Self-help books have helped me a lot. Now, I've run into a lot of stinkers, but when one works, it works.

But I realize I keep them all pretty close to the vest. People do like to make fun of self-help, especially when they know a lot.

And the self-help books never tell you how to deal with someone being snarky at you for reading them.

This isn't a critical problem, but I realized I can put off a self-help book, especially around friends who are pretty smart. This nagging worry could even apply to visiting this website and potentially hearing "Wow! What do you need to visit that site for?"

So I am wondering about an effective, concise way to say "back off" without explicitly saying "back off."

  • 1
    <comment removed> @geokavel If you have an answer, please post it below. Comments do not have the features needed to properly vet whatever is said here, and only invites others to respond in kind. This should not become a free-form discussion forum which defeats the purpose of hosting this as a Stack Exchange site in the first place. Thanks. Aug 7, 2017 at 17:53
  • Can you give some description of what gets them to make comments about self help books. Could it be on the shelf and they see it and make a comment or are you talking about the most recent book you read or are you trying to sell all the benefits of reading self help books to them. These details can change the answer you would look for. Sep 26, 2017 at 6:51

8 Answers 8


Shrug off anything snarky you hear.

It applies to everything - not just your case of self-help books.

Looking past the tone or wording, if there's some actual useful content in their comments, then that is something worth considering and incorporating.

An example:

In my 4 years on Stack Exchange (which is my self-help book), I've come across quite a few snarky comments.

Initially, I had a knee-jerk reaction to comment back at them. But very quickly I realized that that benefits nobody. If they want to be snarky, that's how they are. I'm not going to be them.

Instead, I update my posts, research into what they mentioned, etc. and make that an opportunity to learn new things.

Back to your question:

Self-help books have helped you a lot, and therefore you should continue reading them. If your friends find it odd, let them. You should find it odd that they find it odd that you do something that helps you better your life.

People can have opinions. When people come at you with their unsolicited opinions, just shrug it off. Any reply from you will make it unnecessarily complicated.

Or, you could simply not let your friends see you reading such books. But where's the limit on that? Maybe they will come up with other subjects. Maybe about your interest in Stack Exchange, maybe about your Youtube watching, etc. Let them have their opinions. You keep doing your best.

Here's an internet meme that evolved based on this subject:

“Let people enjoy things”


Portray yourself as a critical reader

People might be dismissive or snarky about motivation books/presentations because:

  • their experience with them suggests they often have bad advice
  • other people they know who use them might have a cargo cult approach
  • some self-help authors are clearly in it for the money, using their books to gain an audience who they can then sell outrageously priced seminars to

As with all advice, you should be approaching it critically, questioning how much your personal situation matches those described by the author, and reviewing the results of the advice after you've tried it. As long as you portray yourself like this to your friends, there shouldn't be any need for your friends to be snarky. But even if they are, then explain that you're tentatively testing the advice to see if it would be effective in your personal circumstances, and explain both some of the advice you've found poor and some you've found effective. Be the self-help scientist!


Just asking, but how does the opportunity to snark even come up?

Some people proselytize their diets / self-help regimes in a way that makes others want to push back. If you find these books helpful, that's great. But if you're advertising your new insights; or trying to push others towards the same tome without their asking for your advice, that can be slightly irritating.

Self-help movements are a lot like religion, in that they are fascinating to those in the fold, and mysterious and foreign to outsiders.

  • +1 Very true. I had tried inviting 2-3 friends over to the world of Stack Exchange. Nothing I say will make them want to try it out. I didn't hear any snarky comments yet, but I'm sure I would next time I mention it.
    – NVZ
    Jul 30, 2017 at 15:43

It was a problem for me too. When someone asked me what I was reading and I told them, that I read something in the field of self-help, they always supposed that I have some kind of problem which is needed to be resolved.

These are people who think, that going to a therapy session is only necessary, or beneficial for you when you have problems.

You don't necessarily have to have problems. Sometimes you just want to be better. Better in understanding others, better in understanding yourself, or just be better in handling certain situations, like the one you mentioned.

When I was asked, or even mocked about these topics,I usually tried to find something, which can be interesting for the other person. Or just tried something like:

This author has a really interesting idea on XY. And I want to know more about that.

If these people who are asking, or mocking you for the self-help content you are consuming, are your friends, you can tell them about your true reasons, why you are trying to look for help, if you are.

But if they are just colleagues, or not too close acquaintances, you can close the topic fast, by saying that you find this interesting, and beneficial. You don't have to respond to anyone about your interests.

  • ...or just tell them that you're reading the latest John Grisham novel.
    – Curt
    Jul 30, 2017 at 23:08

Consult self-help resources when you are alone.

Barring that, you can state that:

I find it helpful. And that's makes me want to consult it.

You could point out that self-help resources are around for all sorts of subjects and professions. And this is just one of them. In my case for example, I needed to take two 8-hour (highly in depth) exams in order to receive my Professional Engineering license. There are self-help books galore on this. And that's just one of many such works for many, many subjects.

If you are asked again why you are doing that, you can simply say something like:

Because it has helped me. Not all self-help books are for everybody, but this one is OK for me.

I would not suggest offering a defense further than that. Nor would I suggest trying to turn it around with a comment like "Do you mind?!" That just puts a negative connotation on what is essentially a neutral statement on your part.


If anyone ever rolls his eyes or snarks about your love of self-help books, just grin and say, "I like 'em; they're fun!" If these are friends or friendly types, you might segue into a disaster story -- what's the worst self-help book you've ever read? Might make a good story...

Edit: Have been asked to expand a bit

I have actually been in a similar situation. I have some self-help books on the shelf, and you know how guests are; like puppies, they just have to poke around. So I did get called out on having self-help books ("Self-help books Akaioi, really?"), and said just what I've recommended above.

That actually morphed into a quite interesting discussion. What exactly is the boundary between self-help, good advice, and philosophy? How long does such a book have to marinate before it gets enough gravitas; at one point the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius was in its first edition ... was it "just some crappy self-help book" for the first century or two?

The main point I'm making here is that you shouldn't feel bad or embarrassed about having these books, or talking about them. Whoever wrote them is clearly at least trying to think deeply about the human condition, and betimes they get a hit. Above all, own your hobbies. No shame!


In case you haven't noticed the similarity, people like to comment, sometimes in an unkind teasing manner on nearly anything you do to "better" yourself if it's outside typical, and sometimes even then.

If you eat healthy, particularly if it's a change from how you used to eat, you will likely hear some snark. I have even heard snark that I think they meant to sort of compliment me on that? Something like, "Well it's about time that you started looking out for your health".

If you start to do a new healthy routine, like a cardio workout, yoga, etc, you can get people snarking about it oddly. I have had comments like, "Oh you don't need to do that. You don't have any weight to lose". I wasn't doing it for weight loss, but anyway...

I even had people be rude about me going to college. I know that sounds really out there to many, but I don't come from an area where people often go, at least not when I was that age, and in my extended family it was a mixed reaction. Some were great, but I also heard a lot of, "So you think you are too good to (insert whatever labor job here)?", also things like, "Who do you think you are with your nose in those books like you are better than everyone else". Even my father made rude comments, but he was/is an under educated man who is defensive on that issue. He chose to see a pursuit of higher education as a statement that his level of education wasn't "good enough".

So yes, I know people will snark about self help books. They also will about therapy, or other ways you may choose to attempt to tackle internal struggles. All you can do is deflect, and remind yourself that what other people say is about themselves. It's totally true. I worked with the public for many years, almost 2 decades, and then did business to business. What I can tell you is that kind people act kindly. You can mess up their day with a mistake, and they are generally going to gracious, understanding, and cooperative while you work on a resolution. Rude people are going to be rude. You can bend over backward for them and very often you will be treated not much better for it. There are of course exceptions, when kind people are having a lot of stress and an off day, you may see that, but again, it's still not about you. I could make the same error with 20 people and I would get 20 different reactions, even if what I did was identical and the way I tried to fix it was identical.

When snark bothers me, I take several deep breaths and say to myself, "I am sorry they have this type of issue that they need to try to make me feel bad in order to feel okay about themselves. I am glad it's their issue, and not mine. I am glad I don't have to internalize that or carry that weight with me," and then I absolutely let it go.

If it were one person over & over, then yes, there are things you can say and ways to try to establish better boundaries. As a general topic to deal with it as it comes up though from an assortment of people, you deal with that internally with how you choose to feel about what has been said. Choose to feel bad for them. Something is clearly bothering them if they feel the need to poke others for no good reason. So if anyone ask why you are reading anything, you can simply say, "Because it interests me" and let the rest go. They will back off already if they see it doesn't matter to you at all what they think of it.


You're not doing this for anyone else, you're doing it for yourself. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks -- and that in itself is a great self-development skill for you to master. I recommend The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@ck by Mark Manson.

It's also worth understanding that there are two reasons people are often snarky about self-development.

  1. They don't understand it, or believe that change is possible. They have a fixed mindset, rather than a growth mindset.

  2. It challenges them uncomfortably. It either means that they should also be improving themselves in some way, and are being a lazy narrow-minded dweeb compared to you. Or, it means you are going to surpass them, which creates a kind of envy.

Having said that, if you feel the need to respond, you have a ton of choices. Here are a few easy ones.

Essentially ignore their opinion;

Turn to them, smile knowingly, and then turn back to your book. Say nothing at all.


I'm not doing this for you...

Challenge them;

Don't you want to live the best life possible, and be the best person you can be? I sure do.


Do you really believe that your mind can no longer be improved?


Have you ever tried self-development? It's amazing how many things in your head can hold you back from what you want in life.

Their snarky behavior is an attempt to manipulate you through embarrassment. You're already mentally stronger and wiser than they are, through the work you're doing. You don't need to manipulate them back.

If they cross your boundaries, just confront them honestly.

You know, I like you, but your snarky comments just aren't winning you any points. If you're confused or embarrassed that I believe in personal growth, I'd be happy to share a bit of what I've learned so far. It's been a great journey for me.

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    Some of the responses above seem a little defensive, potentially leading to a perception of the reader being anti-social.
    – Nat
    Jul 30, 2017 at 8:55
  • One-upping people is a short path to social isolation.
    – Curt
    Jul 30, 2017 at 23:09
  • @Nat Thanks for your perspective Nat. As with all communications 99% of what you're saying is in the body language and para-linguistics. I'm uncertain why you read my examples defensively in your head, that's certainly not how anything should be communicated, ever. In my experience, confronting someone doesn't mean that you should return snarky comments, lash out, or even feel angry. To me that looks weak and defensive. If the person snarking want to be narrow minded, that's totally OK- OP's job is simply to manage his/her own feelings and hold firm to their beliefs and commitments..
    – Memetican
    Jul 31, 2017 at 10:38

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