The Dark Side of Self Help

2020 has been defined by tragic world news - from the Australian bush fires, to the pandemic and ongoing worldwide protests - it seems as if every month is out-doing the month before. I personally have found myself constantly down a rabbit hole of negative news. To lift my mood I like to read, listen to feel-good music and really hone in on positive quotes that I love. However the "self-help" and "positivity content," is really a stark contrast to how I see the world today. 2020 has me reflecting on how relevant "self help" is during a time in history when it seems not helpful at all. 

Common beliefs that you can “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” and “you can do anything that you put your mind to” - is this mentality really helpful? These beliefs are derived from the self-development industry, an industry that I will credit to the makings of my art venture. However, whilst these statements can be true for some, it is deliberately excluding those that cannot change from these notions simply because they are within environments not allowing them. What about the disenfranchised, the oppressed, those living in poverty, or living in abusive homes, or the neglected? How do you ask these people to pick up their boot straps and get on with it?

I want to be clear, that in my experience, I have in fact benefited from the self-help industry because I believe it has got me to where I am today. I won’t deny that there is so much positivity from the pursuit of self development. But when we engage in these ideologies let’s not forget about the oppressed and disenfranchised. Some of us benefit from the self-help industry simply because we are privileged enough to be able to. We are privileged enough to be in a socioeconomic status where we can focus our mindset to better our lives. But for others, there is often little time and energy for this because their priority is simply surviving. 

With the first outbreak of the pandemic, people were quick to say “we are all in this together.” The idea that our suffering is experienced as a collective is simply not true. We are all experiencing these unprecedented times very differently. While the intent behind this saying is good, the impact is doing more harm. The pandemic has us staying at home - for some this means adjusting to a work-from-home lifestyle, but for others this means no job at all. Worse still - for some it could mean that more time is spent in their abusive homes. Every situation is different. I believe sweeping statements such as “We are all in this together…” and the infamous, “all lives matter” can potentially be toxic. It's often used as catchy sound-bites and an excuse to ignore many problems in this world. Don’t be ignorant to the world’s suffering simply because it doesn’t effect you. 

I believe that,“forcing people to be happy in the face of tragedy is oppression.” (Unknown) Just because you see the world one way, does not mean others will see it and experience it in the same way. Yes, this is common sense, but sometimes common sense is not that common! Not affected by police brutality? Please don’t vehemently debate with black people and impose your realities because their reality is just not the same as yours. Be careful when you talk about your own hardships or agendas because you simply don’t know what other people are going through. We are all anxious in these trying times, so let’s try to listen and learn more than we talk. I love this quote below by Sarah Maddux. 

This is not to say, you should not debate when a person is incorrect. In fact, debate on these topics clearly needs to be had in a extremely divisive era. Especially when it comes to effecting a person’s humanity and well being. However, please remember this much freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edged sword. Be mindful that other people's experience in this time is not the same as yours, especially if you are someone who does not identify with BIPOC, or are not effected by COVID.

Don't feel as if your affected by COVID and you refuse to wear a mask? That's perfectly fine but don’t impose your belief on someone who is genuinely fearful of this pandemic. Perhaps they have loved ones who have passed from the virus, or they are immunocompromised with a weakened immune system, and therefore at greater risk of respiratory infections. Bottom line is that the pandemic does not and will not affect you the same way it affects them. I recently had someone debate with me that, "world hunger and the flu are big issues too." This is true, however at this point I am (and most people) are more physically and emotionally affected this year by the pandemic and BLM protests. Asking me to focus my attention on world hunger is essentially asking me to ignore this. How can someone help with world hunger when they are personally struggling with so much uncertainty in their own lives?

As I ponder these controversial yet timely issues, I hope that you do too. In this time of isolation, nothing feels better than just reaching out and talking to each other. Especially during lock-down, anxiety and depression is easily triggered and can impact your mental health. It’s human nature to feel this way when we are so disconnected. Stay well and comment below your thoughts, I would love to hear from you!

Ave Abellanosa
Owner and Artist





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