Self-help books that actually help.
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a personal development strategist and coach working to help people with self-acceptance, self-trust, and self-compassion. You can learn more about working with me here.
Happy Sunday, friends. Like many of you, I suspect, I’m a big reader. When I was a kid, it was a weekend treat to go to the local bookstore with my family, where I got to pick out one or two books (shoutout to Crown Books; total aside, it turns out they didn’t close down with the advent of the internet or Borders like I assumed; they were basically the third-largest bookstore in the country when a riveting family divorce and bitter feud between a son and father drove them into bankruptcy; can we get a movie about this?). While the rest of my family loitered in the aisles browsing titles, I’d hone in on a book (usually Babysitters Club or Anne of Green Gables), pick it, sit down in a corner, start reading it — and by the time we got home, I would have finished it in the car. I went on to major in English Lit in college, and since then have blown my way through, well, all the books. Most of them fiction.
But as I went through my coaching program over the last year, much of the homework centered on reading non-fiction books — what might be called personal development tomes, or even the dreaded subject group… the self-help book.
I don’t know where along the way society got so cynical about wanting to develop personally and grow, or deal with issues you know are affecting you negatively, but I was definitely part of that condescension. I never touched a self-help book and certainly looked down on anybody who read them as naive and needy, exploited by self-appointed gurus.
But in my coaching program, we were assigned what really couldn’t be called anything else but… self-help books. And they were… helpful? I’ve often referenced Soul Without Shame, the first book I read in the program, which helped me make massive strides in dismantling my inner critic.
And so I kept reading. As I work with clients (and on my own continued growth), I consider it mandatory that I find good self-help and personal growth books to help teach me lessons that I can then share with others.
So with that, let me share some of the self-help books that made an impact on me in 2019. AND! The other announcement. In 2020, I’m going to start a Sunday Soother book club. We’ll be chatting in a group community, asking questions & reflections, and I may even do a video hangout for all of us at the end of the book to discuss it! I will put up a poll later today about the book we’ll choose. Just join the Soother Facebook group to get the info.
On to the books!
- The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: This book is an exploration of what is traditionally called the “shadow self.” The short thing I took away from this: anything that annoys you, triggers you, gets an emotional rise out of you, that you judge or criticize — is actually an unhealed part of who you are, and until you acknowledge and embrace that part, you’re going to go through life with those unconscious triggers driving most of your choices. It’s sort of abstract but an example is I still get extremely annoyed by people who are the center of attention. By this book’s logic, that means that’s a super deep desire I actually have in myself that I’ve denied (let’s just say that yes this is true) and I need to allow myself to embrace that. Once I’ve welcomed that aspect in myself, it will no longer annoy me in others. Essentially, how and when you judge or get annoyed by others is actually a really useful set of clues to better understanding yourself and embracing yourself wholly. Lots of great exercises and real-life examples.
- Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself: This book is primarily geared toward partners of alcoholics and caregivers but anybody who is a people-pleaser is going to get a ton out of this book. This is the book that helped me understand my definition of codependent was incorrect. I previously thought being codependent meant you were enmeshed in an obsessive relationship with a romantic partner and neither of you could do anything without the other. The actual definition of codependency is more along the lines of overreacting to things that happen outside of yourself, and underreacting to your own actual thoughts and feelings. The author, Melody Beattie, also defines codependency as somebody who lets others’ behavior affect them and then tries to control that other person’s behavior. Yeah, it gets real. Women who consider themself people-pleasers, caretakers, helpers, will benefit from this read.
- You Are a Badass at Making Money: This was the book I was most skeptical of in my reading list but I got a surprising amount out of it. It does have a little bit of the element of “just change your mindset about money and you can start making more of it!” but… as I read it I actually saw how that could be true. At the very least it asks you to seriously consider and make conscious your beliefs, stories, and ideas around money, which was very useful for me — I just assumed the way I thought about money was… the way I thought about money. But the more I read and did the exercises, the more I learned it was a lot of inherited beliefs that I was happily taking to be the end-all-be-all truth.
- Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love: Really useful for anybody who struggles with dating, primarily the kind of dating where you somehow keep winding up dating emotionally unavailable people. (Hint: It’s not just bad luck; you’re choosing those people on purpose, albeit subconsciously, and for a reason.) The book will help you understand how and why you date. As the book describes: “Anxious people are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.” It will also give you tips on how to develop past your dating style and evolve to something that serves you better.
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma: Critical reading for those of us looking to better understand the mind-body connection. You know how when trauma happens, we so readily accept it continues to live in our mind and affect that? Well, it lives in your body, too — your nervous system, your muscles, in chronic pain. Somatic work (that is, treatments that work with the body) can offer massive help and release.
That’s it for now! Do you have a self-help or personal growth book that affected you in the last year? I’d love to hear about it and share it with the Sunday Soother community. Just email me to tell me about it.