Cover image for Awaken the power within : in defense of self-help / Albert Amao.
Awaken the power within : in defense of self-help / Albert Amao.
Publication Information:
New York : TarcherPerigee, 2018.
Physical Description:
xxvi, 260 pages ; 21 cm.
"The $12 billion self-help industry is under constant attack for pedaling false miracles to duped believers. But sociologist Albert Amao demonstrates that Americans eagerly support self-help books, seminars, and programs because, under the right conditions, these things work. Sociologist Albert Amao analyzes the accuracy of self-help and positive-thinking claims in this groundbreaking--and wholly unexpected--exploration of what works, what doesn't, and why"-- Provided by publisher.


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158.9 AMA Book Adult General Collection

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Sociologist Albert Amao analyzes the accuracy of self-help and positive-thinking claims in this groundbreaking--and wholly unexpected-exploration of what works, what doesn't, and why.

"Regarding my personal experience," Amao writes, "I can testify that positive thinking and positive action have worked wonderfully for me. Born in a poor Latin-American country into a very impoverished family with both parents practically illiterate, I was the oldest of five children. I started working when I was six years old, shining shoes and selling newspapers to help my family. Nobody then would have believed that I would be able to finish high school. Nevertheless, I was able to do it going to night school, which allowed me to be admitted at the San Marcos University in Lima to get my Ph.D. in sociology. All these things were possible because, when I was teenager, I had access to New Thought," or positive-thinking philosophy.

Contrary to the critics who blithely dismiss self-help methods, or the New Age gurus who sell it them as miracles, Amao-writing with sobriety, scholarship, and drawing on deep personal experience-explores the conditions under which self-help is authentic.

Author Notes

Albert Amao Soria is a graduate of the National University of San Marcos, in Lima, Peru. He holds a PhD in sociology, and is a social theorist and cultural critic. He lectures widely on metaphysical subjects and is a national speaker of the Theosophical Society in America. The founder of the Center for Spiritual Self-Awakening, Mr. Amao is the author of several books, including Healing Without Medicine and The Dawning of the Golden Age of Aquarius.



Chapter 1 Overview of the Self-Help Movement Nowadays, there are many different self-help techniques and programs; each one has its own theories, beliefs, methods, and practitioners. The modern concept of self-help has come to be some assisted self-guided techniques, rather than self-reliance and self-improvement. The movement encompasses a wide variety of self-help programs, including books, videos, audiobooks, seminars, personal coaching, and support groups. Through these programs, the client supposedly learns certain techniques to better deal with life's problems, including methods of dieting, fitness exercises, stress management, achievement of excellence, acquiring wealth, improving relationship with one's partner, and so on. Currently, there are hundreds of books on the market debunking and demeaning the self-help business in America; some of their authors postulate that some self-help methods make people helpless and codependent rather than benefit them. The fundamental impasse of modern self-help materials and programs is that they have become coaching businesses as they consider normal human problems to be dysfunctions and offer or sell sham solutions. Why is this happening? In modern times, in a materialistic and consumerist society, mainstream religions are losing ground in providing spiritual meaning, emotional support, and significant experiential knowledge to their adherents. Here come the false preachers and "gurus" to fill the vacuum selling their "panacea" products to gullible people. Steven Starker, a sociologically minded scholar, and a psychologist by profession, posits that the "self-help book is a firm part of the fabric of American culture, too pervasive and influential to be ignored or lightly dismissed, and certainly worthy of investigation." Incidentally, one of the purposes of this work is to shed some light about this concern expressed by many social scientists. During the last decades, several self-help programs have tried to fill this vacuum. However, most of them are based on a greed syndrome. This greed syndrome is defined as the natural instinct of humans to take advantage of their fellow humans. This condition of avarice seems to be a characteristic of human nature that goes back to the beginning of civilization. Precisely, one of the features of ancient religions was to set limits on the greed syndrome through the idea of moral judgment by a powerful deity. It can be said that all religions, in addition to setting moral rules for human behavior, are based on limiting the voracity of greediness of humans. Starker, a professor of psychology at the Oregon Health Services University, wrote an excellent work in 1989 entitled Oracle at the Supermarket: The American Preoccupation with Self-Help Books. He deals with the history of self-help and provides one of the best analyses of self-help books available. It is deplorable that mainstream academia and scholarship have not given much attention to this work. Although many years have passed since its publication, it has only two reviews on One reason for this could be the strange and unattractive title, Oracle at the Supermarket. The words "oracle" and "supermarket" do not match at all; one wonders what an oracle has to do with a supermarket and, in this particular case, with self-help. The key to understanding this word combination is that Starker uses the term "oracle" as a substitute for "self-help books" for the following reasons: As is well known, the oracle of ancient Greek culture offered wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, and healing to questing pilgrims. I submit that these functions have been usurped, in America, by the self-help book, which provides inspiration, education, and hope to millions. . . . The wisdom of self-help is dispensed, today, not only at local libraries and bookstores, but even at suburban supermarkets. Readers are provided advice on diet, exercise, sex, divorce, religion, personal growth, and virtually all other aspects of living, often with step-by-step instructions. Starker commences his book with the following words: "The quest for enlightenment is a ubiquitous and noble part of human culture, calling to mind images of ancient scrolls, arduous pilgrimages, blind soothsayers, bearded prophets, Indian gurus, encounters with the oracles of Delphi, and a certain forbidden, but inescapably tempting, apple." Starker's position is that self-help books are replacing spiritual guides, ministers, and practical professional assistance. The commercialized, fake literature of this field goes on to offer wisdom and enlightenment; thus, there is no need to seek them in foreign lands or from "enlightened gurus" as the self-help material offers them right here. One interesting thing that Starker found in his research is that, of books published in the period of 1983-1984, approximately 3,700 titles begin with the words "How to." Among the titles were How to Achieve Security, Confidence, and Peace; How to Achieve Total Success; How to Avoid Stress Before It Kills You; How to Be a Better Parent; How to Be More Creative; How to Be Slimmer, Trimmer and Happier; and How to Beat Death. In modern times, most "self-help" programs are in essence coaching devices; that is, the practitioner assumes the role of parent, priest, or advisor. These programs serve as palliatives or mental narcotics, creating codependency, which involves emotional or psychological reliance on the practitioner, much like an addiction. The problem is that, if one takes away the psychological "help" for addicted people, one creates a vacuum, and the consequences could be worse than the original problem. It is believed that most self-help and motivational consumers are repeat customers who keep coming back whether the program worked for them or not, creating a sense of victimization. When the need is not met by a specific book or service, the seeker will resort to the next book or the next provider or practitioner, who will provide the answers, the comfort, the cure, the solution to his or her emotional or psychological ailments. Regarding the therapeutic or cognitive component of these methods, it can be said that self-help and "positive thinking" have a psychological and cognitive therapy component inherent in them. Indeed, everything in life can be therapeutic: the advice of a friend, reading a book or a poem, walking in the forest, fishing, and so on. In my case, playing tennis is therapeutic: chasing the ball around, hitting the ball hard, screaming when I miss-hit a shot, expressing content when I make good passing shots, and so on; it is a great mechanism for releasing emotions and getting relief from stressful situations. Some people turn for personal advice to a close friend or mentor, others to fortune-telling (tarot or astrology); if the dilemma is profound and existential, people search for "reliable and insightful knowledge." In other instances, the quest for an answer begins at the local library, bookstore, or New Age seminar or workshop, and the search ends with a practitioner who advertises his or her services in New Age magazines and local newspapers. Most of these ads appeal to people because they promote spiritual and metaphysical means of reaching wholeness. Interestingly, most of these practitioners have been in the same predicament as the seekers and are in no better position to coach them. Some of these self-help practitioners or coaches provide medical, psychological, financial, and spiritual advice without having the proper credentials. In modern times, some use the label of "self-help" for manipulation and commercialization rather than for assisting those in need. Self-help critics have found many self-help claims to be misleading and incorrect. Paradoxically, the more people read this kind of literature, the more they think they need it. This can be properly called "indirect coaching." Writer and investigative reporter Steve Salerno severely criticizes all deceitful self-help techniques, which he calls "SHAM," an acronym for "self-help and actualization movement." Salerno has authored an interesting book with an insightful title, SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. I have been very close to individuals who use these programs; they search and spend their money on most of the self-help programs available on the market, usually beginning with one technique that appeals to them. They might feel somewhat better at the beginning and then relapse later on-their situation returns to what it initially was. Many also attend workshops and conferences where another salesperson is offering "snake oil"; they then become interested in that and participate in that program. Since they do not find the solution to their emotional issues in one program, they seek another guru to solve their problems, and the search becomes endless. In 2005, Salerno stated that "self-improvement in all its forms constitutes an $8.56 billion business." He further mentioned that "Market data now expects the industry to be perched at the $12 billion threshold by 2008." In another part of the book, he asserts that "corporations spend billions of dollars each year on SHAM speakers." It seems that corporations use them as a way to reward their employees seeking maximum productivity. Furthermore, I have a problem with the proposition of easy methods in prosperity Gospels because they create false expectations that can be detrimental for an individual. Precisely due to the sensationalistic and commercialized theology of self-help and positive thinking, New Thought organizations may not be growing; some present these kinds of techniques in a manner similar to a cotton candy dream, without adding the most important complement, which is positive action and effort. For instance, I was acquainted with a person who used to work for a car assembly plant; he was making decent money. He was very religious and a Protestant church on a regular basis. When the assembly plant closed, he received payment for a few months and a good severance, which allowed him to be free from worry for a couple of years. Although he was trained in techniques to search for a job, he was unable to find one for a few years. He was in his middle forties; as a religious person, he started praying for guidance while time passed by and his savings were drying up. Then he started reading "motivational books" to find inspiration in finding a new job. Somehow, he read a couple of motivational books from an evangelical minister and became convinced that he could start a business, although he did not have any experience as a businessman or a specific plan. The idea was to import parts of cars from China and to assemble them in America. He took the project very seriously, but he neglected the competitive factor of the already established companies doing similar business. Nevertheless, he firmly believed that he would make good money and become a prosperous entrepreneur, because the books he read promised that. "Just think positively and believe that you can make it; trust in the Providence" was the mantra. Although this assertion may be true, they did not mention that years of work and dedication would be required. He sought investor partners to sell his idea; he also visited commercial banks asking for financial support for his project. As one might think, none of them gave a damn about his ideas, because of his lack of experience and a solid plan. Finally, he became depressed and eventually ended up in a mental hospital for some months. Since he was very loyal to his church, the minister somehow helped him to marry a divorced woman with children; she was professional and self-sufficient. His faith saved him. The moral of this case is that it is not enough to have good expectations and to think positively as my friend did. Time, dedication, and persistence are also required for one to eventually see results. As Napoleon Hill asserted, "There is no such thing as something for nothing!" That is one of the reasons I have some concern about those irresponsible prosperity Gospels that indiscriminately sell the idea that anyone can become rich or reach any goal in a short of period of time without positive action and effort. It sounds like common sense, but there are some individuals who believe in their evangelic ministers or a well-known life and business coach who use their credentials to exert some influence on those who are uninformed. Remarkably, self-help has turned into a New Age religion in America, as people expect transformative magic from these programs much like they once would have expected from divine intervention. Minister Joel Osteen, an American evangelist preacher, has successfully associated religion with self-help and motivational programs. The self-help movement has morphed into being a quasireligion, in which false prophets embellish their teachings based on religious scriptures to support their bogus claims. Pseudo-self-help creates dependency on New Age gurus or false prophets, who preach that their programs will alleviate all the customers' ailments and personal problems. When their techniques do not work, they inevitably blame the people, claiming they did not properly focus or correctly apply their teachings. As a sociologist, I am interested in finding out how so many Americans have become engulfed in this predicament. The golden thread that will lead this work is the following: People flock to these programs from a place of unworthiness and a sense of inferiority. The indirect and direct coaching business creates codependency and a vicious circle, leading to depression and helplessness. Why do people rush to easy, quick-fix solutions? There are many explanations for this; one is that some people have been brainwashed by the negative mass media and evangelical preachers who expound ideas that their religion and their interpretation of the sacred scriptures is the only truth. The psychological explanation could be that humans wittingly or unwittingly seek the principle of less effort and the path of least resistance. False "coaches" create needs as they raise false expectations and aspirations on needy people. They assert that anybody can have, be, or do whatever he or she wants and achieve lofty goals, without considering the physical or intellectual limitations of individuals. They put forward these ideas and suggestions with the intention of selling their "easy-fix programs" or specific religious ideologies. American pop culture has become profoundly permeated with the notion of the self-help business; every year Americans spend millions of dollars on books, videos, seminars, workshops, and the like that promise to fix their daily problems. This may be the reason well-known journalist Tom Tiede appropriately labeled the United States the "Self-Help Nation." The long title of his book tries to encapsulate the American social dilemma: Self-Help Nation: The Long Overdue, Entirely Justified, Delightfully Hostile Guide to the Snake-Oil Peddlers Who Are Sapping Our Nation's Soul. Indeed, America is deeply engaged with ideas of self-help and self-improvement programs. This is a typical American ideology, which is derived from the New Thought movement (positive-thinking philosophy). It is indeed an American brainchild. The notion of self-improvement, personal freedom, and prosperity dates back to the creation of this country by our forefathers; it can be traced to "Ben Franklin's do-it-yourself pragmatism." A sociological analysis of the history of America reveals that, unlike the European and foreign monarchies of the past, where wealth, social rank, and nobility titles were inherited, the United States of America is the country of self-made men and women. Since its creation as a nation, America has been viewed as the land of freedom and opportunity, where creativity, inventiveness, and hard work are the basis of American progress and development. This can be verified by the fact that many men with humble origins have become presidents, and other men and women have become millionaires after starting with nothing. Excerpted from Awaken the Power Within: In Defense of Self-Help by Albert Amao All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Mitch Horowitz
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Forewordp. xiii
Introductionp. xvii
Part 1 Self Help and Positive-Thinking Movements
1 Overview of the Self-Help Movementp. 3
2 Overview of Positive Thinkingp. 23
3 Making Sense of Self-Help and Positive Thinkingp. 42
4 The Fallacy of the "Power of Now"p. 56
5 The "As If" Principle and the Power of Assumptionp. 81
Part 2 Self-Help and Self-Healing
6 Self-Help and Therapeutic Suggestionsp. 91
7 Christian Science and Collective Suggestionp. 105
8 Exploring a Scientific Rationale of Self-Deceptionp. 116
9 Religion and Placebo Healingp. 130
10 Faith Healing and Mass Suggestionp. 137
Part 3 The Oneness of Life
11 The Mental Universep. 147
12 The Will to Createp. 158
13 The Qabalah and the Quaternity Principlep. 174
14 The "I Am" and the Power of the Lost Wordp. 186
15 An Existential Question: Who Am I?p. 205
Epilogue: A Metaphysical Answer: You Are a Magicianp. 216
Notesp. 223
Bibliographyp. 241
Indexp. 247
About the Authorp. 261