Self-help  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Self-help or self-improvement is a self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis. Many different self-help group programs exist, each with its own focus, techniques, associated beliefs, proponents and in some cases, leaders. Concepts and terms originating in self-help culture and Twelve-Step culture, such as recovery, dysfunctional families, and codependency have become firmly integrated in mainstream language.

Self-help often utilizes publicly available information or support groups, on the Internet as well as in person, where people in similar situations join together. From early examples in self-driven legal practice and home-spun advice, the connotations of the word have spread and often apply particularly to education, business, psychology and psychotherapy, commonly distributed through the popular genre of self-help books. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, potential benefits of self-help groups that professionals may not be able to provide include friendship, emotional support, experiential knowledge, identity, meaningful roles, and a sense of belonging.

Groups associated with health conditions may consist of patients and caregivers. As well as featuring long-time members sharing experiences, these health groups can become support groups and clearing-houses for educational material. Those who help themselves by learning and identifying about health problems can be said to exemplify self-help, while self-help groups can be seen more as peer-to-peer support.

Contents

History

Within classical antiquity, Hesiod's Works and Days "opens with moral remonstrances, hammered home in every way that Hesiod can think of." (The Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford 1991), p. 94) The Stoics offered ethical advice "on the notion of eudaimonia—of well-being, welfare, flourishing." (Boardman, p. 371) The genre of mirror-of-princes writings, which has a long history in Greco-Roman and Western Renaissance literature, represents a secular cognate of Biblical wisdom-literature. Proverbs from many periods, collected and uncollected, embody traditional moral and practical advice of diverse cultures.

The hyphenated compound word "self-help" often appeared in the 1800s in a legal context, referring to the doctrine that a party in a dispute has the right to use lawful means on their own initiative to remedy a wrong.

The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, 1989) traces legal usage back to at least 1875; whereas it detects "self-help" as a moral virtue as early as 1831 in Carlyle's Sartor Resartus.

For some, George Combe's "Constitution" [1828], in the way that it advocated personal responsibility and the possibility of naturally sanctioned self-improvement through education or proper self-control, largely inaugurated the self-help movement;" (John Van Wyhe, Phrenology and the Origins of Victorian Scientific Naturalism (2004) p. 189) In 1841, an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, entitled Compensation, was published suggesting "every man in his lifetime needs to thank his faults" and "acquire habits of self-help" as "our strength grows out of our weakness." (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation (1841) p. 22) Samuel Smiles (1812–1904) published the first self-consciously personal-development "self-help" book—entitled Self-Help—in 1859. Its opening sentence: "Heaven helps those who help themselves", provides a variation of "God helps them that help themselves", the oft-quoted maxim that had also appeared previously in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac (1733–1758). In the 20th century, Carnegie's success further developed the genre with How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. Having failed in several careers, Carnegie became fascinated with success and its link to self-confidence, and his books have since sold over 50 million copies. Earlier, in 1902, James Allen published As a Man Thinketh, which proceeds from the conviction that "a man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts." Noble thoughts, the book maintains, make for a noble person, whilst lowly thoughts make for a miserable person; and Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich (1937) described the use of repeated positive thoughts to attract happiness and wealth by tapping into an "Infinite Intelligence".

Late 20th century

In the final third of the 20th century, "the tremendous growth in self-help publishing...in self-improvement culture"<ref>McGee, p. 12</ref> really took off—something which must be linked to postmodernism itself—to the way "postmodern subjectivity constructs self-reflexive subjects-in-process."<ref>Elizabeth Deeds Ermath, Sequel to History (Princeton 1992) p. 58</ref> Arguably at least, "in the literatures of self-improvement...that crisis of subjecthood is not articulated but enacted—demonstrated in ever-expanding self-help book sales."<ref>McGee, p. 177</ref>

The conservative turn of the neoliberal decades also meant a decline in traditional political activism, and increasing "social isolation; Twelve-Step recovery groups were one context in which individuals sought a sense of community...yet another symptom of the psychologizing of the personal" to more radical critics. Indeed, "some social theorist [sic] have argued that the late-20th century preoccupation with the self serves as a tool of social control: soothing political unrest...[for] one's own pursuit of self-invention."'<ref>McGee, p. 22–3</ref>

Parodies and fictional analogies

The self-help world has become the target of parodies. Walker Percy's odd genre-busting Lost in the Cosmos has been described as "a parody of self-help books, a philosophy textbook, and a collection of short stories, quizzes, diagrams, thought experiments, mathematical formulas, made-up dialogue". In their 2006 book Secrets of The Superoptimist, authors W.R. Morton and Nathanel Whitten revealed the concept of "superoptimism" as a humorous antidote to the overblown self-help book category. In his comedy special Complaints and Grievances (2001), George Carlin observes that there is "no such thing" as self-help: anyone looking for help from someone else doesn't technically get "self" help; and one who accomplishes something without help, didn't need help to begin with. In Margaret Atwood's semi-satiric dystopia Oryx and Crake, university literary studies have declined to the point that the protagonist, Snowman, is instructed to write his thesis on self-help books as literature; more revealing of the authors and of the society that produced them than genuinely helpful.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Self-help" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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