Dare to Be You
Do you try to do the right thing, not make waves and careful not to upset people? Do you find that living this way leaves you feeling disconnected, and you don’t feel real? You are not alone.
Self-improvement can be a double-edged sword. You want to keep working on yourself, but the focus on being better, and working out the right thing to do or be can have a perfectionist undertow that reinforces you are unacceptable.
How do we change if we don’t strive to be better?
The Paradoxical Theory of Change has some answers. Goes something like this.
So often when you don’t feel good about yourself, it seems natural to want to be different. If I didn’t feel anxious, then I would feel better about myself, or if I were less sensitive other people wouldn’t get upset with me.
However, by saying that you should be better and change [____], you are giving yourself a message that you are not ok as you are. There is a desire to be someone else; someone who you think others will like better; someone who you think would be more successful than you are, or just someone who does things better.
Emotions are messy, and you can interpret your suffering to mean you are broken or weak. You might feel a need to hide and diminish these expressions in a misguided attempt to become ‘better.’ We develop what might look like an internal cheerleader, but is a critical voice.
This voice has incorporated all the critical and judgmental messages in your life as well as some of the be positive cultural platitudes of our time. However, no matter how you might spin it the meaning has a similar effect. Who you are is not acceptable. These critical parts of you are often your attempt to protect yourself from being hurt. So accepting yourself fully also involves understanding and embracing these parts as essential aspects of you.
Ironically, to be ok with yourself is the fundamental change you are wanting. To feel free just to be.
The paradoxical theory of change sees change as a process of allowing and embracing your experience. When we do this, you are fundamentally changing your relationship to yourself as not good enough. In that moment of being with your truth, you no longer criticize who you are and can develop compassion and acceptance for yourself. The acidic pain of shame can dissolve and be released when we can pay attention to it, even though shame is so hard to experience.
When you embrace yourself, then you can move forward with clarity and desire. To accept yourself is the heart of change.
To be with yourself requires you to inhabit your physical and energetic space, your emotional experience and desires, thoughts and imagination. To be free to express yourself to the world from this connection means you accept all parts of yourself. Change happens when we turn our attention from the fears of what others want from us to what we want and feel. It comes from within not from without.
What if being myself causes problems for others?
These fears are rooted in feelings of being rejected, judged and not-belonging. We are social beings. You naturally want to be connected to others. You may fear that others will not connect with you if you don’t please them. So it makes sense that you might feel apprehensive about letting go of trying to please others.
There is always a risk when you put yourself forward. There will be times that others will not like aspects of who you are whether you are happy or sad. Either one can bring up reactions in others that cause them to pull away, but if you can stand in your experience, you will realize that their response has little to do with you. If you cross someone else’s boundary, you will have to sort that out with that person. All relationships have times that need repair, and you will not avoid disappointing others by altering yourself for someone else.
Shame is an interpersonal process that is used to mitigate conflict and diminish your presence.
So when you take courage and express all parts of yourself that you have held back or tried to suppress, then it will likely bring up the shame and fear attached to being that way. It can be painful and terrifying to express oneself to others. The good news is that it gives the shame the opportunity to dissolve and create more freedom to be who you are.
Alternatively, your attempt to control the ‘unwanted’ and forbidden within you can re-enforce this shame and fear and maintain a constricted way of life.
No matter who you are and how you express yourself other people will have their reactions to you. We have no control over that. So you may as well develop a relationship with yourself that is curious about what you are experiencing and desiring rather than forcing an ideal self that ends up feeling false and self-conscious.
All of our emotions, desires, actions, reactions, protections, and opinions are what make us human. Through wholeness, we can learn everything is possible and fruitful. We can come to forgive ourselves and our mistakes. We learn that being vulnerable can open the hearts of others and that your anger can express your self-respect and need for justice. That you are complicated and being human contains all of you.