But now, neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall wants us to be better self-help consumers. In his new book, "The Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever Need: Repress Your Anger, Think Negatively, Be a Good Blamer & Throttle Your Inner Child," he warns that some self-help isn't really helpful at all.
to read an excerpt from the Introduction.
Even though Pearsall is not against self-help books per se, he advises against blindly following the advice of self-appointed self-help gurus who frequently come up with ideas about behavior that are not based on scientific research.
"It's time we start to look really seriously at self-help, because it's too selfish and really doesn't help," he tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.
He says he decided to take on this cottage industry because it has become almost a religion.
He explains, "You can't raise your children, can't go to work, can't do anything without feeling you failed at self-help. If you're dying of cancer, don't say, 'I was a failing cancer patient because I couldn't do the right affirmations, couldn't think positively.' Always think the positive thoughts. There's no good science to show that's really what you need to do, but it became a set of beliefs. I wanted to write a book that said, 'Wait a minute. Maybe all these experts about self-help are just wrong.'"
He'd like us to question and evaluate what's in the books and develop a healthy skepticism. He calls this "mindful self-help."
He says, "We should be looking in the back for the bibliography. How do you know? Where's your data? What did you base that on? You shouldn't buy a book with numbers in the title. If there's seven or eight steps, life ain't that simple."
And he debunks several of the most popular notions of the self-help movement by looking at several of his propositions of mindful self-help.
Throttle Your Inner Child:
He says, "I don't know where the inner child came from. This self-esteem movement: I've got to feel so good about myself. It's time we sit down, shut up, and act our age and stop whining about the past. The data shows clearly that early childhood experiences have very little to do with how you end up as an adult.
"I'm not talking about severe things, terrible things to children. That obviously has disastrous impact. But most of the things that happen to children don't have that much impact. Just think, if you have more than one child, those children are each different. Temperament plays a big role. Enjoy your children and stop having this parental paranoia."
Have Low Self-Esteem: (And help your children have it, too.):
He explains, "Now you can't play tag in school. School systems don't allow that because somebody's going to be 'it.' You can't play dodge ball because you'll be inferior. Sometimes you don't deserve high self-esteem. Sometimes you're not skilled at things, and you should be told that.
"I see these motivational speakers saying you could do it all. My odds for being a belly dancer are not very high, no matter how much I want to do it. That's that motivational stuff that sells well. You have to be realistic. Not so much you have to have low esteem, but be realistic."
Be Guilty and Feel Shame:
"Crucial. We screw up. If you're married, you're married to an idiot and so is your spouse," Pearsall says. "Families are groups of people irrationally committed to one another's welfare. It's a place you can say anything. Sure, because nobody's listening anywhere. Sometimes you have to be guilty. Your family is just as dysfunctional as anyone else. Guilt is how you learn to do better. Shame is how you learn what you did wrong.
Be a Quitter:
Pearsall explains, "You need to know when to give up and move on. You give up the goal and the effort both. If you keep the goal and give up, you're just a quitter. I'm saying I might do something different. Maybe I can't do that. If you're dying of cancer - this idea of always have hope. Maybe I want to enjoy today. Maybe I should accept what's going on. I know these are radical ideas, and that's why we present them."
Forget Feeling Great:
He says, "We don't have to feel wonderful about ourselves to have a good life. In fact, the better we feel about ourselves, the more unhappy and unhealthy our life ends up being. Most people are lying about how great their lives are anyway so don't compare yours with theirs.
Pearsall says, "If you're messing up, it's your fault, not your parents. Childhood experiences have almost nothing to do with problems in adulthood and our recollections of them are inaccurate reconstructions of what really happened anyway.
"Stop trying to fix yourself. Sit down and shut up and enjoy the heck out of being alive."