Pros: Good, practical advice on important subjects
Cons: Slow start; spirituality aspect may put some people off
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 6/3/2002
It takes a lot for a self-help book to inspire me, and “Believing in Yourself: A Practical Guide to Building Self-Confidence” got off to a slightly slow start. Luckily, it improved to the point where I was actually rather impressed with it.
This is a good book to read after reading another book that I recently reviewed: Marilyn J. Sorensen’s “Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem.” That book gives you much-needed basic understanding and comprehension of your problems; it allows you to figure out where you’re coming from and how self-esteem problems affect your relationships with other people. “Believing in Yourself” then provides helpful tools to take you even further in your efforts to grow beyond your past and improve your life.
The introduction goes into a school of psychology called “Adlerian psychology.” It’s somewhat dry reading, although a bit interesting to a psychology nut such as myself. Even if you don’t find psychological theory interesting, it’s worth reading through to find out where the author is coming from and what his background is. He does lay the groundwork for much of his theories within this early material.
The beginning of the book is more of an overview than anything else. As such, it doesn’t get into anything in depth. I ended up feeling that the author had posed many interesting questions and touched on some interesting solutions, but that he had failed to truly show in practical terms how to deal with the issues he raised. As he didn’t mention that he would come back to these things later in the book, this was slightly frustrating at the time.
An Important Note on Spirituality
Erik Blumenthal is strongly interested in spirituality and its effects on the human mind. It’s important to note, however, that he makes a distinction between spirituality in general and organized religion in specific. He suggests that while religion can fulfill the need for spirituality in a person, it doesn’t have to. So whether or not you believe in God, I think that you will not find Mr. Blumenthal’s version of spirituality particularly offensive or irritating. To put things in a bit of perspective, I find books that suddenly and unexpectedly push religion on people offensive and annoying. However, I did not find this book obnoxious, and in fact appreciated and enjoyed its treatment of the subject.
The Truly Useful Material
Luckily, in part 2 Mr. Blumenthal does get into specific aspects of ideas you might explore, methods you might try, and directions that you might take your life in. And this is where the book shines!
One of the truly amazing and impressive chapters of this book is called “Learning to make fine distinctions.” The idea is that there are a number of attitudes and actions that are helpful or unhelpful, good or bad, only by virtue of a fine distinction. And that if you learn that fine distinction, you can more easily move from mistaken attitudes to simple mistakes; from fear to caution; from arguing and surrendering to understanding and helping; from force to power; from demanding to requesting; from pity to empathy; from domination to guidance; from impulsiveness to spontaneity; from fault-finding to constructive criticism; from reacting to acting; and so on. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book, but that isn’t where the good material ends.
The next section is entitled “developing our capacity to love,” and goes into a number of ways to make your relationships better. The book includes ways to approach and think about your relationships that won’t cause as many problems. “Lessening our readiness for conflict” provides a wonderful discussion on the reasons why conflict happens, the principles of conflict resolution, and ways to resolve issues without resorting to conflict. I feel that I learned an amazing amount about dealing with people from this section alone.
“Suffering, sacrifice and service” goes into a few other, perhaps more esoteric ideas. Such as how one might find purpose in suffering, how and why one might choose to make sacrifices for others, and the true nature of service to others. “Prayer, contemplation and meditation” discusses the place that spirituality holds in our lives, whether related to religion or simply as a means of more thoroughly exploring ourselves and our relationship to the community. “Getting the balance right” is all about that old saying, “everything in moderation.” It’s about balancing optimism with realism, work with play, self with community, materiality with spirituality, and so on.
A Couple of Highlights
Blumenthal does a fantastic job of balancing the needs of the individual versus the needs of the community. It all comes from the idea that everyone is equal. Not just you and your spouse, or you and your neighbor, or you and some guy halfway around the world. But you and your family, you and your neighborhood, and so on. You have to regard the rights and needs of others (communities as well as individuals) as equal to your own.
All of this feeds into the idea of self-belief, self-confidence, self-esteem. If you don’t view others with esteem, then how can you view yourself with esteem?
Blumenthal covers a wide range of subjects, all from the viewpoint of self-esteem and self-belief. If you feel that you lack these things, this book might help. If you have trouble dealing with conflict, this book might help. If your relations with others never seem to go quite right, this book might explain a few fine distinctions you’ve been missing. In short, it isn’t the Holy Grail that “Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem” is, but it makes a solid follow-up.