How much beauty in your life are you missing because you keep looking for things that need to be fixed?
I recently asked myself this question because I realized I’ve unintentionally been on a continual construction project on a piece of work–myself.
I was driving while listening to yet another self-help podcast that listed off things to integrate into my life to help make me happier, more productive, a better friend, a better partner and everything in between.
This wasn’t out of the norm for me—I often gravitate towards self-help books and podcasts.
Don’t get me wrong, I do genuinely have an interest in better understanding the world around me and my place in it, but I also always secretly expected to find some secret answer to “fixing” myself hidden among the pages.
The podcast—Unlocking Us by host Brene Brown— featured two relationship experts, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who were listing off things listeners could do in their romantic relationships to show up as a better partner, better communicator and overall better person.
Then, Dr. Julie Gottman said something that had me press pause at a red light and take a deep breath.
She noted that we often internalize the critical voices we have heard in our lives and in turn criticize ourselves and others, even if it’s well intended.
We develop our inner critic at a young age (or so my therapist says), and unless we learn to quell the criticism that we have inherently conditioned ourselves to believe, we continue to apply this logic to our entire lives.
I realized in that moment that I spend most of my time finding things, including in myself, that needed to be fixed.
As I think back, I recognize that my inner critic has always been loud. This created a near-obsession with self improvement and perfectionism within me.
While it certainly is important to hold yourself to a high standard, I would always fall steps short of what I saw in my eyes as good enough.
Stemming from a young age, I always felt that any mistake on my part, even if unintentional, was a reflection on my character.
Brene Brown (yes, we are sensing a theme here), also once said that “shame is the birthplace of perfection.”
When we feel shame—even if it isn’t our fault—we strive to do anything to not feel that way, and criticize ourselves for feeling that way in the first place.
If I made a mistake, accidentally misspoke, misunderstood something or someone, offended someone, got offended when I shouldn’t have—the punishment I gave myself in the form of self loathing was always far worse than the one anyone else could give me in the form of their contempt or disappointment.
For a long time, and hell, if I’m honest, even now, I would dwell on the little mistakes I made and see them as an indictment of myself. I would convince myself that because I failed to show up as my highest or best self in a certain situation or during a certain time in my life, that I was lesser for it.
While listening to the podcast, I realized that this inner critic is at times quite loud, and attempts to overshadow all of the many things in my life, and about me that are going right.
I show up to therapy each week with a laundry list of things to talk about, but many of them have to do with how I can be better or do better. This is important, and a necessary part of “healing” is a commitment to doing the “work,” but this doesn’t mean looking at myself as something that needs to be fixed.
I realized it had gotten to a point where my critical inner voice became the only language I knew how to speak, which I projected on myself and others across every facet of my life.
It’s easy to miss what’s going right when you’re so focused on fixing what you think is going wrong.
The self improvement podcasts or books, the memoirs I used as a blueprint for my own life or the aspects of therapy or spirituality I hoped would quell that pesky inner critic were ultimately futile if I didn’t meet myself with compassion instead of criticism even when I didn’t feel worthy of it.
I do think there is value in doing deep inner work. I wouldn’t be going to therapy and reading as many books about growth and spirituality and evolution if I didn’t.
But I also don’t think this means that when they say “healing never ends,” that you need to spend every day of your life trying to find things to improve until you can say you’ve got it all figured out.
I’ll never be so “healed” that I don’t still mess up from time to time.
The self compassion just has to be louder than the inner critic, so that when I do pause and take a breath, I can realize how many things in my life are truly perfect just as they are.
Even if I'm just a work in progress.
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