The Toxic Culture of Self-Help


I consider myself to be a bookworm so, naturally, many of my conversations revolve around asking people what they read. While personally, I am a sucker for classics, I could not help but notice so many people talking about and recommending to me these self-improvement books that seem to have a cure for essentially any problem you can think of. Do you want to get richer, smarter, become happier, more popular or even more confident? The self-help industry seems to have the answer. Or does it?

To be absolutely honest, I do not believe in perfect happiness. I simply do not think there is any person on this planet that is 100% satisfied and content with everything that is going on in their life. We all have our problems. After all, the struggle is a natural part of human life. Whether we like it or not. Surely, it is not that easy to accept and many people cannot just let go of the need to be perfect.

Unfortunately, the constant stream of social media content which generally revolves around people bragging about their “perfect” lives and personal success does not really help with the whole situation either. There is an ever-growing amount of scientific research which links low self-esteem, depression or increased anxiety with exposure to social media content, particularly among young adults.

Selling hope

However, this is where a huge opportunity arises for industries that dwell on the vulnerabilities and insecurities of people. At the moment, more than 264 million people worldwide are reported to suffer from depression. In a world full of unhappy people, industries that manage to sell people hope and the promise of finding happiness are thriving. This is exactly what the self-help and self-improvement industry is about. As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, and people who are suffering are more than willing to spend their money on quick fixes such as self-help books ultimately sold to them under the promise of changing their lives for the better.

Before I dig a little deeper into why I think self-help is toxic, I have to confess I gave this genre a try as well. After all, the promise of becoming my amazing self sounds enticing. And I am also not the type of person to judge and reject something without even trying it first. As you might have already guessed given the title of this article, I was not impressed and reading this book just confirmed my scepticism about the self-help genre. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying self-help books never helped anyone. For some, a slight kick of motivation can be helpful in setting them on the right path so there is surely something good about these books as well. But there is undoubtedly a dark side to these chapters.


The overwhelming feeling of self-satisfaction and an enormous burst of motivation to transform your life for the better. You feel like you have accomplished something great.

Let me begin with what I think is the most problematic thing about self-help books. Simply put, they are successful because they are addictive. More specifically, the feelings you experience after you are done reading them. If you have ever read a self-help or self-improvement book, you might recognize this feeling: The overwhelming feeling of self-satisfaction and an enormous burst of motivation to transform your life for the better. You feel like you have accomplished something great. You feel like you are better than other people who are just wasting their time not becoming their better selves. Completing such a book can simply make you feel great.

This feeling is in fact a result of the dopamine release you experience in your brain when you read self-help content. And it is the addictive side of dopamine that makes you hooked to these kinds of books. However, this amazing feeling wears off and to feel so great about yourself again, you go and buy another one. This is where you get sucked into the never-ending cycle of self-improvement that is being sold to you under the promise of solving all your problems.

Self-help that does not actually help

No wonder the self-help industry is expected to be worth as much as $13.2 billion in 2022.

On top of that, self-help books are often just bait to lure you into the array of personal development seminars, self-improvement workshops and many other inventions of the self-help industry designed to get as much money as they can out of your vulnerability and misery. No wonder the self-help industry is expected to be worth as much as $13.2 billion in 2022.

Another issue with self-help is that while you might think that reading these books will help you change your life for the better, the reality is slightly different. They have absolutely no intention to make you feel better. You are more profitable to them if you are miserable and dissatisfied with your life than if you are happy and fulfilled. After all, if the world would be full of people content with their lives, who would they sell these books to?


Cover: cottonbro

Edited by: Andrada Pop

Ludmila Cmarkova
Ludmila is a second-year Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam. She is 22 years old and comes from Slovakia. Ludmila is passionate and likes to write about topics related to marketing, fashion, literature and travel.

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