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Before You Make Life Changes in the Name of Self Help, Read This

Josh (author and filmmaker) expressed many strong opinions in his early twenties about dating, marriage, and love when he published “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in 1997. He held seminars. He guest starred as a relationship expert on talk shows. He sold millions of copies of his book. Now, 20+ years later, fans and critics have some serious mixed feelings about it. He realized that “a desire to make a message as effective as possible, could actually mislead people.”

This is very powerful for his readers, who allowed the ideas of the book to influence their decision making and play a role in shaping their young adult relationships. This is important to talk about now more than ever. In a time where self help books, influencers, and internet articles are virtually everywhere, they present endless promises of a better life, better body, better health, and better relationships– we are exposed to endless sources of information that influence us. Josh is just a reminder that trends will come and they will go, but you have to live with the choices you make for a lifetime. Self help gurus do not have all the answers. In fact, some have radical ideas that are later disproven, leaving readers feeling disappointed and confused.

It’s essential that your choices feel authentic to you. Avoid falling into the pressure of self help methodology that doesn’t fit you for love and success.

Following rigid sets of dating rules may inadvertently create a new set of problems. Um, has anyone else seen Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man?! She’s Just Not that into You? Hitch? You get the picture.

As a couples therapist, I find the hardest part of my job is the part when people expect me to have concrete answers for them about love and relationships. The reason it’s so hard is because I can help people determine what’s healthy and unhealthy in their relationships, but the couple’s expectations and beliefs about love and commitment is ultimately determined by them.

Joshua Harris, the author, had good intentions while promoting the purity movement nearly twenty years ago. However, he admitted that the original meaning of faith-based abstinence was misrepresented in the book and became a symbol of social achievement and glorification of marital sex. In hindsight, this was the opposite of what he wanted to do.

“The message was unhealthy and became something different than I intended.” He now realizes that the strong messages he championed had created a movement that unintentionally shamed and devalued people who chose to have sex before marriage.

The documentary showcased interviews with original readers as they shared their struggle with the polarized ideas as they navigated dating in their teens and twenties in the late 90’s. It was clear that the book had an impact that Josh never anticipated when he wrote it back in his twenties.

During a 2017 TED talk, Harris said his greatest regret about the book was him transferring his fears into the book. He said: “Fear is never a good motive. Fear of messing up, fear of getting your heart broken, fear of hurting somebody else, fear of sex… There are clear things in statements in Scripture about our sexuality being expressed within the covenant of marriage. But that doesn’t mean that dating is somehow wrong or a certain way of dating is the only way to do things. I think that’s where people get into danger. We have God’s word, but then it’s so easy to add all this other stuff to protect people, to control people, to make sure that you don’t get anywhere near that place where you could go off course. And I think that’s where the problems arise. Wikipedia

Awareness is key.

Don’t get me wrong, some self help information can be extremely beneficial! As a therapist, I’ve seen wonderful wisdom and change emerge with the use of various self help techniques. However, we must also remember to lean into our intuition, factual evidence, past experiences, our social supports, and our values to achieve meaningful change.

Remember, you are the one who lives with your choices. Nobody has the same life path as you.

That’s why as a therapist, we don’t give advice. We provide you a safe space to lean into these things for yourself.

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