How many times have you heard the "I will change!" or your partner or family member saying, "I will change for the better?" How many times have you made a new year's resolution only for it to fall apart? How many times have you thought about moving away and reinventing yourself so no one knows the old you and you can start from scratch?
Yeah, we have all been there. It is a very normal experience. And I am here to tell you that wanting to change yourself is more harmful than good.
Wanting to change yourself comes from a space of "there's something wrong with me." We believe that our habits, some of our personality traits, ways of being, are bad. Bad means not acceptable and we walk around in society trying to fit in or be accepted. However, this kind of acceptance is dependent on the perspective of others and how they view us. If they view us badly, well, we need to change. If they view us well, we will do everything we can to maintain that acceptance. Even if it is not true to who we are. This can be an exhausting process and often leads to burn out, compassion fatigue, emotional overwhelm and just sometimes a plain old "I need to run away."
One of the reasons why I say changing yourself may be more harmful than good is because in the long run, it can create resentment and anger within yourself and especially towards others. What's worse, it can take a heavy toll on your physical health, your mental health and, most importantly, your emotional health. And often when this happens, self-care and basic self-love are often the first to go down the drain. This creates more anger and resentment, and lo and behold, we have burnout – and we feel miserable about ourselves. It is a vicious cycle. And this kind of pain often can lead to depression, chronic anxiety, chronic fatigue, and a loud internal voice that screams at us how tired, sad, and miserable we are. We deny all things that can be good for our body and soul, and we end up scrolling on Facebook for hours.
Abandonment of One's True Nature Produces Pain
I was in a Gnostic class when I discovered that pain only happens when we are disconnected from ourselves.
Pain comes from the abandonment of Self – denying who we truly are.
We abandon our need to feel safe, heard, understood. In other words, we neglect ourselves, reject ourselves and our well-being. By the suppression of these emotions – we create an imaginary construct to live by, because living towards that imaginary construct makes us feel better (or worse). Changing yourself to fit this imaginary construct is a lie – we often search for better things that are outside of us – diminishing who we are, and who we can be.
The scariest thing is accepting our emotions – it means we are vulnerable and can be hurt. However, the magic occurs through the acceptance of how we feel and how we feel about ourselves. Acknowledging every part of ourselves – the anger, hurt, insecurities, sadness, upset, fears, shame, and doubts. It is through these emotions and feelings that we can discover who we are underneath and what we really value. And underneath all of it, I promise you is a divine human being who wants love and wants to share love.
Do not worry, this article is not about to go into a mushy explanation that love is the answer to everything. I say this because sometimes, it is hard trying to love yourself when you have spent all your energy and time forcing yourself to be different. Every time someone told me "Just love yourself", I wanted to show them that I did by wanting to pull their hair out. I asked myself the question, "How can I love myself when there are so many things I hate about myself?"
Cultivating a Healthy Relationship With Yourself
In my journey of shadow work, I came across my spiritual master who taught me to love myself. Shadow work, in analytical psychology, is the process of bringing everything from the unconscious to the conscious. It was first brought into the world by Carl Jung who wanted to show the light to all the parts of ourselves we hid in the shadows. The disapproved bits are suppressed and repressed, and the bits that are approved are overly in everyone's faces. Fun bit is, the shadow grows every time you repress it – so it is normal that when you first start working on it that it feels overwhelming.
Disclaimer: I still struggle every day – I am used to hating myself, making myself wrong and engaging in negative self-talk. But it does get easier.
Whenever I was angry, insecure, sad, and just livid because I'm having a tough time, my spiritual master would tell me I'm perfect. Excuse me? What? How dare he? I did not understand it at first – but through the teachings he provided for me I discovered it was about accepting those emotions as is.
We spend far too much time separating emotions into little lists – these emotions are bad, these are good. Emotions are just emotions. They are by their own right. Anger is anger. Aggression is aggression. Sadness is sadness. Insecurity is just insecurity. Joy is just joy. We have forgotten to understand what these emotions can mean for us. What they are trying to point out in us.
Let us take anger as an example (it is my personal favourite because I was always called angry). It is one of the basic emotions a human feels; Anger helps trigger our fight and flight response. It is literally tied into survival. I often found that when I was angry, my body would shudder, I would cry, and I would try to escape the situation. Avoid, avoid, and avoid. My flight response was activated. And for months, I felt like I was made wrong when I was angry. Being angry was a bad thing and one should not get angry. Of course, this made me even angrier, which in turn made me feel wrong even more. Exhausting.
So, my spiritual master came along and accepted that I was angry. He just said, "Ok you're angry. Why you angry?" And I would blurt out every injustice I was feeling and would cry and be angrier and cry even more. He listened and accepted. I thought he was crazy, he thought I was perfect. It was a wild time. I spent the last 25 years telling myself that anger was a bad emotion and I needed to change it.
I told him this and he laughed. LAUGHED. Gah, the frustration I felt. I explained to him how I felt and how I needed to change it and he said to me, "Sweetness, why would you want to change how you feel? How you feel is an acknowledgment of your experience." Acknowledging how you feel is an acknowledgment to your human experience. If you deny how you feel, you deny the human experience that occurred to you. And when you deny the experience, you deny the lesson the experience could have taught you and you deny a newfound insight of you.
After that, I worked on accepting my anger, and underneath I had discovered – I was just incredibly sad. I had lived a life of survival in my childhood, and growing up meant I still needed to survive. And to survive meant to swallow how I felt, shut up, and to push through. So, now that I was older, I still needed to push through, but the emotional overwhelm I had suppressed for years was starting to bubble out.
I spent a year working through the emotional overwhelm, acknowledging feelings and experiences. I am still working on them now to improve my everyday life. The main lesson here is not to change how I felt. Especially, not to change how I felt about myself. See, the only reason we want to change ourselves is because we are so uncertain of who we are. And these feelings, emotions, and experiences allow us to discover who we are and who we are through these emotions and thoughts. Looking at it from here: Why would you ever want to deny the opportunity to see your magical self?
If you want to build a healthy relationship with yourself but something is pulling you away from it, know that you can always turn to someone for help. You can seek out spiritual teachers or a holistic mental health professional to guide you back to your wonderful self.