. I generally read with a highlighter and will highlight all the insightful facts that I come across. It helps to refer back when needed until the attempt to acquire the knowledge becomes common sense.
People laugh at me for reading these books and tell me that I shouldn't believe everything I read. My man who was quite aware that I was reading them and then analyzing him, would comment from time to time that he is not a book. But these people have never even attempted to get any insight in order to improve their own relationships. Instead they are stubbornly set in believing that they know the right way is their way. And while they are constantly getting into arguments with their partners and are miserable, I am having the kind of relationship most people can only read about.
And my man has stopped making his commentaries and has even picked up my books once or twice. He recently told my mother that I have changed and he has never been so happy. That makes two of us!
My mother came into my room one day and was telling me about this book she got at Wal-Mart with a friend and wanted to give to me to read. It was titled "Why am I Dancing Alone? - Here's how to find & keep someone to love!" by Sue Kovach. The offer shocked my friends and coworkers more than me, but they thought it was pretty sad that my mother insisted me to read. It's not like I hate the fact that the book was given to me as a "quick read", it's just the fact that it's trying to express. We are so centered upon relationships so much that books like these were created. This is not the typical self-help book that you would see on the shelf of your local Border's bookstore next to a bunch of books written by Dr..Phil. It was found in a Wal-Mart checkout aisle next to the latest tabloid which probably had J.Lo on the front cover explaining the new secret love rendezvous she is embarking on. I examined this small book to my ENORMOUS surprise that no golden seal of approval explaining how much people bought it or whether or not it helped anyone else like the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" book was placed. Is that all that is different about my book and the hardback you would find at Borders like the "Mars" book? I guess if it works for one person out of the millions that decided to buy it, then it was worthwhile to have it available. If not, it would be pointless, right? My mother spent a total of $2.39 + tax on her book, while the others paid more than 10 times as much for the hardback version of "Mars." So what do I say? Pay the $2.39+, you probably get the same amount out of the "Mars" book. It's like the comparison between generic & genuine Tylenol. They do the same purpose equally well, but all you do is pay extra for the brand name. Self-help books is no different from this comparison.
Mostly against self-help books
In all my 27 years and through all my mistakes and screw-ups, i haven't ever been tempted to read any self-help books. What are they capable of teaching me that i can't figure out for myself? Yeah, i know, they might speed up the process and prevent future mishaps, but you know what, isn't that what life's all about? Learning from your experiences and moving on? If anything, i've become aware that we all have choices, and it's up to us to make them. A book isn't going to that. If you need a book to give you self-confidence or to help save your marriage, find love, or to help sort out the chaos in your life, then you're not allowing yourself the chance to stand on your own two feet. The power in everything lies within you. Only you can come to the realization that its your life, so you better make the best (or worst) of it while you can.
Self-Help books are often published by authors who have 'hardware' on their names. Meaning 'Doctor of Such and Such', 'BA in Malarkey', etc. Those are the books that tend to dwell on a lot of surface stuff - that's the only word I can think of. People's real problems are addressed, but it seems these authors don't really get down deep into it. I have seen articles done by unknown authors who don't have any credits to their name. They seem to be the ones that are most interesting. That's because they live out there in the real world - they don't live and work in an institutionalized setting where political correctness MUST be followed and the buzz-phrase of their particular profession must be used. They are written by the kind of counsellors that sit at group therapy and do that body language thing with their hands - you know - palms up - it means I'm ready to receive your input. They aren't ready to receive your input at all. They're thinking hard on how to put whatever you might say down with a concern you didn't have in the first place. And that's what's done in their books. Sometimes you're better off just finding a good friend who has lived out there in the world a bit and has an idea of how to stumble through the chosen path of life without falling into a ditch.
Self-help books- I feel that the only value of self help books are to confirm that you have, in fact, already helped yourself. So, they can be enjoyable then in a "duh" sort of mentality because they make sense only after you have found the path that truly works for you, inner -peace, serenity whatever level you've reached, on your own. And that is, in my opinion on self help books. Furthermore for what it's worth, in my continued opinion here, I believe the only way to really help yourself, is to understand your issues, stop blaming other people for them, and just do it. IT also helps to always, always, every step of the way, remember that healing, helping, changing and growing are all a process. It takes time to understand what you need to heal from...usually it is a myriad of different issues. It also helps to LAUGH A LOT!!
I have just gotten out of a two and a half year relationship. I was hurt pretty badly. The reason why: he had asked my dad for my hand in marriage and then three days later he says he's "unhappy" and "bored" with me. I was humiliated and I felt that something must be really wrong with me and my taste in men, so I decided to head to a book store and go to the self help section and see what the "experts" have to say about breaking up. I went as far as to looking at "Breaking Up For Dummies."
After awhile of sitting and looking at many different get-over-it-and-find-the right- man-books I realized that all of the authors of these books were repeating the same advice, and it wasn't information that I didn't already know. In my opinion, if you're really having serious troubles, talk to someone you trust: be it a friend, a parent, or a counselor. They can give you a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and give you guidance. They will know what your needs and wants are, a book is just paper.
Self-help means helping your SELF. If you're not courageous, willing or ready to work on your SELF for yourself, living in and maintaining the ideal relationship will happen if (a) you've got really, really good karma coming your way from past lifetimes of drudgery and penance or (b) you have no awareness of your relationship or (c) you slipped into the perfect configuration of planets and numbers.
A relationship with yourself takes work. Slow, plodding, self-doubting, torturous and alone work. It falls more easily into the Easter Egg Hunt for Professional Rabbits category. Or bread crumb finding if you relate better to Hansel and Gretel's survival plan.
For me, the good news was that I didn't have to wait until I was completely fixed for a good, working man to enter my life. I just had to be clear that I chose someone who wasn't going to give me any shortcuts or illusions. A no-nonsense teacher who didn't know that's what he was.
A list was made about qualities I felt would offer a solid foundation upon which to work with myself and work with a partner to better know myself. A "relationship" truly is about yourself anyway.
Outer appearance was nowhere on my list. Liking him wasn't even on my list. But fidelity, health, commitment, communication, willingness to work on himself AND the relationship and ready to begin a family were. And yeah, I had to have love for who he was but not necessarily "be in love" the way I had known before. It may sound cold, but I had been dumped off my high cloud too often by romantic illusions enough to say, "Enough."
I also believe in a certain amount of woo-woo in life. That when I was ready to tackle myself, push up my sleeves and work, I would be presented with a co-worker. He may not have known himself the way I knew myself, but the guy was willing to consider ideas and possibilities. He wasn't one of those fellows that flips up assorted diversions when a nerve detected threat or discovery. He wasn't dumb either. But, he dumbly loved me.
So we laid out the plans like business minds. Showed our cards (to the best of our awareness) and made some agreements. Agreements that were important to us so that each of us could feel safe to grow within.
I continue to read self-help books. But they are about my self-help. Whenever I hear myself say, "Asshole" under my breath or feel my eyes narrow into dagger-shooting slits, my white flag flaps in my attention. I pull off to the side of the path and take some moments to scan and assess.
What am I feeling? Why am I feeling this? What am I looking for? What do I need? And the best one... What can I do to take care of myself and learn?
My husband, of twenty-one-years-thank-you-very-much, is my mirror. He reflects so clearly to me without even knowing that he is. He is also my partner in life. I have built-in self-help here at home.
I have learned to recognize the difference between what is about me and what is his and how to stay out of what is his. Let him handle him. I'll be there when asked. But the fixing, the changing, the adjusting is all his. And watching him in action inspires my love and admiration for his courage.
I am still here as long as we are learning and I am amazed at how much there is to learn about the self in all aspects of this life. I am amazed at how deeply I treasure and love this one I have traveled with all of these years.
Hard times, good times, frightening, threatening, frustrating, exasperating, precious, small and large times. But I would have had to go through these anyway because that's life.
Scoot on over to personal self-help, inspirational or even spiritual books for your clues and tools and then you can write your own.
I learned that the best thing you can do for yourself is to actually be alone. Coming across reading material these days will clutter anyone's mind, especially in the area of relationships. If you are looking for the higher truth and inner understanding that comes thru endurance and will, well I recommend the best book of them all. Not only does it tap into the true meaning of what a man women relationship is, it deals with life's elements and who we are as a people. It's the only book that's free and its waiting to feed knowledge to those who are starving. The one and only BIBLE!
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