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Why Self-Help Books/ Therapy Sometimes Doesn’t Help

Self-help books always seemed to find themselves on the top of New York Time’s best seller list at any given moment. Of course, this goes along side with the latest diet fad. If self-help books are so useful, why do you find there are never ending demands for new self-help books or new theories of happiness?

You have to be very careful in your selection of self help books. If you are not careful, some self-help books sometimes tend to promote the victim mentality, ie, it correctly identifies the external causes of your happiness and make you feel like a victim. Once you started having the ‘victim mentality’, you become self righteous and blame others, your environment, your circumstances for the source of your unhappiness. You may never want to take that first move to change.

But there are some excellent self-help books written by what I call to be real-life warriors- the authors that came from disadvantaged or underprivileged conditions, yet healed themselves and rose above the mud, changed their fate and write the book to help others. When you look for self help books, it has to be books that empower you, the book has to discourage you from getting stuck in ‘victim mentality’.

I would like to share with you my real life experience. As you have noticed from other posts in my blog, I am the type of person who like to figure out the “whys” in life. When I was young, I often felt unhappy, unwanted and inadequate. I was an introvert who never wanted to mix with people. When I was 13, as soon as my understanding of the English language is good enough, I poured over books as I sought to look for answers to questions that are plaguing me: “why people behave differently?”, “why am I so unhappy?”. I have a best friend then who was like me- both of us sought for answers in life. So both of us will read and discuss about life when other kids are happily watching cartoons or hanging out with other kids or their parents. My best friend was a total opposite of me- she was one of the prettiest and most popular kids in school. Her parents were also very rich- yet, she felt very unhappy. A lot of books that we have read were written by psychologist or therapists.
Initially, we thought it was due to horoscope- like when you are born at a certain star sign, you behave differently. Like a Virgo tend to want to withdraw into their own shell from time to time and a Leo will always have ego, even though a Leo can be extremely generous people. Then later we moved on to read about how the relationship of our parents influence our relationships with others.

But both of us are the most confused and screwed up people that we know. After carefully dissecting and noticing the pattern that our behaviours seemed to tie back to our parents, their relationship and their relationship with us, we find it convenient to place the blame on them. When our relationships with others does not turn out well or we kind we are attracted to the wrong kind, it is so easy just to blame our parents. After all, self righteous self help books have logically explained everything and seemed to answer our questions.

And yet, why do people who read one self help book after another are still miserable, unhappy, unfulfilled and angry? Have it ever occurred to anyone to question it?

During my university days, I took a short course in Psychology, at the same time, I was also introduced to Buddhism. I find the teachings are so different. Psychology is excellent in its diagnostic properties- ie with the knowledge, you can diagnose the causes of the problems. But there are no proper solution given except that ‘you should accept, and let go’, ‘support groups’, hours of therapy and if all else fails, there’s always Prozac or other forms of medication. I’ve learned also that many professionals in that field also require therapy and counselling in order to come to terms with their lives. Some cannot even manage their own lives and cannot adopt what they’ve learn in university or their M.D or PhD knowledge in their personal relationship with others.

Therapy and professional treatment sometimes also tend to skim only on the surface- the prescribed methods does not remove the root cause- therefore, the patient’s problem will continue to reoccur. It’s just like you pull of a weed in your garden, but you only pull off the top part- leaving the roots still intact. It’s only a matter of time that the weed sprung into life again. I’ve known this fact before I was 20- and so far, I’ve tested to see if I was wrong- and so far, I’ve never find any evidence that made me think otherwise.

It was after I learned about Buddhism that very slowly, it dawned onto me that the solution actually lies in myself. I started reading books from: John Welwood (Journey of the Heart), Sharon Salzberg (Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness) and teachers like Ajahn Chah. And I find their writings to be so deep and profound that it touches my heart and made it want to heal. I learned about self acceptance and being accountable. Instead of blaming external factors, I need to stop feeling victimise by circumstances and take control of my life. In short, I have to “snap out of it and move on”.

I instinctively felt that this is the solution, but it lies in the far horizon. I knew that it is going to be very very hard work. To be able to look within- see the good and bad in your heart takes courage, determination and persistence.

It took years, and I am constantly learning and willing to change. I still have a lot to learn about life, but at least, I felt joyful, I felt free. No longer trapped.

I also realised that the true essence of every religion preaches qualities of universal love, acceptance, non hatred, forgiveness, faith and determination. No matter what religion or philosophy in life that you wish to follow- always look deep within your heart and ask yourself if the teachings contains the tools to turn you into a better and happier person. If yes, adopt it. If no, discard it and move on. If unsure, try it to see if it works- after a while into it, your heart will know if it is going to work or not.

But the journey to be self accountable will not be easy- there will be a lot hard work- and like anything with hard work, the results that awaits will be well worth it- only if you hang on long enough. All the best.

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  • Karen November 18, 2008, 8:48 am

    Good articles that are well written, my friend !
    That is why I keep coming back to read your blogs……they never bore me.

    Keep up the great work !

  • Yin Teing November 18, 2008, 1:17 pm

    Thanks my friend 🙂

  • Fabien November 30, 2008, 5:46 pm

    Yin, I read this one before going to your TV article, because this resonated with me as well. I think the most powerful force in life is yourself, because only when you decide to do something and take that action – that is when you will get results.

    It does not matter how many motivational seminars you go to and indeed how many self-help books you read, the power to change lies within; and most of the time, you need to have a powerful goal or reward as a self-motivation to take action and truly have a new outlook on life.

    Sentences I found particularly important, thanks Yin…

    I learned about self acceptance and being accountable. Instead of blaming external factors, I need to stop feeling victimise by circumstances and take control of my life. In short, I have to “snap out of it and move on”.

  • Yin Teing January 14, 2009, 12:56 am

    Fabien, thanks very much. I’ve always been a fan of your blog too because you write lots of insightful articles

  • Fabien January 14, 2009, 8:05 am

    No problem Yin! Great new theme, I can find even more content now 🙂 How good is that. Keep it up, I look forward to reading and writing even more insights in the future. All the best!

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