When Self-Help Goes From Productive To Harmful

According to Market Research, the self-help market was worth $9.9 billion in 2016 and is estimated to grow to $13.2 billion by 2022. And, there’s a reason for that.

Navigating the world of self-help and self-work requires a good amount of self-awareness and not in the way you might expect.

Yes, it’s important to have awareness around what it is we want to improve on personally, but it’s just as important (if not more so) to be able to regulate that work and have the awareness to press pause or change course if and when it’s necessary.

It’s absolutely possible to allow ourselves to get too entrenched in self-help and, subsequently, prevent ourselves from truly living our lives.

As the founder of a business rooted in personal development, one of the things I see happen often is that people willingly give away their power to an “authority figure” in the self-help space. And by authority figure, I mean someone who works professionally in the world of self-help or self-work in just about any capacity.

Doing so can prevent you from making decisions that are right for your unique set of circumstances.

When we give our power away to other people, we stop living life on our own terms.

I’ll use myself as an example. Several years ago I was studying to become a Reiki Master and was working under the guidance of a professional. This person had many, many years of experience and I wholeheartedly trusted her guidance.

I was at one of our monthly classes and shared a real-life experience that had just unfolded where I turned down a job opportunity because it didn’t feel right intuitively. At the time, I was learning how to be comfortable trusting my gut and, especially after this teacher stressed how important it was to do so, I was excited to share my story.

After explaining my decision, my teacher replied that she thought I made a bad call and that I shouldn’t have passed on the job. Not only did she call me out in front of my entire cohort, but she negated a decision I made that felt right to me, and up until that point, I hadn’t questioned it.

But of course, I was young and respected her, so it was easy for me to give my power away and assume that maybe she was right. And, at the end of the day, it didn’t really matter who was right or wrong. The bigger picture issue is that this person was teaching us to trust our guts, and when I decided to do so on a big decision (not easy!), she made me feel like I failed.

This is where self-help and personal development can get tricky.

The self-help industry is so massive because a lot of the business models are designed to make you feel like there’s a big secret you can only get through their specific process instead of helping you actually fix the root of the problem. A lot of the messages out there make us feel like we need to be on a hamster wheel in order to achieve growth. Sometimes it can seem like as soon as we’re “good enough” in one area, there’s somewhere else we’re failing.

Self-work is not easy, but are companies and individuals making it harder for us? This industry can too easily feed into a way of thinking that makes us believe we’re inferior, behind in some way, or that we need validation from someone we put on a pedestal. After all, it’s a really effective way to get our attention and money.

Self-work can open you up to a life that deeply resonates with who you are at your core. If you are willing to put in the work, it does have the ability to dramatically transform our relationships, career, health, and more.

And just like anything we focus on too much–a job, a relationship, or a fitness program–there is room for it to become consuming.

Here are a few things to keep in mind whenever you are moving through the world of self-work:

Always check in on what feels right for YOU. If someone offers you guidance, a technique, or an idea that just does not feel right to you, listen to your gut! I’ve received a ton of advice along the way and, even if it comes from someone really credible, I do not listen unless I know in my bones it’s the right thing for me.

Take breaks. This is one of the most important things you can do when you engage in self-work (or really any work for that matter). We absolutely need breathers to allow the work we’ve done to sink in and let the dust settle. If you let yourself stay on that hamster wheel, it’s easy to get lost. The contrast we’re able to see in how we approach and engage with life is always the best kind of proof to confirm that the work you’re doing is creating results.

Take your time. Many of us get so frustrated with ourselves because we’re not progressing fast enough when it comes to working on our stuff. Consider that you might be working on that lesson in one way or another until the day you die, so don’t make things unnecessarily difficult for yourself by adding undue pressure and lofty expectations. Maybe these lessons can empower us and become an integral part of our stories, shaping who we become and how we give back in this life instead of only seeing something to fix. It’s all about perspective.

In your self-work, you might discover that what you thought was joy or living was far from it. Or, maybe you realize that true joy comes from something pretty unexpected.

Either way, this work–no matter how tough it can feel sometimes–should ultimately propel you closer to the good stuff instead of keeping you from it.

About the author
Founder + Principal, Vibe Elevated • EI + Energy Expert Follow Sarah on Instagram or read more articles from Sarah on Thought Catalog.

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