We all have room to improve and get better.
But a surprising amount of the self-help and self-development industry is toxic and misleading.
Many of the most popular gurus and books teach us lessons that can actually backfire and waste lots of our time and energy.
Here are the top teachings of self-help gurus that we don’t need in our lives.
1) The Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction, “the Secret” and the philosophy of snakeoil saleswoman Esther Hicks are extremely impressive in one way:
They’re a massive marketing success in spreading an idea that broke through into popular culture and got people’s attention.
Apart from that these teachings are largely nonsense and a form of predatory gaslighting.
The truth: what you focus on and prioritize does impact what you notice around you, known as confirmation.
The lie: life brings you what you think about and feel and if you change these things then you’ll get what you want.
If that was true we’d all live in mansions with ideal spouses and a career we love.
2) Reality is in your mind
This is an increasingly common idea I hear all around me, including from New Age gurus and self-improvement teachers.
It ties back to the Law of Attraction and is a natural correlative to it.
Basically the idea is that outer events are just a reflection of your inner reality.
I’ve heard things said that go as far as claiming even cancer is usually a reflection of some unresolved emotional trauma or blockage inside and so on.
We’re all just holograms and the physical world only appears to be real to us because of our deep-seated belief that it’s real…
It’s horribly untrue that reality is all in your mind, and such a privileged and bizarre belief could only emerge in the kind of abstracted, intellectualized societies that are springing up in the post-Industrial West.
This relates to the next point…
3) Visualize and manifest
The idea behind visualizing and manifesting is deeply linked to the previous idea that reality is in our head.
If that was true (which it’s not) then it would make sense that changing reality is a matter of changing what you think about and visualize.
The result is actually that this often backfires.
Some of the biggest visualizers I know are also the least practical and the most apt to get lost in daydreams and with blown budgets.
“First of all, it separates the goal from what you need to do to get it.
And second, it enables you to enjoy the feeling of being successful without actually having achieved anything.”
Even worse, if you’re not manifesting what you want yet, it’s probably because you’re lost in the illusions of your own suffering and obstacles in your life.
4) Your suffering and frustrations are illusions
Not all self-improvement gurus teach this, but some do.
Tony Robbins, for example, acknowledges that suffering and frustration are 100% real, however it’s what you do with them that counts.
Many self-improvement teachers go much further than this, however, saying that your suffering is just ego.
Clearly some people are suffering over mental anxiety and worries that will never happen, but why is it my place or a self-help guru’s place to certify what is or is not “valid” suffering?
If you’re having a hard time, it’s real.
If your boyfriend just left you and it hurts, that’s real, not a karmic suffering delusion based on your ego or an energy vortex vibration or whatever.
Can we at least start with that and go from there, rather than gaslighting ourselves into believing our struggles are invalid to start with?
“The irony here is that the prerequisite for self-help to be effective is the one crucial thing that self-help cannot actually help: accept yourself as a good person who makes mistakes,” observes author Mark Manson.
This ties into the next bad piece of advice we need to overcome…
5) Difficult emotions are ‘bad’
Many self-improvement gurus claim that we don’t need religion and old-fashioned morality.
Instead, we just need to face ourselves in the mirror and face what’s inside.
But in claiming to have overcome a binary view of the world they cling to one even more rigid in which there are good habits, forces and emotions and bad habits, forces and emotions.
Those difficult emotions you have are “bad” because they are uncomfortable.
Plus, we’re told that they’re holding us back from our success and potential!
F. Scott Fitzgerald should have dealt with his depression and mania more effectively through therapy and medication so he wouldn’t have had to experience the illusions of his condition…
Then he could have trimmed his garden and lived a quiet life without ever writing a word that moved the rest of us.
6) Be positive all the time
Many self-improvement gurus, including those who don’t subscribe to the Law of Attraction per se, still urge us to be positive as much as possible.
Positivity is the engine of all growth and innovation.
We need to be ultra positive in order to keep going when times are tough and see the silver lining of everything.
If we can conquer our fears and “bad” emotions then all that will be left is happiness and whatever happens to us will eventually be seen as having benefits we didn’t notice at first.
The idea behind toxic positivity is simple:
It’s to gaslight and blame us all for being human so that we cling to a person who acts superior or wiser than us and who we imagine isn’t beholden to occasionally highly difficult emotions.
“One of my favorite idioms of all time is, ‘Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?’
It is morbid humor, with the speaker completely clueless that Mrs. Lincoln’s husband has just been shot.
Yet it speaks directly to the ham-handedness of toxic positivity that slathers the self-help industry.”
7) Conquer your insecurities!
The idea that we can work our way into maximal efficacy through a series of self-improvement apps and books is very popular these days.
This goes back to the idea that our suffering is only in our head or is about a lack of positive thinking and vibrations.
“Insecurities don’t mean things are going wrong,” Paul Dermody reminds us.
“They’re a reminder you’re alive. It’s not just normal. It’s inevitable and intermittently permanent.”
When we’re told to conquer our insecurities, we’re told to change who we are to be good enough.
Ironically, this feeds into exactly the kind of feelings of unworthiness that often makes us prey for self-help gurus in the first place.
8) Hustle harder if you’re not succeeding
Self-improvement gurus often overlap with hustle culture.
Work harder, make bank, get behind the wheel of that Maserati!
If you watch a lot of the videos and seminars of hustle culture self-help gurus you’ll detect something very disgusting:
They’re not only making loads of money and getting rich off middle class and poor people who don’t have that money to spare…
They also have genuinely joined in a worldview where being poor or having financial issues is the fault of the person having them.
They believe money determines worth, essentially, and like the spiritual guru blaming students for not having high enough vibrations, the hustle guru blames students (and “brokies”) for not having enough money.
9) Life is a linear progression to wellness
Many self-improvement gurus present their material and teachings in a very linear way:
You’re currently at point A, but if you want to get to point B, do exactly as they say.
Life’s a journey from point A to point B, and if you just do what they say you’ll get enlightened, happy and have a great life sooner than you think.
But life moves in cycles.
Even if I told you the absolute arcane wisdom of a subject right now, putting it into practice would be something else entirely.
Thinking of our own development as an upwards line is deceptive and makes it easy to be manipulated into get-rich quick schemes, shallow relationships and misleading philosophies.
I’m more self-improved than you!
Spiritual narcissism and self-improvement obsession is a serious problem.
It creates a spiritual caste system in which the high vibration bros and yoga babes rule the roost and the rest of us brokie plebs beg for attention and validation.
It claims to have superseded some egoic world conception by just replacing it with a new form in which the more enlightened and improved people are better than others.
Self-improvement is outstanding, but it is always about your own journey and not about living up to somebody else’s image of what you need to be.
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