Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Seeking innocent victims of second-hand self-help.

Early this week, a SHAMblog newbie, first-name Louis*, emailed me his account of the dissolution of his 20-year marriage and his overall descent into living nightmare. He attributes his personal tragedy to his (then) wife's progressive absorption in various self-help programs, goals, and themes. In vivid and harrowing detail, he writes of watching in dismay, and ultimately horror, as the behavior of the woman he once loved cycled from confusing to deceitful to thoroughly bizarre to—by the time divorce became inevitable—downright menacing.

Louis wasn't sharing all this just to "vent." He was building to a point. "Even in SHAM," he writes, observantly, "there's not much about the effects New Age beliefs have on the believer's periphery. The focus is always on the believer—how they may not seek medical help, etc.—not on the husband, wife, or kids, who don't know what's going on and whose trust is being abused." And he's right: One of my greatest misgivings about my book's oversights (there were many) was its way-too-sketchy coverage of such collateral damage. It occurs to me that this blog may be a way of addressing that oversight.

So... I hate to sound like the opening of some cheesy ad for a personal-injury lawyer, but if you or someone you know is an innocent victim of self-help—if your husband or wife or parents or children or siblings or coworkers have committed to some book or program or guru that has made your life hell—I'd like to hear from you.

Please contact me OFF-BLOG at

A few caveats. You need to know upfront that I'm not sure, right now, what I'll do with this material. I may create a recurring feature that highlights "one person's story." I may create a whole new section of the blog. Or an entirely new blog. (Doubtful, but you never know.) I may even use it in the course of other writing pursuits, some of which may be commercial in nature (a new book, major magazine piece, etc.) I'll have a better idea once this campaign gets off the ground, assuming it does.

Also keep in mind that this is tricky terrain because of the high potential for what some may view as defamation, libel or, at minimum, invasion of privacy. We'll need to balance my natural desire to provide full disclosure (and call a spade a spade) against the legal rights of the folks our contributors complain about. If you wish to remain anonymous, please mention that during your initial contact. Otherwise I'll assume that any stories I receive are meant for publication, online or anywhere else.

Anyway, you get the idea. If you have a story to share, get in touch. And by all means share this post with others for whom you think it's right. My gut tells me there are a lot of Louises out there.

* Though Louis is his true name, and he's willing to go public under his full name, I'm keeping things anonymous for now, in part for the reasons described above. There are (at least) two sides to every story; people who contribute must do so with the understanding that I reserve the right to undertake some firsthand investigation to verify the salient facts and/or give the other party or parties a chance to have their say. This means that, while you can choose to be anonymous on the blog, you cannot be anonymous to me. I'll need at least your full name and phone number, for starters.


Lana said...

Interesting timing. I blogged about such damage yesterday after listening to Rhonda Byrne explain how she allegedly used The Secret to create The Secret. But I have to wonder what really goes on.

You can read the post at

Yes, this is very tricky terrain. I've been holding back on telling such stories because I don't want the innocent people hurt further. I also don't want to get sued.

I will contact people I know who might be interested in your request.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Lana. You seem, on the surface, like an improbable ally, but I do recognize that people will sort themselves out at all points along the self-improvement scale...and also that there are sincere people within the self-help movement, i.e., people with a genuine interest in bettering the human condition who resent the activities of the con artists every bit as much as I do.

Besides, let's face it, we all want to enjoy life more. Yes, even me, believe it or not.

Lana said...

LOL! Yeah, it's hard to figure out where I belong :-)

My main mission is to help make our world a better place. I tend to be drawn to areas involving emotional health. I don't care where I find stuff that works -- as long as it truly works. I do prefer to have everything scientifically validated, but I realize that I may have a long wait for some things.

You're right, I'm actually angered by much of what I see in the personal development world. Don't get me started...

Cal said...

Here is a link to an article in last Sunday's Washington Post Outlook Section about The Secret. The title of the article says it all. There is registration required, so if one decides they don't want to register they may have to find a copy in their public library (if it is carried in your area of the country).