Helping yourself can be an effective way to deal with problems and promote personal growth, but is it possible to overdo it? Or could you become addicted to self-help?
While experts still disagree about which behaviors should be considered “real” addictions, there’s no doubt that certain behaviors can cause serious problems in a person’s life when they become pervasive, invasive, and distressing.
But what happens when it’s a persistent pursuit to be better, stronger, happier, and more productive? Is the relentless pursuit of self-improvement a bad thing?
It is the desire to be better and to do better, after all, that often motivates us to take action.
The problem is that if you always make your happiness contingent on achieving those ever-changing goals, you will never be satisfied with the life you have now. If you can only feel fulfilled by hitting that target, how can you be satisfied if the bullseye keeps moving?
What is Self Help?
Self-help refers to a type of guided self-improvement. That means relying on your own efforts to achieve some kind of goal. While self-help is often self-initiated and self-directed, it often has its basis in some kind of psychological theory or research.
Self-help is often centered on making improvements in various areas of your life. Some of the key self-help goals that people often choose to pursue include in areas such as:
- Mental health: This may include doing things like reducing anxiety, finding happiness, feeling more grateful, or practicing mindfulness.
- Career or education: Learning and developing both academically and professionally is also a common goal of self-help. This may include exploring new careers, gaining job skills, and seeking career opportunities.
- Relationships: This may center on dating and finding new relationships or repairing and strengthening current relationships.
- Health and fitness: Losing weight and getting fit are two of the most common self-help goals that people pursue.
- Self-improvement: Self-help is also often centered on finding ways to improve aspects of yourself such as learning to stop procrastinating and overcoming low self-esteem.
Self-help can occur independently, but it can also occur in the context of a self-help group. Groups devoted to self-help for mental health problems are the most common type of self-help.
An estimated two million US adults participate in self-help groups each year.
Is Self-Help Effective?
Self-help can—without a doubt—be a powerful tool. This can enhance professional care to help maximize the benefits of psychotherapy and medication. For some, it can even be enough to bring about lasting change on its own. But there are some aspects of self-help that may prove dangerous:
- One problem is that many self-help programs lack research and empirical evidence to support claims about their effectiveness.
- Compliance is another factor that can influence whether self-help has a real impact. People differ in how much they follow a plan, which can ultimately affect what kind of outcome they experience.
- It’s also important to remember that many of the self-help advice books you’ll find in stores and online are not necessarily research-backed. The effectiveness of each may also vary depending on a variety of factors including your goals and level of commitment to making the change.
Fortunately, there is research showing that self-help programs, particularly guided interventions, for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can be beneficial.
Research shows that several self-help programs can be effective for a number of different purposes. For example, research has found that guided self-help programs can be an effective way to reduce symptoms of depression.
Self-help interventions have also been shown to be helpful in the treatment of gambling addiction, prevention of postpartum depression, diabetes self-management, smoking cessation, and substance use disorders.
Signs You Might Have a Problem
If you are concerned that you may be addicted to self-help, there are several signs that you may have a problem. This includes:
It’s Taking Too Much of Your Time
Self-help programs require you to devote time to pursuing goals. In many cases, this can actually be a good thing. Focusing on yourself, your health, your self-care, and your emotional well-being are all good things for your mind and body.
But if you feel like all your time is being spent on self-help activities, that may be a sign of a problem. Do you feel like you only have time to practice self-help? Have you given up other hobbies or avoided friends, family, and work in order to work independently?
It Disrupts Your Relationship
While relationships are a common focus of self-help efforts, there are times when your dedication to improving in one area may actually create problems in other areas, including your relationship with your partner, friend, or loved one.
If your self-help efforts are negatively impacting your relationships with friends and loved ones, it may be a sign that something is wrong.
Perhaps you spend so much time on self-help activities that you neglect the people in your life. Or maybe you think that you can’t pursue a relationship until you reach your self-help goals.
This Causes Problems In Other Areas Of Your Life
Addiction can make it difficult for you to function normally in your daily life. If your self-help goals are interfering with your ability to work, go to school, or perform other mundane tasks, it may be a sign that there is a problem.
For example, if you feel distracted or busy thinking about your self-help goals, you may find it difficult to concentrate on your work or academics.
In some cases, your behavior may even cause you to neglect self-care, miss appointments, or have trouble making important decisions.
It Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself
Self-help can be a powerful tool, but it will not be an effective source of self-improvement if it relies on making you feel bad about who you are in the here and now.
The best self-help tools and programs encourage you to see your own strengths and encourage you to use those abilities as stepping stones to become stronger.
If the need to “fix” your perceived shortcomings makes you feel demotivated or downright bad about yourself, it’s time to step back and re-evaluate your goals and efforts.
It Disrupts Doctor-Recommended Treatment
One of the most serious signs that you may have a problem with self-help is that you are using this tactic instead of the treatment your doctor recommends or prescribes.
An example would be stopping your antidepressant and taking a supplement or using some other self-help strategy.
In this case, there are possible serious health consequences. Stopping your medication can cause withdrawal symptoms and some supplements can have side effects and drug interactions that you need to discuss with your doctor before taking them.
Not taking your prescribed medication can also cause a return or even worsening of your symptoms.
Always talk to your doctor before you stop or start taking any medications or supplements. If you want to try something new, discuss it with your doctor. You can get their advice and then create a treatment plan that incorporates their recommendations.
Is Self-Help Really Addictive?
While the symptoms of addiction vary from one type to the next, there are some general signs that a behavior may be problematic. This includes:
- Mood changes
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Continue to engage in the behavior regardless of the negative consequences
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Having financial or legal problems
- Feeling can’t stop
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Try to hide your behavior from others
Having these symptoms does not mean you are addicted to self-help. Self-help addiction is not a condition recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Some behavioral addictions are recognized as mental health conditions and a number have been noted by health care providers.
However, they may be signs that you should step back and consider talking to your doctor or therapist.
It’s important to note that sometimes excessive self-reliance can contribute to other problems. For example, self-directed efforts to lose weight may play a role in the development of eating disorders.
Questions to Ask
Some things you might ask yourself to help determine if your self-help efforts are becoming problematic:
- Does engaging in self-help activities or reading self-help materials make you feel inadequate or unhappy?
- Do you tend to turn to self-help when you feel bad about something in your life?
- Do you often read or collect self-help materials without actually applying them?
- Have other people noticed that you spend a lot of time for the purpose of helping yourself?
- Have you ever tried to hide your self-help efforts from others or experienced feelings of shame about them?
- Do you find it difficult to stop thinking about or pursuing self-help goals even when you experience negative consequences?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, it may be worth trying to find ways to deal with the behaviors that are causing problems in your life.
What You Can Do
If it seems like your self-help efforts are taking over your life or causing problems, there are steps you can take. Some of the things you can do are listed below.
Focus on Accepting Yourself
Self-acceptance involves full acceptance of who you are. It involves embracing who you are in the here and now. It doesn’t mean that you think you’re perfect; it means you realize that you have a flaw or weakness and you accept it.
This does not mean that you give up or are not interested in building your skills. Instead, it means you can focus on your goal of getting better without feeling the need to reach an unattainable level of perfection.
Choose the Right Self-Help Program
Just by the nature of the program itself, self-help industry often relies on and even exploits people’s insecurities. By convincing you that you’re not good enough right now, they can sell you books, products, programs, and even supplements that will supposedly make you better.
The problem is that this can lead to a continuous cycle of insecurity. After all, there is always something to improve or a shortcoming to work on.
You can avoid falling into this cycle of self-doubt by choosing goals and self-help tools that make you feel good about yourself.
It’s okay to admit that you want to change, but a good program will help you feel inspired and motivated. This will help you recognize and appreciate your current strengths and see how you can use them to acquire new skills.
Remember Your Strength
While it can sometimes be easy to focus more on the things you want to change, it’s also important to remember your strengths and abilities.
Even if you’re facing a problem that you want to help—whether you want to reduce anxiety or feel closer to your partner—you have positive qualities, traits, talents, and abilities that you should value and appreciate.
Talk to Professionals
Sometimes talking to a mental health professional can help you keep your self-help efforts in perspective. This is especially important if you are trying to use self-help to deal with issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, or other mental health issues.
In some cases, you may feel dissatisfied with your self-help efforts because you need some type of treatment in addition to these strategies. Working with your therapist, you can then decide on a treatment plan that can incorporate psychotherapy, medication, and self-help techniques to relieve your symptoms.
If you are also experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, talk to your doctor or mental health professional.
A Word From The SpiritTip
The desire to be better is a powerful intrinsic motivator that can help you find ways to grow as an individual. But it’s also important to consider why you want to pursue this self-help goal. Remember that wanting to grow doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with who you are now.
Helping yourself can be a great way to reach a goal or overcome difficulties in your life. It can help you deal with stress, improve your relationships, reduce anxiety, and a number of other goals.
The key is to have a sound outlook, be aware of what you can realistically achieve on your own, and be willing to reach out if you need additional help.