Have self-help books made us stop giving people second chances?

Books promoting self-love help people learn to assert boundaries, which are important for both your wellbeing and for creating the life you want to live.

But, as someone that reads these kind of books, I have been accused of being too harsh, too cynical, and too quick to cut people out of my life.

I put my choices here down to recognising patterns of behaviour in people, but also to self-love – something that requires ongoing work to build and maintain.

Self-help books, empowering Instagram accounts and artwork aid this process for me and many others looking for guidance.

Florence Given, artist and author of the bestselling Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, has earned a reputation for being a self-love powerhouse – people flood her DMs everyday asking for advice on their relationship, friendship and selfhood woes.

‘Self-love doesn’t mean not loving other people and not having compassion,’ Florence says.

‘It’s this whole view we have of women setting boundaries as being this cold thing to do, because we expect women to be doormats.’

More often than not, setting boundaries is difficult to do – it comes with the fear of making other people feel uncomfortable and appearing as cruel.

Simply put, books like Florence’s are going to appeal to people who do not have a natural skill for cultivating self-love. Someone that already has that down probably isn’t in need of a book to teach them that lesson.

Florence knows that for people lacking in self-esteem who read her book, they’re unlikely to learn boundary-setting so furiously that they lose the ability to discern a red flag from an honest mistake.

‘It almost depends on what your default is and as someone whose default is prioritising the needs of other people over my own, I personally don’t think I can be too assertive because I’m so far ingrained the other way,’ she explains.

Florence admits her conviction hasn’t always been this strong – it’s grown out of experience.

Having been in abusive relationships in the past, she says that because she has a tendency for being overly giving: ‘I need to be swinging right the other way just to get myself to neutral.’

However, it’s possible to misuse the philosophy in Women Don’t Owe You Pretty and other self-help books. Instead of applying self-love in a healthy style, it can be used as an excuse for pushing people away for fear of being hurt.

Florence agrees there will be some that are guilty of that, and even shared stories of people attempting to justify selfish acts under the guise of self-love or the messages in her book and artwork.

Signs of this show in everyday occurences too, as one fan contacted Florence saying that she’d lent the book with a flatmate who then started ‘using the excuse of boundaries’ to stop her from entering the shared spaces in their home.

Florence says authors of these books aren’t responsible for the mindset in which the reader chooses to meet the book.

If a reader chooses to become ‘over-protective’ of themselves, it’s telling of some deeper rooted trust issue.

‘You will trust the wrong people – know that,’ Florence says, stressing that it’s inevitable, normal and shouldn’t be something you look to blame yourself for.

Jo Westwood, The Codependency Coach, echoes this belief.

Jo is a fan of self-help books that promote self-care and believes at their core, books like Florence’s are not designed to make people stop giving out second chances to those who are worthy.

Relationships of any kind should allow for mistakes, but Jo says issues shouldn’t be repeating.

‘There is a distinct difference between someone who doesn’t bring anything to your life or brings pain or shame or anxiety, and someone who’s a genuinely good friend who’s messed up,’ she tells us.

‘What these books do is call out those people who aren’t willing to look at themselves, who aren’t willing to make amends and who are continually asking you to forgive them, which is completely different to a falling-out.

‘People who are using these types of books as way to help them become more isolated were probably using other excuses already. Maybe there’s a fundamental lack of trust or feeling safe around other people.’

Jo says it’s not the intention of self-love messages to make people embark on a social cull, rather ‘it’s a reclamation of power, boundaries and being able to speak our truth.’

Part of this is being able to tap into instinctive feeling, which Jo believes comes with nurturing a sense of self-love.

‘It becomes much easier to have a radar for what feels good for you and what doesn’t,’ Jo adds, which might explain why people who read this kind of material then have the confidence to let people go from their lives.

Grace, 25, resonates with these kind of books and says they do inspire and influence the way she behaves.

When she read What A Time To Be Alone by Chidera Eggerue, it helped her embrace her singledom and realise that she didn’t need the verbally abusive man she had been seeing.

For Grace it comes back to ‘having more respect for myself’, which in turn means she’s less likely to ‘let things slip’.

Sometimes she gets a ‘nagging feeling of “should I have given this person a second chance?”‘, but finds these books help her to have faith in her instincts.

‘I think it’s a really valuable lesson to learn when you start listening to yourself, the feelings you get from people and to stop ignoring them. It’s about not gaslighting yourself too,’ Grace says.

For Grace, self-help books have been integral to not only learning to pay attention to what gives her ‘a bad vibe’, but to then act on it too.

Like Florence, Grace historically struggled to arrive in a place of self-love, so the thought of not being giving enough to others ‘isn’t a worry’.

In the words of Florence: ‘If I have to cut someone out of my life, you best believe I gave it every chance I could and it got to a point where it was no longer serving me, so I had to choose myself.’ 

Self-help books that aim to foster self-love might make us cut off more people’s access to ourselves, but maybe that’s only because they’ve doubled as a textbook in learning to trust gut feeling.

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