Self-help products can be quite appealing, particularly to those who lack time and resources or are too embarrassed or proud to seek out professional help. Even those who have obtained professional help, many with a diagnosed mental illness, utilize self-help products as additional coping tools. The self-improvement industry has capitalized on this by turning it into an $11 billion industry according to Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. which has conducted the only business analysis of this industry.
As someone who once embraced this industry (both professionally and personally), I still recognize the potential value. However, potential doesn’t always translate into success. There are several concerns I have regarding this market that are not always discussed particularly with consumers of these products.
The majority are female, and many of whom are drawn to these products not because they think they are already awesome and would simply like further growth, but because of insecurities and lack of self-acceptance that is more characteristic of females than males in our society. Whereas males are more often encouraged to be and accept themselves without apology, they are less likely to believe they need self-improvement.
Regardless of gender, anyone who seeks out self-help products due to a belief that they are fundamentally flawed will find themselves disappointed. They don’t recognize their innate belief of inadequacy and the self-help product may actually further reinforce this. This can lead to exploitation by the self-improvement industry, perhaps inadvertent yet still exploitative, capitalizing on individual’s insecurities rather than genuine concern for the betterment of humanity.
This exploitation is also present in the tacit message that if you simply follow this one self-help program to the T, it will fix everything and forever change your life for the better. Most don’t realize that there are as many ways of living a happy, loving, and fulfilling life as there are individuals in this world. These programs assert that their singular way of doing things will cure-all ills. That simply isn’t true. While this one person may have experienced complete transformation following a specific program it is important to realize that was their life path and everyone travels a different one.
Your life path could be similar but unlikely that it will be identical and far more likely that it will be quite different. Many of these programs set people up for failure due to their failure to address the infinite variations that exist in our universe. So, you have all these people shelling out bucks, expecting a dramatic shift in their life, only to be disappointed because the program didn’t work for them which leads to my last concern.
In many of these programs, they are developed by individuals with little to no established expertise on their topic. This isn’t to say there aren’t innately knowledgeable and talented individuals who provide sage advice but there is always the potential for danger when an ignorant layperson provides information packaged as professional advice. They don’t always take into account every factor, such as environment or culture, instead focusing on the individual in a bubble (usually their bubble as stated earlier) that doesn’t exist. Often, there is also very little scientific research to back up their claims but they present the information as fact. Or they simply give extremely bad advice. For example the book, “To Train Up a Child” has been linked to multiple deaths, yet people continue to buy it and put its advice into practice.
With that being said, it is doubtful that most who contribute to the self-improvement industry do so with any malicious intent. At worst, they believe they have some amazing insight to share with the world and want to make a dime doing so. Can’t hate on that. At best, they have legitimately found something that has helped them and hope that others can benefit from it as they have. What it essentially comes down to is both the producer and the consumer must take some responsibility in critical thinking and becoming aware of themselves and others in order to see the self-help industry for what it is.
Some products contain some helpful advice and some not so helpful advice. It is the responsibility of the producers to remind consumers that this is not a one fit program and that it is the responsibility of the consumer to assess the limitations of the product and utilize only what is valid for them. When we’re living a life of awareness and reflection, we already have all of the self-help we need right where it should be, in our own self.