Pros: Eerily accurate; best examples ever; helpful advice; no sugar-coating
Rating: 5 out of 5
First published 5/18/2002
Since I started out with a great distaste for (and disdain of) self-help books and have since found a couple of really good ones, I have developed a set of criteria for such books:
- The writer must actually desire to help people with her book, and not just want to make a quick buck.
- The book must actually be the brain-child of its supposed expert writer, and not simply something written by an anonymous ghost-writer with the “expert’s” name tacked on.
- The writer must know what he or she is talking about.
- The writer must be able to communicate these ideas effectively.
- The writer must not be attempting to pander to the mistaken idea that anything can be solved by a “quick fix” solution – a silver bullet that will cure every ill in five easy steps.
- The writer must actually attempt to provide some means to start upon the road to recovery. She can’t just tell people they’re idiots and then expect that to actually do any good.
- The writer must have respect for the reader. Ridicule and/or condescension don’t tend to help anyone.
#4 is the big one – most self-help books really do pander to those people who want easy answers in their lives. I have no respect for such “self-help” books.
What’s It All About?
The author of “Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem,” Marilyn J. Sorensen, Ph.D., makes the following argument: That many psychological problems (such as depression, lack of self-confidence, anxiety, and so on) are treated as root problems, when really they are symptoms. They are symptoms of a pervasive and large problem called low self-esteem (LSE for short).
Let me be clear here, because I don’t want to misrepresent Ms. Sorensen’s ideas. She is not saying that depression and anxiety are not valid problems in their own right, nor that they do not require treatment. She is saying that for people with LSE, it is best to treat these things concurrently with (or subsequent to) treating the LSE itself, so that you can actually deal with the root cause of the problem and not just the symptoms.
I think most people are familiar with the basic idea of what self-esteem is by now. It’s the idea of knowing that you’re worthwhile and that you are lovable. It’s having the ability to accurately assess your abilities, rather than having an artificially inflated or deflated view of yourself. People with LSE have some real problems with these things, and the author argues persuasively that this results in patterns of strongly self-defeating behavior. Personally, I believe LSE is awfully common.
How Does It Stack Up To The Criteria?
So then, how does this book stack up to the criteria I have set forth for good self-help books?
#1. The writer must want to help. I think this is pretty clearly the case. It is obvious that a great deal of care went into creating this book. It doesn’t skip anything; it doesn’t leave anything unsaid; it isn’t unclear about anything. The examples in particular are very carefully crafted to resonate with your real-world experiences. If she just wanted to make a quick buck, this would be a very one-sided book. It isn’t. The examples clearly show that not all situations are clear-cut. In fact, the examples are one of the truly best parts about this book. They take theory and make it applicable to your life. They make it easy to recognize where in here you fit in (or not) and how.
#2. The writer must know what she’s talking about. The writer’s expertise shines through. It’s very obvious (to me at least) that she knows what she’s talking about, because I’ve seen a whole lot of this stuff happen in life. In fact, I’ve never seen a book before that so accurately portrayed so much of human nature!
#3. The writer must be able to communicate her ideas effectively. This is not an easy book to read. There’s an incredible amount of information and ideas to digest here, and much of it is uncomfortable. But the ideas and information are expressed about as clearly as I’ve ever seen, in normal, everyday terminology. You won’t get lots of over-your-head psychological theory in here; it’s all about real life.
#4. The writer must not pander to the desire for a quick fix. This one just isn’t a problem here, and I’m very impressed by this! Ms. Sorensen stresses over and over again that recovering from self-esteem problems takes years of hard work and effort, as well as the support of others – preferably a good therapist. (By the way, she presents a lot of great points in here on choosing a therapist that’s right for you. So if you’re nervous about the idea of seeing a therapist, this might make the decision and process easier!) I have a great deal of respect for this position. After all, she’d probably sell more books if she just said, “say these five things in a mirror before breakfast every morning and you’ll be fine.” But she never does that. Even when she does go into the use of affirmations, she does a couple of unusual things. One, she teaches you how to create affirmations that are appropriate to your own life. And two, she explains that while the process sounds simple – it isn’t.
She also does not make the mistake of assuming (or claiming) that all people are alike, or that all sufferers of a particular problem are alike. In this book you will find a myriad of ways in which LSE manifests itself, and you may be surprised by some of them.
#5. The writer must provide a start down the road to recovery. Ms. Sorensen provides exercises at the ends of chapters that help teach you to identify the sources of inappropriate behaviors, possible ways to overcome them, things you can do to help yourself, and so on. She provides tips and hints on places to start, without ever once claiming them as “cures.” She does also maintain a respectful attitude toward the reader. I don’t mean that she sugar-coats things; just the opposite, in fact. She doesn’t do the reader the disservice of lying, yelling, soft-selling, demeaning, or condescending. She is straightforward, honest, assertive, and above all supportive.
Who Is This Book For?
You might expect me to say that this book is for people who have self-esteem problems, and it is. But it’s for everyone else too. LSE is extremely common and widespread, to varying degrees. This book doesn’t just teach you how to understand your own problems – it teaches you how to understand and perhaps help a little with others’ problems.
This book is for people with LSE. It can help you to become aware of your problems, your inappropriate behaviors, in ways that you will find completely unexpected. You might well be amazed to discover some of the ways in which you’re messing up your life without even realizing it. You’ll also finally find an “authority figure” who is willing to admit that parents do screw up their kids. Who is willing to admit that there are forms of emotional abuse that don’t require hitting or molestation. If you have or have had problems of any kind with your parents or guardians, you desperately need to read this book.
This book is for people who have to deal with those who suffer from LSE. It will teach you to be more tolerant and understanding. It might give you some ideas for how you can defuse bad situations. It will help you understand people’s behavior better, which will make it easier to deal with.
This book is for ALL parents. You might be surprised to find out which situations and behaviors might cause your children to develop LSE. You don’t have to be a “bad parent” in order to cause problems for your children – and this is a very important lesson.
I know this is going to sound terribly corny, but the world would be a better place if everyone read this book. Make time for it in your life, and allow things to change for the better.