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No personal development isn’t just exploiting vulnerable women (yawn)

Dr. Helen Johnson

14 Sept 2020

One of my pet hates is when people talk about personal development like it is some kind of weak past time for...

One of my pet hates is when people talk about personal development like it is some kind of weak past time for neurotic women. These people feign concern for these poor, defenceless, and totally ‘crazy’ women who need to be protected from throwing away money to complete charlatans. From the lofty heights of their massive high horse, their wallets are safe and their minds spared total domination from unscrupulous gurus. Phew! They are so clever to not fall for it like those stupid women who can’t think for themselves and are so emotional that they get hoodwinked all the time…

It’s a load of sexist nonsense and I can’t abide it. I am not denying that this kind of stuff goes on.

There are many people who are vulnerable and seeking help that have been wronged by the very people they have turned to. Abuse of power is rampant in society (something I am also very passionate about). Aside from that, there are also people who have wasted money and energy on trying to ‘fix’ themselves and haven’t made any progress. There are many reasons this may be the case, including some of the unhelpful nonsense out there. WORSE STILL there are people who have had a little bit of success and then became INSUFFERABLE about it (but that’s another story). Point being, there are plenty of people who haven’t had great outcomes with personal development – and for all sorts of reasons, only a fraction of which is charlatanism.

Yet, many people are so ready to believe – while knowing nothing about the context – that any woman wanting to work on herself, experiencing emotional troubles, or facing challenges must be either mad, bad, or sad*– instead of, say, perfectly capable of making their own decisions, intelligent, aware, and actually really emotionally brave. They might actually be perfectly capable of choosing between quality and nonsense themselves and they might have high standards too. In fact, they might not even be in a bad place. Maybe they are seeking to up level, increase their skills, get support, or generally just play bigger in life. These women may very well be willing to take a few risks for the sake of discovery and to be vulnerable too…

THIS is the women I know (many men too), not the weak, damsel in distress that needs rescuing from her own naivety. Give me a break already!

It’s a common trope. A few years back I decided to freeze my eggs. I spoke to the best gynaecologist in the country (who I knew and trusted) and she recommended the best place to go telling me they would definitely not bullshit me and they knew their stuff. I had to get sexual health testing. The woman doing it asked me why I was getting tested, I told her. She then launched into a rant about why I should definitely NOT do it. According to her it was totally impossible to successfully freeze eggs (wrong, the technology has advanced) and it was only for getting money out of desperate women (um, excuse me, who are you calling desperate?!). Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

The best thing to do before assuming someone is incapable is to find out more. To assume that they are an expert on their life. She didn’t know me. She didn’t ask me a single question. She assumed to know what I was thinking and feeling (mind reading is always a bad idea – a terribly unreliable form of discovery…!). The reality? I. Was. Perfectly. Capable. I definitely was NOT sad and lonely (wink, nudge). I even ended up having kids the old-fashioned way and yet I don’t regret my decision to freeze my eggs at all.

Admitting to a vulnerability – whether that is uncertainty about what will happen with your fertility or wanting to find new ways to develop and grow – does not make you a sitting target, it does not make you weak, and it does not in and of itself mean that you will be taken advantage of. And if you are taken advantage of then that is THEIR failing not yours!

Personal development is not the only arena in which some vulnerable people may get burned. ALL human endeavours designed to enrich us, bring joy, or give pleasure have this quality. We may buy into the wrong thing in all sorts of contexts. We HAVE to listen to ourselves and trust ourselves. We know what we need. All too often I have seen people turn away from things that could really help them because they think it is a sign of weakness to even engage with it. Thankfully that is changing.

Yes, there is a bunch of low-quality nonsense out there but there is also a lot of really effective, life affirming, empowering stuff that makes life better. I trust you to tell the difference and I really hope you trust yourself too.

*This is a concept from feminist criminology, which I have a side hustle in

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