“It’s really easy to find self-help advice nowadays,” she says. “It’s all over the Internet.”
I nod. “Sure is. I even write some myself.”
“That must be a real trip,” she says. “Just putting it out there and seeing how it’s applied.”
“It can be,” I say. “It does help that I don’t know most of my readership personally. Creates a bit of distance from what I do and how it’s received. Which helps me not worry or take things so personally when people go off in a weird direction with something. One I never intended.”
“But every now and then, it’s gotta happen to you,” she says. “Someone reposting one of your memes or advice columns, with the words ‘it me’ or ‘I needed to hear this.’ A moment where you go, ‘oh dear lord, it NOT you,’ or ‘you of all people did NOT need to hear that.’ I know it’s gotta happen to you because it sure happens to me.”
I laugh. “I know what you mean,” I confess. “It does happen to me sometimes. With my own stuff and also with things other people have written.”
When Self-Help Reinforces an Unhelpful Self-Story
She shares a recent example, involving a person we’re both quite familiar with, and we spend a bit of time talking about that situation.
The mutual acquaintance in question is a conversational and social steamroller who has a hard time honoring other people’s boundaries but mysteriously thinks that any of the problems in their own life stem directly from their not being firm enough in stating their own wants and needs to others. When, really, the issue is that they aren’t really open to other people having wants and needs of their own. And they have no problem with firm delivery or boundary defense.
In fact, this person is so firm with others, when it comes to social situations, they’re practically a club that whacks others over the head. They haven’t set boundaries, really. More like erected 100-foot electrified fences with guard dogs and loud alarms. Meanwhile, they don’t respect anyone else’s boundaries. And act emotionally like they expect they can wander into other people’s homes uninvited. Wild double standards.
And while many people have tried to show this individual the error of their ways (both of us and several other mutual friends), clearly, calmly, coolly, it still hasn’t sunk in. That same message at this point has been delivered by a wealth of good communicators and still nada. Not even a dent in their belief that they’re just too soft with people.
As a result, this person continues to have fireworks and tussles — all of which they learn nothing from, each time deftly shifting blame away from where it belongs. And coming up with ego-saving explanations.
So many bridges have been burned at this point that I’m honestly surprised that this individual hasn’t ended up a persona non grata. I suppose, in a way, they have become that to some people (I personally avoid them, as do many others).
But there always seems to be someone new that they haven’t directly burned yet, ready and willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
When asked what I think of them, I’m honest about my own experiences with them. And this has occasionally given a potential new play partner a bit of pause (especially as they visit other reputable sources, who tell them the same thing I have).
But people do what they want to do. And sometimes what they want to do is ignore negative reputations until they have direct evidence of wrongdoing themselves (totally their right, if difficult to watch). So the cycle repeats.
And this cycle is definitely aided by the fact that this individual completely lacks self-awareness and doubles down on the explanation for their difficulties they want to believe rather than any that actually interface with reality or the clear pattern that follows them. Interestingly, what they post and share to their social media is part of this self-story.
“I can’t believe she reposts your content,” my friend muses. “I wonder if she knows you’re the one who runs the site. Who writes most of the articles.”
“I doubt it,” I say.
The Key to Effective Self-Help Is Knowing Where You Are Relative to the Advice
The Internet has made it easier than ever to find self-help advice. It’s practically everywhere. If you’re on social media, depending on who your friends are, you don’t even have to look. It’ll find you, as you’re scrolling through looking for funny cat videos or pictures of your cousin’s new baby.
I think this can be a very good thing. And that the advice can be helpful. But finding good advice isn’t enough. It also needs to be the right advice for you.
Advice is only helpful if you understand yourself and where you are relative to it. The key to effective self-help is a high level of self-awareness. The ability to honestly assess whether that advice is meant for you or not. “It me” or “can’t relate” can make all the difference.
Because just like taking someone else’s prescription drugs without seeing a physician and getting an accurate diagnosis can backfire and make you more sick, following advice that addresses a problem you don’t have and ignoring the one that you actually do can backfire. And make things considerably worse.
For self-help to be effective, you have to be able to take an honest look at yourself, listen to the people in your life who are telling you difficult truths (and not just the yes men), and identify the problems you’re actually having. Instead of clinging to addressing the one that you’d rather have.
You can want the problem to be that you’re too much of a doormat or that you’re too hard on yourself or that you love too intensely or that you’re too generous (and to be fair, these are all problems that some people do have), but just wanting it to be that way doesn’t make it so.
For reframes and tools to maintain healthy relationships of all kinds, please see Dealing with Difficult Metamours, a guide to troubleshooting challenging polyamorous dynamics as well as guidance on how to not create them in the first place.