Mental Health

Why Self-Help Books Didn’t Help Me

person on stack of books reading self-help book
By reading so many self-help books, I began reinforcing a very negative thought about myself: that I was never good enough as is.

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Content Warning: depression, self-doubt, perfectionism

Since graduating from college, I have become a much bigger fan of reading (mainly because I am no longer required to read hundreds of pages of academic writing every week). When I first got into reading, the genre that drew my attention the most was self-help books.

Why I Gravitated Towards Self-Help Books

stack of books

I’ve always found reading narrative stories to be easier. And I figured reading other people’s wellness advice would be a great way to educate myself regarding coping with mental illnesses.

Authors such as Tara Schuster inspired me to use writing as a tool to express my deepest vulnerabilities with mental health. Books like “Single on Purpose” by John Kim helped me reframe the narrative in my head about being single and what singlehood can mean for a person.

Overall, I felt a little bit better about myself with each self-help book that I conquered. With each book, I felt like I was learning valuable lessons about self-care and mental wellness.

Perfectionism and Self-Help Books

Unfortunately, I have a problematic trait of putting too much value into my productivity. I get caught up thinking that my worth increases if I am always doing something.

Recently, I’ve come to understand how dangerous this trait can be when I try to apply the principles of worth and productivity towards a worthwhile issue in my life, like mental health.

Related: The Perils of Perfectionism

The self-help books I’ve read have had amazing messages. Each book had different tips for living a healthier life: wake up super early in the morning, journal three pages a day, go on adventures, etc.

I soaked up as many pieces of advice as possible and was always looking to reinvent myself into my ideal version of a healthy person.

At first, the concept of always working toward a better version of myself didn’t seem like a problem.

My thought process was “mental health is important and therefore needs as much of my attention as possible.” By believing in the power of constant self-improvement, I began burying myself in the ways I could constantly be changing through self-care productivity.

By reading so many self-help books and always striving to productively apply the tips in these stories to my life, I accidentally began reinforcing a very negative thought about myself: that I was never good enough as is.

More so, I felt I needed to continually be changing if I am going to like the person I see in the mirror. If I wasn’t always productive, I feared that I would drown in a pool of pity and depression.

Self-help books never seemed like they taught me how to accept the parts of myself that are good and not in need of change.

I only saw myself as one big problem that was never going to be good enough.

I don’t ever want to become a person unwilling to change. Even though I hate change, I can logically acknowledge that change is good under certain circumstances. And in other instances, change is necessary if I want to have a healthy life filled with meaningful relationships.

While change can be good, I also know that too much of anything can be bad.

I believe that always working to feel good can be a tricky and dangerous black hole to fall into.

Especially as a perfectionist who tells himself constantly that things (my health, my mental wellness) can always be better.

If I never accept what is, I seriously worry that I will overwork myself into a nervous breakdown since my goals would be neither realistic nor kind to myself.

It’s Okay if Self-Help Books Help You

self-help books inline image of book with lightbulb

If self-help books happen to be your jam, please know that this article is not meant to shame you. I know I will always be drawn to the self-help genre, and I would hope that you feel no shame if you are like me and have a preference for these types of books. There really are many great self-help books out there that give incredible advice to readers.

That being said, while self-help books are great, they don’t have to be the only thing you read, even if you struggle with mental health.

You are more than allowed to explore other genres like mysteries, thrillers, romance novels, etc. You may find that you enjoy self-help books even more if you don’t solely rely on the genre for your reading entertainment.

Additionally, no matter what self-help books tell you, please remember that there are parts of you that aren’t damaged.

Moreover, there are aspects to who you are as a person that are incredible now.

Closing Thoughts

Wanting to constantly improve as a person is not a selfish or silly goal. But please don’t be like me and get yourself into this perpetual thought process of thinking that you always need to change every part of who you are.

Because to me, if you never stop and smell the roses, you miss out on the wonderful aspects of who you are that have always existed.


Hi everyone! My name is Matthew. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was in middle school. I have been trying my best to learn how to cope with my mental illnesses for years. I am still very much learning how to deal with my mental health and live a life of happiness. However, I have found ways to help me feel better, such as going to therapy and writing. Otherwise, I am pretty much a couch potato at heart who loves sitcoms, video games and professional wrestling. I am excited to be a part of Libero!

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