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Why You Should Read the Self-Help Book Your Mom Sent You

by Maggie Suszka

Do you remember what life was like when “self-help” wasn’t cool?

Think about that for a moment: Back in the day, you needed to have real excuses for evenings you’d rather spend with a face mask in front of the TV instead of out with the girl gang. There was no such thing as PDFM (public displays of face masking), a lot fewer candles listed on your credit card receipt, and probably not as cool-colored bath salts you could hoard on your bathroom shelves. I thought about this “pre-self-care era” after going through one of my worst public fights with my mother; and it was in a shopping center in Atlanta, Georgia, over a self-help book.

So, try to imagine this: You’re 22 years old. You just graduated from college. You landed your first full-time job that you’re starting in exactly a week and officially moving away from home for it. You know what you like (or what you want), and more importantly, you’re beginning to understand what you need. And you think you have a clue about what’s up and what’s down. However, during this time of thinking and believing that you’re a full-blown adult, your mother has the audacity to pick up and hand you an electric yellow book while you wait in line at Urban Outfitters, with “YOU ARE A BADASS” written in bold, black font on the front.

I read the title blandly, “You Are a Badass. How to STOP Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.” I don’t remember exactly what I said that followed in those next ten minutes, or anything of the heated back and forth, but it ended with her storming out of the store, heartbroken, frustrated and nearly in tears because of my accusations of why she’d think I needed the book to begin with.

Of course, this made me heartbroken and frustrated. I felt so guilty I ended up buying two; one for me and one for my younger sister (she wanted to purchase a copy for her, too). It makes my stomach churn thinking about how awful I made her feel about a book she thinks would help me and elevate me.

The thing is, I hate the idea of self-help books. They make me automatically assume I’m reading them for a reason, that I need some help from some outside source in the Universe that I’ve never met before to cure whatever problem I have. What could a self-help book give me that I couldn’t give myself? More importantly, why did she think I needed one? I’ve had some personal ups and downs that came along with transferring grade schools (yes, I believe that affected me quite deeply even though I was only 12 years old), colleges and other life experiences, and because of those instances in my life, I saw myself as a tough cookie. Did she not view me in the same light? There may have been a few moments where being tossed a self-help, quote or even art therapy-type book might have been welcomed with open arms and channeled gratitude from my end, but this was not one of those times.

But it’s not just me. For the longest time, there once was a very existent stigma around them. The image of Charlotte from Sex and The City entering the ignominious self-help section of the bookstore is burned into my memory. She pleasantly discovers the book she was searching for (reminder, she is in the midst of her divorce): Starting Over Yet Again. When she picks up the book, she is met with reassurance from a helpless soul crying on the floor of the store that offers up that it really helped her. With that, Charlotte takes a 360 turn by placing the book back on the shelf and begins aimlessly looking around, calling out “Travel! Travel!?”, hoping to erase anyone’s memory of her being anywhere near the Self-Help section of the store.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would never blame my favorite series in the history of television for my resentment or loathing towards self-help books. But, I think the stigma that once existed around them settled in me for a very long time. But, things have changed since the airing of that episode. For one, we don’t have too many bookstores to pop into (what gives, America?). Secondly, self-care is now considered cool. Which, in turn, means self-help books are making their way to cool status, too.

So, four months after the fight, I finally started reading You Are a Badass and I can happily admit it has helped me stop some negative thinking in its tracks, and at times, lifted me up and made me feel good. It especially helps when I find my mind in a spiral of outlandish anxieties and meaningless thoughts. It looks like, after all, self-help books can help even when you think (or maybe do) have it all together. It’s still important to check in with yourself, no matter where you’re at in your life, during the high points of life as much as the low. So, I owe my Mom another apology and a huge thank you, because I’ve learned a bit about myself and how I deal with things since starting to read this book.

So I’m going to be just like my Mom and suggest a few excerpts of the book she lovingly forced upon me. Here are a few things I’ve learned (and was reminded of) from You Are a Badass.

Self-Help Books Can be Cool

No, seriously, if you haven’t already gathered how much my opinion of self-help books has changed, it’s true. There are some pretty unbelievable ones out on the market and this one particularly was a page-turner filled with positivity and easy to digest messaging. The author’s goal is to empower readers and it does just that. People often think that self-help books are solely guides to learning how to love or forgive yourself, but this one is a blueprint to getting what you want out of life; whether that is landing a brilliant job, loving to the fullest, making extra money or real friendships.

Affirmations Work and Faking it ‘Till You Make it is a Thing

I think the majority of people have all heard about doing the superwoman/man pose in front of the mirror before going into an interview, speaking in front of a large group or in a time when you need a quick confidence boost. Affirmations work the same way. The book even offers up examples that you can tell yourself. The author, Jen Sincero, urges we drown ourselves in affirmations — in the name of *self* love. My first thought when I read this section was but which ones? How do you know which kind? Sincero offers up ones that are specific to self-love, here are my top three from her:

  • My heart is open. Love pours in and out.
  • I receive all the good that life has to offer me.
  • I am brilliant, bright and beautiful.

I have yet to come up with my own and admittedly, I haven’t gotten around to dousing myself in them just yet. I’m still getting comfortable with this practice, but I’m getting there. This is all about “loving the one you is” is this correct? – so marry your affirmations by letting love in, doing things you love, forgiving yourself and not comparing yourself to others.

Read the Book, but Don’t Linger Over Every Word

Read the book, or whatever self-help book of your choosing, but don’t take every single word for face value. Don’t mill over each sentence because you don’t particularly need every single sentence. Walk away with the big ideas and take what you need from it and leave behind what you don’t. You don’t need to memorize and practice every portion of the book. It’s important to find what works for you and what you can apply to your everyday life that elevates you.


I never thought that sitting still and thinking about nothing could really do that much for you, but I’m putting meditation on my list of top ten. Even though I really have no clue how to do this myself, apparently there’s no right or wrong way to do it. And according to Sincero, you do it if you want to massively change your life. This hints to my #4, I haven’t gotten the spark of meditating just yet and it might not be for me, but I’m going to give it a go, which leads me to #6.

Be Open

In this case, be open to trying new things – and reading new things. Sincero talks about taking the first right step. Life is not chess, it’s not about making the perfect move to win the game. It’s about making the move either way, if you fail or succeed – and that trickles down to being open and trying new things and making the jump even though it might be terrifying.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

We hear this all the time and it’s easier said than done. It’s something that I believe takes practice and a conscious effort, especially in this day in age. Sincero writes that it’s none of your business what other people are doing, and I have to agree. Just like she states in the book: “You are more than enough. Avoid comparison like the plague.”

Stop Wasting Your Time (& Energy) Worrying About What Anybody Else Thinks of You

Take this for face value. Rid yourself of junk-food thoughts.

Wise Words

Each chapter opens with a quote and I’d probably share them all here, but I’ll give you one to ponder on from Chapter 3, Present as a Pigeon. (Who knew pigeons were so present!?)

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

Last, but not least. Since this one hit home and worked for me (and has helped others) here are some other self-help books that I have gladly ignored over the years but am getting around to from my mom and stealing from her bookshelf. Check them out:

1). The Four Agreements

2). The Power of Your Subconscious Mind

3). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

4). The Happiness of Pursuit

5). The Secrets of Happy Families

So, when your mom, your best friend, sister or whoever thinks they can give you a self-help book, it’s because they might know a little something about this world and maybe they’re able to see something clearer about you that you can’t just yet—and that’s okay. We’re always in a growth stage. So take it with a grain of salt and open a new chapter like the one you might be in your life. Plus, like I said before, sometimes we all need a reminder that we are a badass – and to love that badass with all we got.


Feature image via Ella Xu

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