By the autumn of 1999, my life was soul-sucking misery.
I had suffered from social anxiety, an overreactive bladder and irritable bowel syndrome for many years. But I coped. Life wasn’t a blast, but I was ok.
All changed when I moved to Vienna. I chose a University further from home to escape the rejection, heart-ache and bullying of my school days. But it left me alone in the city, depending on nobody but myself for the first time in my life. And I was terrified.
Everything had changed. My emotions were in turmoil and I resisted the new situation, unwilling to adapt. I felt forlorn, helpless, vulnerable.
Even little things, such as popping over to the shop across the road, became unsurmountable challenges and triggered frequent panic attacks. I existed with a constant baseline level of fear. The sick butterfly feeling in my stomach accompanied me from dawn until dusk and then turned into full-blown terror at night. Every unfamiliar sound sent sharp shocks through my chest. My heart was racing all night and I laboured hard to force air into my lungs.
Between lectures, I sat alone while others had already formed friendships. I watched them chatting and laughing. But I couldn’t get myself to start a conversation, to just say hello and see what happened. Maybe I was scared of being rejected again. Maybe I thought I would make a fool of myself. But I was lonely and isolated and I remember that I cried a lot.
While I held a driving license, the thought of driving a car made me physically sick. So, I took the train home every other weekend. The 3-hour journey filled me with horror. I was dreading it for days in advance, overthinking everything that could go wrong.
By Christmas, I was a wreck. Sleep-deprived, insecure, self-doubting and scared. I felt so disappointed with myself, so ashamed for my weakness and inability to cope with life. Everybody else was fine! Why did I struggle so badly? What the heck was wrong with me?
I went home for the holidays, beaten, broken and embarrassed. I didn’t know what to do next, how to move forward. I felt like a mere shadow of myself and living a “normal” life was a distant, unrealistic dream.
But then I received the Christmas present that started to change everything.
“I think you need this,” my Mum said when she handed me the small package.
It was a book. “You can heal your life” by Louise Hay. I was sceptical at first. Universal healing energies and the power of affirmation, positive thinking and visualisation were far removed from my scientifically trained view of the world. I only believed what was experimentally proven.
But at that point, I was desperate enough to try anything. And I am thrilled I did, because it transformed my life forever.
Over the years, I read hundreds of self-help books. But my most staggering successes in reclaiming my life from low self-worth and fear were kickstarted by a special few.
These are the ones I want to share with you today. You might love or hate them. You might consider them helpful or useless. You might agree that they are inspired or think they are garbage. All I know is that they helped me heal. And for this, I will be eternally grateful.
1. You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
I blamed my suffering on my nervous disposition, my inferior being, the bullies in school, my parents’ divorce and a narcissistic, sadistic teacher. What this book taught me was that I was giving away the power over my own life. We are powerful creators of our experiences. The Universe loves us and provides what we ask for. Always. Negative self-talk, self-hatred, resentment, and feelings of unworthiness create experiences of fear, lack, ill health and misery. This book helped me transform my toxic attitude towards myself and life. If you are just starting out on your journey back to life, this is the one I recommend.
2. The Power Is Within You by Louise Hay
If you liked “You can heal your life”, you will love this one! At the beginning of my healing journey I re-read this book every time I felt unbalanced or when the negativity crept up on me. The book explains further how you can learn to love and accept yourself. It helped me overcome emotional barriers that were holding me back and break through vicious cycles of fear, guilt and shame that overshadowed my happiness. If you want to reclaim power over your life, this is well worth a read (or two).
3. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by HH the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
In his interview with psychiatrist Howard Cutler, the Dalai Lama reveals how to cultivate happiness from within by feeling gratitude and compassion towards others and yourself. I am a big fan of the Dalai Lama and his teachings. I read this book when I felt wronged and upset by people who considered me an enemy (I had never been anybody’s enemy before!) and spread horrible lies about my family. I was angry and wanted justice. This book taught me how to overcome the suffering, anger and resentment and focus on love, sympathy and growth instead. If you feel unhappy because of other people’s behaviour towards you, this is the book I recommend.
4. Matrix Energetics: The Science and Art of Transformation by Richard Bartlett
This book introduced me to quantum healing, a technique used to dissolve negative emotions such as fear, anger or resentment. I have used methods adapted from this book for many years to clear energy blocks, barriers and limiting beliefs (and stubborn back ache for that matter). This funny and engaging book had a profound impact on how I am now dealing with toxic emotions. Granted, the connection to quantum physics sometimes is a bit of a stretch. But if you enjoy a more scientific approach to self-healing, give this a try!
5. Awareness by Anthony De Mello
Anthony de Mello believed that our attachments, conditioning and unawareness keep us anxiety-ridden. He offers unconventional ways to deal with change, suffering and unhappiness. And he does it with brutal honesty! This book is as blunt as they come! And it was a wake-up call right between the eyes for me. The direct message is sometimes hard to swallow and won’t appeal to everybody. But it was the biggest eye-opener of my life.
6. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
I love this book! It turned my world upside down. Michael Singer teaches that our unhappiness is caused by us and thus we can change it. Our mind has expectations of how our life and the outside world should be. These likes, dislikes and preferences are created by our past experiences. If those arbitrary expectations aren’t met, we are unhappy. I learned from this book that my mind’s chatter, its worries and judgements are irrelevant. It helped me to de-stress, feel calmer and avoid the emotional roller-coaster. If you want to feel happier and free, this is the book for you.
And if you liked “The untethered soul”, you might enjoy The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection by Michael Singer. I do not usually read autobiographies. But this is an entertaining account of the miracles that happen when you surrender yourself to the Universe and follow the path it lays out in front of you without (too much) resistance. Well worth a read.
7. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart Tolle teaches that the now, this present moment, is all we ever have. We cannot change our life in the past or the future. We can only change it now. From this book I learned to focus on the present moment, let go of the past and worry less about the future. It also showed me how to stop identifying with my ego and its habitual behaviour. I had assumed that I was my thoughts. This book revealed that my mind was an essential tool but it was never meant to be the master. Putting it in charge was the cause of unnecessary stress and anxiety. After reading it, I stopped my obsessive overthinking and coped much better with my worries, frustrations and flaws. Because I knew that they weren’t me. If you are a worrier, overthinker and control freak, I cannot recommend this book enough!
8. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
This is the follow-up to “The power of now” and I enjoyed it even more! It expands on the problem of identification with the ego as the root of our suffering. It focuses on how we can disengage from the ego’s need for drama, approval and praise and live a balanced, happy life. I recommend reading “The power of now” first, but if you liked that, you will love “A new Earth”.
9. Three in a Bed: The Benefits of Sleeping with Your Baby by Deborah Jackson
Ok, this one is only relevant if you are an anxious new Mum who is terrified of doing everything wrong…as I was. I co-slept, breastfed on demand, never sleep-trained. I followed my intuition but I was killing myself with insecurity and guilt because I acted against popular advice. This book gave me confidence in my maternal instincts and choices and helped me enjoy one of the best times of my life rather than drowning it in anxiety.
10. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book is aimed at the aspiring writer or artist. But it contains enlightening insights about dealing with failure, rejection and disappointment. We often give up on our dream because we think we aren’t good at it, because others disapprove or don’t acknowledge our efforts. We perceive ourselves as failures because we do not receive credit or praise or others criticise us. This book taught me how to follow my passion just because it amplifies my life, without anticipating it to produce any success, praise or personal gain. We are all here on this Earth to be as happy as we can be. And this book is a lovely guide on how to find happiness through your passion without expecting anything more from it. If you want to follow your dreams and aspirations but are terrified of failure and rejection, this is the book I recommend!
So here we go! My top 10 (and a bit) books for healing low self-worth and anxiety. At this point you might wonder why my list doesn’t contain any books specific to anxiety or self-worth. Well, the thing is, I never read any. I am not sure why.
I tend to follow my intuition. Sometimes I like the cover picture. Sometimes 3 friends mention the same book within a week. And sometimes a book will pop up in my Amazon recommendations and I immediately know I need it. But mostly I trust that the right book, the right teacher, will appear when the pupil is ready.
These 10 powerful books helped me on my journey from an insecure, doubting and fearful existence to a content, confident and meaningful life. So, why not give some of them a try? The worst that can happen is that you lose the $10 you spent on a book you don’t like.
And remember, when choosing your next book, listen to your intuition. It is usually right!
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Dr Berni Sewell, PhD is a health scientist, energy healer and self-worth blogger. She is on a mission to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what. Download her free guide Instant self-worth: an easy 4-step solution to heal your self-worth in under 5 minutes a day” and start to boost your confidence today.