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Self-help books are very popular, there is practically no person who has not read at least one throughout his life. Then, in times of crisis it is quite normal for many to turn to positive readings; they seek hope, guidance, something that will push them forward. But… can all self-help books really make us feel better? A study recently published in Psychological Science shows us that these words have, possibly, opposite results.
Psychologists from the universities of Waterloo and New Brunswick assert that people with low self-esteem feel worse after repeating the positive phrases contained in many of the self-help books. How did they come to these conclusions?
The researchers asked people with high and low self-esteem to repeat positive phrases to themselves, then evaluated how they felt about their self-esteem. What happened? People with low self-esteem who repeated the phrases felt worse than those who did not express them. What was the improvement in people with high self-esteem? Very subtle.
Later, in a follow-up study, people with low self-esteem were found to feel better if they were not asked to have positive thoughts.
Why does this happen? The fallacy of self-help books
Most of the positive phrases that appear in these books are a kind of: “I am a loved person”, “I will succeed”, “I totally accept myself” … Many of these statements express a contradictory or irrational character. It is difficult to accept ourselves completely and it is not enough to repeat, like a parrot, a rather hackneyed phrase.
In the same way, it is not enough to love for being loved, it is necessary to allow the others to love oneself and love oneself you too; It is something that is learned by walking a path full of personal experiences, not through linguistic reprogramming (NLP).
Thus, these phrases seem to have the same effect that we experience when we are sad and go to a party: everything around us is so happy that it reminds us of how nostalgic, sad and depressed we are.
On the other hand, the well-known rebound effect can also be evidenced: when we concentrate on eliminating negative thoughts, we activate an automatic surveillance mechanism that turns out to be a multiplier of negative ideas, obtaining precisely the opposite effect.
Of course, not all self-help books have this effect, it depends largely on how they have been written and the objectives pursued by the author. Normally we must carefully observe the titles and be wary of those that claim: “Change your life in ten days”, “Give up depression, anxiety, anorexia … in three steps” “The keys to happiness”, “The secrets of a full life”…
No one can show us the way to happiness or how to get out of depression, anxiety or any other psychopathology in three steps, it is not an easy path and normally you need the specialized help of a professional. Thus, I believe that in the future we should choose our self-help readings with greater attention and flee from titles made only to sell.
Isanki, B. (2009) You wear me out. In: Psychological Science.