There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Self Help

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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Self-help? No thanks!

The year I turned 30, the life path I thought I was on took a sharp turn and derailed. The end of a six-year relationship left me broken. I was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease.  A nice Welcome to your 30s! combo set.

At the same time, my friend Emma was going through her own massive life upheaval. She carried me through my post-break-up identity crisis and I offered her support through a messy divorce. Emma suggested I read Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie. There was a time I would have scoffed at those cheesy self-help books. I never would have considered that codependence could be my problem. But desperation set in and I flung open to page one. Here's the short version: opening that book opened my heart to the wisdom of strangers, and it saved my life.

As it turns out, Beattie knew my soul.

I then jumped on the self-help bandwagon. I read all the self-care guides, journaled daily, and was determined to heal - emotionally and physically. The guidance of experts in health and wellness became my enlightenment. If I hadn’t faced some truths about myself, I might still be living in those dark days. My Before Self Help Era (BSH).                   

...

Putting down the books

Fast forward four years. As I sat with Emma at a coffee shop recently, I realized we were doing it again. Swapping our latest self-help tips, divulging our deepest flaws and sharing the new tool we learned for coping with whatever challenge we were facing at that moment.

I couldn’t remember the last time I hung out with Emma without psychoanalyzing and dissecting our behaviors and motivations. As we grew and changed together, and as life continued to throw curve balls at us, it was like we’d become each other’s therapists. Our quest for healing had become our common ground and set the tone for our friendship.

Now don't get me wrong, it’s great to help each other when we're struggling! And it’s also easy to dwell on our problems when we catch up - our problems become a topic we know so well! But it’s not our job to treat each other’s emotional pain, especially without proper training.  I trust Emma with my struggles because she is a great listener and gives the best advice. I try to do the same for her. But after all these years, I don’t know if my advice has been helpful, no matter how good my intentions.  A trained therapist would know best how to handle our respective baggage. It was time to stop letting the quest for self-improvement and healing consume us. 

As much as Emma and I thrived on each other's support, we were both feeling the burden of playing counselor. 

Finding middle ground

I missed just being. Emma and I have been friends for 15 years. There was a time when we didn’t analyze our every thought or decision (long before BSH). We were care-free and spontaneous. I know we can’t bring back our free and breezy 20’s. Or, let’s be honest, the days of drunken shenanigans. But, we can try to remember who we were then, and channel that feeling - before obligations, heartbreaks, and mortgages took their toll. We don’t have to constantly obsess and worry about whether we’re doing life right. Self-doubt is at the root of many of our quests for self-improvement.

For a moment over coffee, I can stop trying to fix myself and others. 

So I experimented: I decided to hang out with Emma and do things that bring us joy. We ordered pie to go with our coffee (guilt-free!) and reminisced about things that make us laugh. We walked to the park and played on the swings, like a couple of kids. I think our friendship needed that jump-start. Nothing was broken at that moment, and nothing needed fixing. 

Going against my nature and trusting my instincts

I tend to delve deep when I get into a one-on-one conversation. Keeping things light-hearted is out of character for me, so just having fun is a much needed reprieve. Whenever the conversation over coffee got heavy, I suggested to Emma that she discuss the issue with her therapist. We no longer dwell or talk in circles like we used to.

Granted, I’m still on this journey and have much more to learn. But during that coffee break I gave myself a break from self-improvement, from healing and processing. To exist, free of worry or a need for order and perfection. Ironically, it's self-improvement books that have taught me to be more present and live in the moment.   Maybe I'm finally learning to trust my own instincts - not rely so completely on the guidance of others. Could it be, I'm actually applying what I have learned in my search for wisdom and wellness?

What's your nature?

If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you are open to self-improvement and to learning tools to cope with life’s challenges. Doing the work to better yourself can be life-changing. It takes guts to face yourself, flaws and all, and it’s noble work to aim to be the best version of you.

But, if you’ve been bogged down by too much processing, give yourself permission to take a break from overthinking. It’s okay to put down the books, for as long as you need. They’ll be there when you want to jump back in. But for the time being, do the thing that brings you joy. I’m off to play in clay and to see if I can still throw a mug or two. Maybe Emma and I can use it at our next coffee date. If my mug doesn't come out perfectly from the kiln, well, it'll have my fingerprints all over it.

Taking care of you and your Emma

Do you have an Emma in your life?  The next time the two of you end up going down the psychoanalysis rabbit hole, save your own issues for your session with your therapist. If your Emma doesn’t have a therapist and she's open to seeing someone, you can suggest that too. It’s ok to lean on friends for support, but having fun and letting go of it all sometimes can be just as therapeutic as the best self-help book. It can also do wonders for friendships.


 Karen Lenz  Executive Assistant

Karen Lenz
Executive Assistant

Hi, I want to introduce myself as People Bloom's Executive Assistant. I know you look to Ada’s  blogs for helpful messages and tips to get through life’s challenges. But running a small business is non-stop work, which means the blog sometimes gets pushed to the back burner. I mentioned to Ada that I like to write, and she kindly offered for me to contribute blogs during those busy times. I was thrilled!
I’m in the office business - not a therapist. I’ll share my experiences as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. Thank you for letting me share a part of myself. Maybe my journey will resonate with you, and we’ll get through this messy life together.