How TOXIC Self Help Videos are Hurting You - A Psychologist's Take

The online self-help culture is doing so much damage to you that you have to wake up to it. You need to change your relationship with self-help videos before they cause irreparable damage to your self-concepts and your relationships.
 
But before getting into the meat of the article, let's get two things out of the way. First, this video is about the billion-dollar self-help industry, not about your personal self-growth journey. We should all be exploring, embracing, and growing ourselves every day - that's what this channel is about. But the feel-good video industry is not helping you do that, and in this video, I will talk about why.
 
Also, this article is not about vilifying the entire self-help industry. But it is about calling out the "easy route" that many self-help gurus take by selling people on quick solutions to life problems. They benefit from your pains and dreams by showing you motivational videos that make you feel good but don't give you any actionable steps.
 
Dark side of personal development
 
How many videos have you seen that fill you with hope and optimism and make you feel like you can take on the world? That all your dreams are just a step away?
 
It's a familiar feeling, isn't it? But what happens after that? What happens to all the energy and excitement you feel. Maybe you work hard for a few hours, or perhaps a couple of days, only to feel exhausted and fall back into old patterns.
 
I went through similar cycles of motivation and exhaustion as a consumer of inspirational videos on Youtube for years. But I didn't really see how toxic this self-help industry is until I got to the other side of it all and started making Youtube videos.
 
I have studied endless motivational videos since I started my youtube channel a year ago. Even on my own channel, the videos that perform the best are motivational, feel-good videos. Whereas videos with action plans, things that people need to act on, don't really get that much love.
 
We are all attracted to videos that promise to tell us that one thing can change your life, one mindset shift that will make you rich, one change that will fix your relationship. It's that easy fix to your pain and hurt that the self-help industry takes advantage of. It's a modern-day online scam.

Not everything that provides comfort in the short run is necessarily good for the long term.
Dr Raghav Suri
Capitalizing on your pain - selling you the dreams
 
We live in a world of instant gratification, and the billion-dollar industry of self-help videos takes advantage of this desperation. Motivational speakers sell you generic advice packaged as quick hacks to improve your life and relationships.
 
These motivational videos are much like horoscopes - so generic that everyone could relate to some aspect of it. They make you feel good by making you believe that you can get to your goals quickly - but rarely tell you how to do so.
 
After all, if these self-help gurus teach you skills to actually bring meaningful changes to your life, then you won't need to watch their videos anymore now, would you? If you need proof for yourself, then Google your favorite motivational speaker. See if they have a personal course or a membership site that they want you to buy into. In 2021, the self-improvement industry was worth over 11 billion dollars.
11 Billion dollars! Someone is making a profit from your pain by selling you pretty dreams, and they don't want to sell you a one-time product. They want you to keep coming back.
 
So go back and look at your favorite motivational video, and you will find that most of them don't really tell you much. The advice "believe in yourself" is great, but these videos don't tell you how to believe in yourself when facing adversities in life.
 
But who would click on the video that says that your relationship can't be fixed with one generic advice? Who wants to hear that you have to work through layers of things in your relationship to find real happiness?
 
So much like any capitalist industry, the titans of the self-help industry know how to tap into your pain. They have studied and learned how to make you feel that your dream is within your grasp while keeping it just out of reach, so you would keep coming back.
 
Keeping you coming for more - Psychological dependence
 
For years, I used to start my day with watching a motivational video while sipping on my morning coffee. I needed both of them to even get my brain motivated enough for the day ahead.
 
But why? Why do we coming back for these inspirational videos? The level of psychological manipulation that goes into this industry will shock you.
 
We would be naive to think that it's just mindless social media consumption that keeps us hooked on these motivational videos. The reality is, in fact, much more sinister.
 
A 2021 study found that over 64% of people who watch online self-help videos tend to binge-watch on them. This never-ending hunger for motivational videos is rooted in psychological dependence.
 
When it comes to substance use or drug addiction, it's easier for us to understand how someone can get addicted and keep craving more and more of that substance. But you might be shocked to know that not all drugs have a physiological dependence. In fact, most drugs are addictive not because your body becomes dependent on them but rather because your mind does. Your mind's cravings can be just as intense as your body's. In the medical field, it's known as psychological dependence.
 
This same psychological dependence keeps you hooked on these motivational videos as well. After watching these videos, you get this false sense of hope and optimism, often without an actual action plan. This temp. Positive emotions suppress your stress hormone, cortisol, but that's not all. It also releases dopamine and oxytocin - the happy hormones that cocaine, meth, and ecstasy also tap into.
But what happens when this initial response you get after watching a video starts to go away. Your positive emotions were tied to the carefully scripted video, not an action plan that you can hold on to. And so, your mind starts to crave more of that addictive content.
 
It is this cycle that keeps bringing you back to consuming more and more motivational content. Once you are hooked, you are invited to a free masterclass, where once again, you're sold on a dream that will change your life–if only you join an exclusive course or a membership site. And this is what feeds the 11-billion dollar goliath of the self-help industry.
 
Telling you what you want to hear
 
Who wants to hear that calming your emotions is your responsibility rather than your partners? When you are angry, you want to hear that your wife is unreasonable or your husband is a jerk.
 
And that's exactly the problem with online self-help videos. The hard facts are that creators who are making these videos aren't doing it for you - they are doing it for themselves. It's their source of income or fame, and they are driven by their own needs, not yours.
 
This means that videos are made to get more clicks, more views and likes, more comments, and for that, creators often cater to what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. Sometimes those two things are the same, but sometimes they aren't.
 
As a creator, I know that it all comes to emotional validation. As a psychologist, I am a crazy fan of validation. It's empowering and motivational, but it can also be dangerous without context. When content is created for just feel-good motivations, they often over-simplify life's complex situations.
 
To make videos relevant to a broad audience, they need to be somewhat generic. So instead of exploring the deeper layers of issues, they often use buzz-words and blanket explanations for your problems.
 
Something that might seem benign at first but can be dangerous when these repeated messages become internalized. When we start to believe them to be "the truth," we become resistant to other perspectives. They promote generic advice and false hopes rather than individual reflections. Something that can hurt your relationships, and your journey of personal growth and self-improvement, because they often need persistence, patience, and a lot of hard work. There are no shortcuts in life.
 
Is all self help bad or harmful?
 
Does this mean that all self-help is terrible, and you shouldn't watch self-help videos anymore?
Not at all - In fact, there are a lot of amazing books, videos, and content creators out there. I am not asking you to turn away from the self-help world, rather quite the opposite. I want you to not feel alone in your journey and your experiences. But I also want to emphasize the need to be intentional and thoughtful when consuming self-help content. After all, we are talking about your pain and your emotions.
 
There is an inherent vulnerability in that. Often when you're watching these self-help videos, you are dealing with a problem. You're hurting, and your emotional mind is seeking comfort, making you more receptive to all sorts of advice - some good, others not so much.
 
Not everything that provides comfort in the short run is necessarily good for the long term. Sometimes the short-term relief is very much needed, but only some times - it shouldn't become your comfort zone because that's not where the real growth happens. These bandaid solutions can, at best, be your rest stops, not your final destinations.
 
You don't have to stay away from self-help content, but make sure that after every video you watch or every book chapter that you read, you don't "just" feel good, but you also have an action step that you can implement in your life right away.

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