One can't ignore the innate narcissistic nature of self-help, says Rebecca Davis

When Rebecca Davis decided to quit drinking, she made it her mission to find 'alternative' options to stay sane in an insane world. Here's Part VIII of our conversation with her about this arduous odyssey

06 June 2019 - 13:44 By Mila de Villiers
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Image: Leila Dougan

Think "Rebecca Davis".

Adjectives including "SA's very best white" (merci for that one, Marianne Thamm), "award-winning journalist" and "the woman who puts the 'wit' in Twitter" ought to be conjured.

But "self-help author"?

If "nah, bru" is your initial response, not to worry - this born cynic would agree hands down.

Self-Helpless - Davis's latest contribution to the local literary scene which chronicles her year-long "journey" of immersing herself in the world of auras, chakras, sweat lodges, mindfulness and (much) more - was spurred when she resolved to undertake "one of the most difficult things I've ever done": to Quit Drinking.

'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
Image: Pan Macmillan

Intrigued as to why the struggle was so onerous? Take a look at the facts:

The former Rhodent (all together now: "eat, sleep, mare, repeat!") discovered alcohol at 18 and pursued her newfound hobby with such a "passionate intensity" that by the time she reached 34 she calculated that she has spent roughly 9,984 hours of her 16 years as dopper drinking.

Abstaining from the Demon Drink made Davis question How. The. Hell. sober people cope with an increasingly insane world?

(And she has plenty to worry about - giraffes are facing extinction, Day Zero remains a shaky reality, the world is running out of sand... Things are even bleaker now than in '87, R.E.M.)

Cue the alternative method quest to stay sane inside insanity.

Keen to hear how that went down?

Take a deep breath ... Hold for three ... Exhale ...

Aaaaand read:

How to micromanage the epidemic of unchecked narcissism

As commendable as the act of turning towards "self-help" as means of personal growth is, one cannot ignore the innate narcissism by which it is accompanied ...

Davis concurs, substantiating her agreement with a plethora of impassioned - and valid - arguments, made even more convincing with assertive hand gestures. 

"Self-help has this relentless focus on yourself and sees you - as an individual - as both the problem and the solution - all in one," she explains with a determined look.

"So, for a start there's something that's very limiting about that, because sometimes it's just - not - true," she vehemently states, emphasising her final three words by thumping her fist against the table. 

"Sometimes there are very real social structural conditions which are f*cking with you, and it's not your fault and neither do you always have the power to address that," Davis earnestly maintains. 

There's a destructive side to self-help which rears its harmful head "when you don't rise above your circumstances", perpetuating the warped idea that you 'failed' because "you are weak, or kak, or not mindful enough, or whatever. And that's deeply unfair," she relays, shaking her head in disbelief.

"I really do think sometimes depression or anxiety is a very rational response to a maddening world and we should be a bit kinder to ourselves in that regard.

"But there is definitely this epidemic of unchecked narcissism," she continues, critiquing the era of social media which feeds this particularly nasty - and omnipresent - beast.

The self-indulgent nature of self-help limits your kind of existential scrutiny to yourself, she proceeds, adding that long, intense introspection actually produces a kind of depression and anxiety in itself.

"As in just get out of your f*cking head and do something! Help someone else, whatever," she proclaims with visible exasperation.

Davis condemns the underlying sense of selfishness which shares a symbiotic (or rather parasitical...) relationship with self-help, maintaining that people have a clear desire to have an experience where you are the focus of someone else's attention without being expected to reciprocate in any way.

"So someone is literally working on you, and you're just chilling out," she incredulously voices.

"And there's clearly a real appetite for that - being taken care of. I think it relates to this thing of ... adults wanting to revert back to a childlike state," comes the introspective follow-up.

"Which we do see in adult colouring-in books..."

A page of Self-Helpless pays homage to adult colouring-in books, but if it's a lank zen mandala you're expecting, you have another think coming. Take a look:

Up yours, mandalas.
Up yours, mandalas.
Image: Triple M Design

(And no, Davis didn't colour it in. "I f*cking hate colouring in.")

Adults' desire to revert back to a childlike state stems from the stress of modern life, Davis maintains.

"There is definitely this thing whereby adults clearly want other adults to say 'come, it's time to have a little nap now, lie down, I'll look after you'," she says, complementing this statement with beckoning motions. 

"But there is an indulgence to it and I think it's fundamentally limiting, in terms of just focusing on yourself all the goddamn time," she asserts with indignation.


Stay tuned for Part XI: Hello, Marie Kondo. Goodbye, everything and anything that doesn't spark joy...