Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Power of the Self Help Book

Inevitably we fall. And when we do, we explore different ways of dealing with it. Some of us require help from friends, family, and lovers; others rely on themselves and solve the issue in isolation; and yet a third part just ignores the problem and waits for it to pass by.

Sadly, contemporary society views professional help as a sign of weakness, a potential source of embarrassment and pity. People who do ask for specialist help usually keep it a secret, fearful of social resentment and disapproval. And people who do not ask for it condemn those who do as incapable of dealing with life. This is just wrong logic. We were born alone and we die alone but we are not expected to live our life alone. And when we do encounter a difficulty, asking for professional help is the highest level of self help (YES SELF HELP) because we are mature enough to realize that by acknowledging the need of a specialist opinion, we take the biggest step in helping ourselves. 

When faced with relationship issues I usually attempt to solve them by myself or share and ask advice from friends. Last week, however, my flatmate offered me an opportunity I hadn't consider before - a self help book. As much as I believe in professional help, self-help books have always seemed to me rather ineffective and shallow. I didn't believe that a general approach to problems can be helpful when all cases are specific and unique. However, as I was totally hopeless and clueless, I decided to give it a try. After all, I could only lose several days. And potentially I could gain something. 

Indeed I did! John Gray is a bestselling author, lecturer, and relationships counsellor. His book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus teaches people how to deal with their significant other, when everything seems hopeless. The main point Gray draws is obvious from the title - men and women are from different planets. The author argues that relationship struggles are caused mainly by lack of understanding of our differences. One of the examples relates to men and women's diverse emotional needs. While Martians (that's how he refers to males in the book) seek trust, acceptance, and appreciation, Venusians (women, I mean) need caring, understanding, and devotion. The conflict arises because both parties tend to give what they want in a relationship and not what the other person needs. The result are huge misunderstandings, fights, and alienation. Gray points out, that by remembering men and women actually speak different languages, we can sort out any issue threatening to ruin our relationship. 

You might be still skeptical. Trust me, I was too. While reading I had several thoughts popping up all the time: 1. Where is the line between accepting and working on our difference and losing our true self in the  process?; 2. Wouldn't it seem insincere and offensive to our partner if we changed our behavior over a night?; How do we draw a line between understanding our partner and still keeping self respect? 4. What if we simply cannot work it out? 5. What happens if our partner doesn't notice or validate our efforts? 

Luckily, Gray gives answers to all of those questions. More importantly, he gives convincing and logical answers. No, we do not have to give up or female (male) self; We simply need to learn to be more acceptable of our different expectations and reactions. No, it is not insincere and offensive; on the contrary, it shows devotion and desire to work in the name of love. The line will appear when both parties learn to respect each other, to value each other's opinions, and to understand each other's differences. If we are consistent and hard working and if we really love each other, we WILL work it out. Yes, our partner will notice and validate our efforts but it doesn't happen over a night; it needs time, practice, and devotion. 

I was impressed by the book and its approaches. The most amazing thing about it was that it said things I already knew but never really thought about. When put black on white in a logical order I started realizing the mistakes I made in my relationship, as well as the mistakes my boyfriend made. I figured out the source of most of our quarrels and I learnt ways to decrease them. 

I am willing to apply consistently Gray's advice. I am not sure whether the results will be positive, but as a theoretical approach the book is a catch. Gray indeed gives a lot of examples of people having transformed their relationships quickly thanks to his approach. However, I am the "live it, learn it" type of person. I need to see it by myself to truly believe it. So now I am in the middle. I liked the theoretical part. I will keep you updated whether I succeeded on practice. 


  1. I personally found the book to provide a basic framework to understanding the stereotypical female/male communication differences.
    It certainly does contain a lot of truisms. In certain cases which I could relate too, it made me think ahh I knew that but never really registered it that way before.
    It is all a bit like the film The wizard of Oz, not literally. Dorothy, tin man, scarecrow and the lion all head off down the yellow brick road to the Emerald city, where they believe all their problems will be solved by the wizard!( a floating disembodied head, so they think).
    It turns out that the wizard is just a regular guy with arms and legs, but he manages to solve their problems through the miracle of common sense. He just points out that what they were searching for, they had with them all along. They just never realized it.

  2. Your connection is a very valid one indeed. When I was reading the book I realized the author doesn't mention something we do not already know. However, in this fast world we tend to forget these common sense truths. When put in a book, black and white, it is very useful and it provides a basic road to follow when dealing with the opposite sex. Of course, every case is unique but we must keep this advice in mind if we are searching not for a great and everlasting love, but for a stable and happy marriage.