My main drive behind self-improvement used to be shame-eradication, but not in the way you might think. I felt that I was inherently flawed and awkward and I had to replace that with something less cringe-worthy. Having been bullied as a child, I’d often recall those horrible years as embarrassing, because apparently, in my head, I was bullied because I was weak and flawed. I’d often revisit the memories wondering how things would be different had I been less flawed. The thing about thoughts and mindsets is that once they take root, they become a part of you and you wouldn’t notice them unless you knew what to look for. So whenever I’d read something that unearthed a certain mindset, I’d be embarrassed and disgusted with myself for having espoused such thought patterns. I reflected on the amount of pain and hurt I became worthy of as a result of being so feeble-minded. Yes, it sounds horrid, spelling it out like this. But deep down in the world of thoughts and fears, horrible things often seem perfectly logical. Self-improvement became synonymous with self-destruction.
Essentially, what I was doing was aiming for perfectionism under the guise of improvement. You see, once you hide stuff under different labels, it gets very tricky to ferret them out. That is, unless you accept yourself with all your flaws and so-called cringe-worthy traits and realize that self-improvement has nothing to do with ;
(a) Changing the way people perceive you
(b) Changing who you are deep down
(c) Getting rid of shame by altering shame-inducing aspects of yourself
Using self-improvement as a tool for perfectionism sends one down an entirely different path than that of genuine self-acceptance. One operates under the assumption that the shame and fear that permeates one’s self-worth is accurate; and the other, that of self-acceptance, operates under the truth that one is enough.
But here comes a twist; if I’m enough, then why the self-improvement? And if perfectionism is aimed at improving myself, why is it denounced and made out to be something negative?
In fact, this gross misunderstanding has sent me down the wrong path one too many times and prevented me from reaching my true aim. I suspect I got it from the pop-psychology books I used to read as a teen; books that ubiquitously line the self-help sections in book stores, but are far from helpful. The authors might be different, but they all revolve around the belief of you’re not enough, you’re flawed and that’s unacceptable, here’s how you can change that.
Up until as recently as two weeks ago, my understanding of this was horribly skewed. I’d constantly look down on myself and berate myself for holding certain beliefs. I was constantly entrenched in shame and never for once felt ...ok. Until recent events made me revise my understanding of growth and improvement, that is.
I realized this; my task wasn’t to fix my broken self or rounding my jagged edges; it was to embrace the irregular parts of me that I had rejected because they didn’t fit in anywhere. It was, it is to accept myself and love myself regardless of how I feel or look. It’s to give myself the unconditional love that I missed out on all my life. All this time, I had perpetuated the damaging message of my bullies, within myself, thinking I was doing well.
My biggest fear has been, and still is, to integrate all my different sides within myself and dare look at my entire being without flinching with disgust over my imperfections.
I think Brene Brown’s work on embracing imperfections and wholehearted living is phenomenal and groundbreaking, at least for me. I ordered her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ last week, and hope to receive it shortly.