Based on the people I’ve known who dive deep into self-improvement and self-development, there are two reasons people get into this stuff:
1. They are aware of a specific deficit in character or ability and are looking to improve to a degree that they are happy and comfortable with, and
2. They aren’t entirely sure of what is wrong, but they have a feeling that something is wrong with them.
The first reason is a good enough reason to be in the self-development or self-improvement section of a bookstore or website. The second reason is a bit hairier.
For starters, who told you that something was wrong with you? Who made you feel as though you were flawed? It is always admirable when someone wants to work on themselves to improve their relationship with themselves or with others. But like anything else in life, the motive matters.
If you think that something is wrong with you but you cannot pinpoint what, it could be that what is wrong is that you have the erroneous belief that something is wrong with you.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t have things to improve on, but if you know what those things are either through reflection, people offering advice or by merely living life, that’s one thing. But to live with the inner gnawing that something is wrong and the inability to state what the exact problem is, highlights that you merely believe that something is wrong with you.
So who would you be if you let go of the belief that something is wrong with you?
If we had childhoods where the moment we deviated from what was expected from us or what was deemed appropriate, our caregivers and even our peers would shame us and treat us poorly.
The irony is that we all have our own idiosyncratic things that make us unique. But ultimately, many of us end up shaming one another for being stupid, slutty, selfish, shy, stereotypical and the list goes on and on.
Anytime someone deviates from what is normal, the human ego wants to attack and make the other person conform. But that just takes away our specialness. Unfortunately, when people attack us we tend to attack people back.
The people who get out of this trap are the people who go for broke and are unapologetically themselves. They decided that it was better to be authentic than to hate who they are or to try to be what others wanted them to be.
This is awesome, but it may cause people to not hold themselves accountable or to listen to the advice of others. After being judged by others so often, some of us learn to never listen to others. You can understand the reasoning but it’s too extreme a position.
I believe that the people who inundate themselves with self-help stuff know this threat exists and they try to become as perfect as possible so that they are above reproach and even if they were chastised, they use their spiritual or ”woke” egos to condemn others.
Despite all the work they do on themselves and knowing the threat superiority plays in humans hurting one another throughout the eons, they still fall for the same old trap.
The Usual Suspect
At the end of the day, you have a point. Something is wrong with you, but you’re going about it in the wrong way and the thing that is trying to find what’s wrong is the very thing that is wrong.
This witch hunt is fueled by shame and the fear of shame.
There are some of us who are blessed enough to not worry about what others think of us. To be honest, much like everything else in life it’s a pro and a con. It’s good to naturally be authentic, but when you have harmful ideas and hurtful biases, being authentic means pain for others. It may also come with stubbornness and resistance to change.
But then there are some of us who genuinely care what others think of us, of the world, of that guy over there, of what you’re eating, etc. We want to gauge the emotions of others because that will show us the optimal way to live.
Again, there is a pro and a con to this. The pro is that such folks are more adaptable to social climates and can feel the needs of others. However, the con is that if people condemn you, you will condemn yourself. They condemn you by shaming you.
If you are the type to take cues from your environment, when people make you think that something you do, think, believe or like is bad, you take that shame and pierce yourself with it. Then you walk around with that wound and are likely to condemn others because that is what you learnt to do.
You are afraid of shame and yet you judge and condemn others too. Maybe not to their face, but you look at what someone is doing and have something negative to say in the same vein as a caregiver or peer did to you.
So who would you be if you let go of the belief that something is wrong with you? Well, you’d be free and more at ease with yourself. You wouldn’t have that perpetual itch within that you’re a flawed person just waiting to be exposed.
As Max Ehrmann wrote in his poem, Desiderata, “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”
Remember that you are a product of your environment. That means that you were born to support and help to propel the human race. People will look at your particular talents and may judge you for it. They might even be jealous. But if you refuse to be yourself, you deprive the world of the ability to move forward.
It may be easier to play it safe and conform but you may ultimately regret it when you are on your death bed. Many wish they had the courage and conviction to stand for what they believed in rather than being another cog in the machine of ego domination.
Say what you want to say. Do what you want to do. But listen to others too. You know the voice of contempt. Even if what it says is true, it’s too triggering to listen to. Listen to the kind voice of suggestion and wisdom. It’s a sharp contrast to the one of condemnation.
Finally, if you feel brave enough to do it, decide and declare right now that you are perfectly fine the way you are.
And if you still see certain traits you’d like to develop, feel free to do so.