The first part of my problem with self-help books is that promise. That you can be rich, you can be better, You can have better relationships. These promises piss me off. The back cover of most of these books will claim "A book that will change your life..... " while I agree that books are capable of changing lives, I am unwilling to buy that a single book can provide enough inspiration to reconsider your entire life. I mean yes may be a little tweak here and there, but for how long? we are creatures of habit, we want to look like we are doing something positive, frankly what we are expecting these books to do is offer shortcuts to being better at our jobs, at life, at relationships... to name a few.
Self help books are well written fiction. Yes! You can quote an Einstein or a lost puppy and make your point. But for this story to translate into something concrete it needs specific plans and these plans are highly fictional. A book I once read claimed, "to quit habits that you have a problem with start by cutting down on them". I started the plan, I tried to cut down on my coffee and within days I was a mess. I had a headache, I was irritable and most importantly I wasn't happy. I am not exaggerating. I wish I was. So my self-help book did not account for the withdrawal symptoms my body would go through. (Caffeine addiction is real;ask me). Within 3 days I was back drinking bitter coffee and I have never thought of quitting since then. While people and the book will say that I should have stuck to the programme anyway, the problem was that the book and people "assumed" that I have that kind of self control.
Books filled with hope let people believe that they are in control, when infact our minds are so much stronger. If your mind refuses to speak in public, no amount of screaming in front of the damn mirror will help. You can make friends only because it makes sense, all this bullshit about "try and get interested" is lame. I cannot get interested an origami class or a cooking class because I want to be a friend. It just does not work.
Look at all these books around you, you will notice that all of them address some concerns which at some level you already know how to take care of. I read this tip somewhere it said "Find your escape". I know my escape, I know I want to read and travel the world, but is it possible? The reader should take note that "escape" is loosely defined, the author does not suggest anything concrete, he is not saying write for a page or read. He is saying you be the best judge of what you want to do. That is just lame. That is just loosely on the theme of self help. Now, your question is, what if the reader is not a writer or reader? Very valid. Not everyone who reads the book is a writer/reader. But then why buy a book which clearly is just mass produced therapy? Not therapy; just feel good.
The next problem I have with self help books are these self help gurus. Firstly, let stop calling them Gurus, a Guru is a much higher calling. Lets call them self-help dudes. These people play with words and everybody knows words have an effect on people. The SHdudes have the gift of communication they stand in front of 1000's of people saying 'do you want to change your life?' and desperate people and hopefuls say "yes!" That mass-hysteria is what causes people to believe that life is changing at that very moment. This is not just restricted to the new age dudes, I am talking about everyone who thinks they can claim to change lives. (Baba's and swamis included)
Lets talk vocabulary. "Our ego is like our shadow... we chase our shadows and we don't realise we will never be able to catch it" Now, this is exactly the kind of thing your would find in a self help book. Frankly this is so wide and can be interpreted in so many ways,It loses the point. I hear things life "let your dreams take flight" sentences like this one are thrown around carelessly." In life welcome change, endorse it, appreciate it." this is exactly the kind of bullshit that I have a problem with. The vagueness, the help yourself without my help thing. This is my problem.
Finally my problem with self help books are of the new category, the "let me teach you to be evil" genre. The seduce your peers and the be the top boss, get work done from others, the be a bitch kind. I don't know if it is Self-Help or Self -Harm Why would you voluntarily sign up to become evil? Also you have lived for 20 years or so and you need a book to tell you how to deal with assholes? Hell no. I have an issue with this genre, this manipulative self help.
So to sum up I have an issue with self help for making it look like everything can be taken care off and that douchebaggary is easy and can be taught and learn't. That showy goodness and that lets be evil self help are just self harm. They give you ideas for development without a real plan. They want to change things about you that you haven't put your mind to and hence will never be able to change. (Self-help is in the mind, you don't need a super rich dude with a smart mouth to tell you things) No book can address the problem fully, they are simply beating around topics, telling you that you have X Y Z issues and there is A B C as solutions. It creates too much tension, you are being pulled between two options. One is what your mind truly understands and is comfortable with, it is practical and is based on previous experience and there is that other end where you want to follow the book, probably get on stage and not be able to say a word because you never wanted to. You were just being manipulated into thinking that you can.
The ability to overcome any problem lies in accepting that you have a problem, once you've done it, find your own cures. Reading to a mirror is no solution to being able to talk to 1000 people. May be you need to start with talking to 10 and then to a 100 and then 1000. Don't read to a mirror because somebody on the other end of a book thinks its a good idea. Have your own legit reasons to accept the book.