Here is a list of some of the self-help books I have found profoundly helpful and why:
*Oh! And, just so you know, while the links take you to Amazon, I'm not an affiliate.
This book is an amazing resource for understanding emotions and for help in learning to embrace and accept all of them for what they do and how they help us. Her encyclopedic approach, naming, describing and delving into specific emotions in detail, helped me see beyond labeling my emotions as negative or positive and somehow helped in allowing me to just feel what I was feeling without having to get rid of it or call it bad. We experience many emotions in the spectrum of our human life and having a fluency with this is as vital to our physical health as it is to our mental wellbeing. We often mistake our thoughts for our emotions in our culture and this book helps you learn what your emotions really are and how to feel them so that you can learn and grow from the wisdom they have to share with you.
If you are "play befuddled" like I am because you don't really know what you like to do to have fun as an adult or because you don't give yourself permission to play because you have to get all your work done first (and there's always enough work that you either don't ever quite get to the playing part or when you do you're too tired), READ this. This book made me understand the deep and important roles and value of play in our lives. It also helped me learn what kind of play I enjoy because in one chapter it lists and talks about different play styles. For example, among other styles, I identified myself in the description of a "kinesthetic" player. I love to play by moving and not necessarily sports or for exercise (although I enjoy that too). This made sense to me! Now I frequently take dance classes for fun and *gasp* let myself dance around at home for fun too. If you need a nudge to understand or prioritize play in your life, you'll get a lot out of this! It's a nice combination of research and anecdotal information.
"Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams" by Barbara Sher
All my life I thought there was something wrong with me because I had so many interests and couldn't ever seem to pick one thing to be when I grew up. This book explains why that doesn't mean you're flaky or indecisive but rather a genius in your own right. Barbara Sher coined the term "scanners" to describe people who can get labeled (in the not so kind way) as the "Jill of all Trades, Master of None" and offers an insight into how we are actually unique synthesizers of information who learn and often innovate by taking in a bit of this and that from different sources. Our learning style is unique and contributes immensely to the world (think Benjamin Franklin) and makes us happy doing what we do how we do it when harnessed and supported. This book talks about different styles of "scanners" too - it's fascinating and affirming and supportive! If you've never been able to decide what to be when you grow up and are still trying to figure that out, I suggest you embrace your complexity and read this book.
In April 2014, I ended up, years after reading this book, going through Martha Beck's life coach training program because she was the first person who I ever heard say: in order to figure out what you want to do in life you need to stop listening to what everyone else says, what you think you "should" do and listen within. Not only that, she give you exercises for HOW to do that. It is empowering, delightfully written and impactful. If you're constantly hoping someone else will just tell you what you'd be good at or what you should do so you can stop searching - use this as your guidebook and start learning how to search inside yourself. The answer is in there, you might just need a little help to hear it.
Interestingly, I read this book while in life coach training and thought it was one of the best life coaching books I have ever read. This book is about improv comedy but it's also beyond great for understanding that life is made up entirely of improvisational situations and with the nuggets of wisdom and practice shared in the book you can ride the inevitable waves of life's ups and downs maybe even with a sense of humor on board. It invites you to show up and say yes to whatever you're given and see where it takes you. I have a hard time with that in my life but found when looking at things through this improv lens and reading about how to be with the unexpected as presented in this manner, I've grown a willingness to lean into things a bit more and at least I consider beginning to say a yes to what's happening and see where that takes me.
If you've ever achieved a goal only to feel let down or like it just didn't bring you the satisfaction you thought it would - this book is for you. In shifting from survival mode to thrive mode in life, I began to understand how following the energy of my attraction and curiosity and joy and pleasure led me toward the live I wanted to live. This book explains explains that further and how to harness the power of your desire energy. It helps you NOT set goals that leave you hollow despite having met them and in a way that actually works - in detail. It offers a lot of great workbook style juicy Q & A and in that process you end up landing on the handful of core emotions that you want to experience the most in your day to day life. With those in mind, you then sculpt and plan how you spend your time around what creates those emotions. It's genius. Go get in touch with your desires and let them lead you to spending your days and nights how you want to be spending them - feeling the way you want to feel.
"Awaken Your Genius: A Seven-Step Path to Freeing Your Creativity and Manifesting Your Dreams " by Carolyn Elliot
WOW! Carolyn Elliot wrote a soulful and funny comprehensive primer on how to align your energy to create magic in your life. Like any self-help book, yes, you actually have to DO the exercises to really reap the rewards. In this case, they were so intriguing to me, I couldn't NOT do them. This book opened me up to exploring life as if it was a treasure hunt. It is both serious and playful, just how like I like things. I hate fake positive turn that frown upside down bullshit and yet I want to operate on positive thinking and optimism - just NO bypass please. Gross. I'm down with anything that promotes wholeness and this book definitely does and it's delightful.
I never would have thought that defining my style with two words would end up being such a pleasurable self exploration while also being super useful for my daily life. This is fun, rich and deep and yet delightful and playful workbook and self study. Have fun with it and, even better, read this book and do the process with a friend. It's light and deeply soulful and useful in ways you wouldn't have even imagined! If you're a true aesthete you'll love this. If you feel like "your mama dresses you funny" (meaning you) and you can't get it right, this is for you too. Have fun! I firmly believe our personal growth process doesn't have to be austere.
"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondō
If you haven't heard of this book, you probably spend even more introverted that I am! This is the ultimate process and way to declutter your home and, in so doing the process, creating space for deep transformation and joy. What is more delightful than being surrounded only by what you love in your home and closets? Wait. I'll answer that for you. Nothing. "Kon-Marie'ing" is a simple process that's not always easy. It requires taking some leaps of faith in letting go of things that feel hard to let go of in order open yourself to more. It is, however, a magical process. Don't just read this but do it! You'll see what I mean.
To say this book was eye-opening would be an understatement. It is about listening and speaking and connecting to others through our hearts and this framework of understanding allows us to be truly empathetic to everyone around us. It introduced me to the premise that EVERY action we take (including the words we speak) are an attempt to meet a need. ALL of us, as human beings, share the same underlying universal human needs but the way we try to meet them may be different. And, most importantly, that EVERYONE'S needs matter equally. It gets into the "how" with tools and ways to navigate inner conflict and conflict with others from simple everyday disconnects to much larger divides with compassion. It is a MUST read.
This book described to me in detail some of the struggles I thought I was the only person in the world dealing with. Things like having a sense that I was born with some kind of a fatal flaw - that something must be fundamentally wrong with me, feeling like I'm always on the outside looking in at life and disconnected from people, feeling like I'm an alien trying to figure out how to do this human thing, believing I shouldn't ever have to ask for help or rely on anyone, feeling empty all the time...this book gave words to my experience and helped me see and understand so much more about why I felt those things and some guidance on how to heal these wounds and recover my wholeness.
"Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A GUIDE AND MAP FOR RECOVERING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA" by Pete Walker
My jaw dropped in so many places reading this book because I just couldn't believe someone had described and put words to my experiences too. I felt immense compassion and understanding for myself after reading this book and it gave me a much needed sense of deep recognition and validation. It always seemed impossible to articulate or express my experiences in a way that someone would understand. This book helped me make sense of myself to myself. It is deeply important to read this book.
"The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Creativity, Brilliance, and Dreams" by Debbie Ford
Holy shit. This book blew my mind when I read it. It goes deep - straight to our core wounds and shows us how to heal even our harshest self criticism by embracing all of ourselves with deep love and compassion. It really teaches the way to find wholeness and connecting not only to ourselves but to our common humanity by way of that. The gifts that this work brings you are beyond gold. Nothing has transformed me like the shadow work I have done and continue to do. It's not easy but it's worth it.
For all you card carrying people pleasers out there (I raise my hand in there as a recovering people pleaser myself). This is a must read. It's a classic that has stood the test of time! It describes in great detail how different ways and styles of people pleasing create so much suffering and what you can do to support yourself in breaking the patterns. Reading it is easy, doing this stuff is harder but so, so, so very worth it. I recognized myself in this book, painfully so at times, but realizing I'm not alone in this was helpful too.