I’m often asked by patients to suggest supplemental reading or educational materials they can make use of between appointments. While I do have many recommendations, the majority of them cannot be located in the self-help aisle of your local bookstore. If you’ve ever walked down that aisle, you may be impressed by the sheer number of self-help books available, and the vast number of issues they address. There’s even a self-help book designed to teach the reader how to write self-help books! The fact that so many books exist suggests that no one book can be relied upon as the definitive source for self-help. Most of the books lining those shelves are self-limiting in that they address only one specific problem, rather than considering the bigger picture. Others are based exclusively on the author’s personal experience, which may or may not mirror your own.
While attending to a specific problem clearly is beneficial in the here and now, I feel that digging deeper and determining the core issues at play is more valuable in the long run. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “dry drunk.” If you haven’t, the concept of dry drunk syndrome was initially conceived by the creators of Alcoholics Anonymous. American Addiction Centers describes a dry drunk as follows: “Someone struggling with dry drunk syndrome may still maintain strained relationships with their loved ones. They may still suffer from unhealthy habits, both internally and externally. In short, while they may have quit drinking, the individual has yet to deal with the emotional baggage that led them to alcohol in the first place.” That’s why I’m not keen on self-help books. Rarely do they address the real problem.
That having been said, one book I do recommend is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz. The book is relatively short (160 pages to be exact) and an easy read, yet it sets the underpinnings for more in-depth self-examination. As described by the publisher, “In The Four Agreements, bestselling author don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.” Before you close your mind to it, although described as “Toltec wisdom,” the suggestions contained within this book do not conflict with the core philosophies of any of the great world religions. While I’m not convinced that a rapid transformation will occur simply because you read this book, I do feel it’s a good place to start, particularly as you consider the rules you have set for yourself, your relationships with others and the roles you play in those relationships. The Four Agreements, according to Ruiz, are:
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.
Don Miguel Ruiz and his son, Don Jose Ruiz, released a sequel called The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery, which adds a fifth agreement:
Be skeptical, but learn to listen.