In case you missed them you can read:
Now onto our final section where we'll look at where personal growth CAN help and how to interact with personal growth work in a way that's actually empowering.
Your Life Isn’t 100% Because Of You
As I stated above, there’s a HUGE narrative in the self help/spirituality/personal growth world that the ONLY thing that could possibly be in our way as a human who wants a better life for ourselves, is just that - ourselves. That the ONLY reason we aren’t succeeding in the ways we want to succeed or that we’re struggling in the ways we’re struggling is because we’re making bad choices, haven’t developed ourselves enough, haven’t found the right motivation or the fact that we’re ‘getting in our own way.’
We’re told over and over again that *anything* is possible, that all goals can be achieved by all people, and that it’s what’s being sold in these self help conferences/books/coaching programs that are the missing pieces of anyone’s life journey puzzle. The personal stories of those who present themselves as leaders and the ‘testimonies’ of anyone who have put their tools to work in their own life draw us in, providing all this ‘evidence’ that it’s TRUE - these people have the keys, if they could do it, we can do it, it’s just a mind over matter thing. We want to believe that all things are possible and we want to project ourselves onto the people who represent freedom to us.
There’s even a term in the self help/spirituality world for the fact that many of our leading ‘experts’ refuse to acknowledge or validate the very real struggles that people are facing, that may not be within their control to fix or change. It’s called ‘toxic positivity’ and it’s rampant in today's world. Via this toxic positivity, people are again pumped full of messages that ALL THINGS are POSSIBLE if you just BELIEVE/WORK HARD/DO ENOUGH. That we are all capable of anything we desire, and that life is just some big testing ground - where all pain, suffering and challenge comes as a part of a grander narrative that’s working to help us become our highest and best selves. That all challenges CAN be overcome if we just DO the right things. That nothing can REALLY hold us back so long as we don’t believe that it can.
While this may sound inspiring, unfortunately, it’s simply not reality. And whenever we deny reality - even when that denial looks and sounds so good on the surface - we run into trouble.
When we’re not able to look at the challenges and obstacles that we actually DO have in our lives, when we’re not able to be realistic about what our next steps are actually going to be, when we’re not able to be realistic about the burdens that we’re working with and the ways that we don’t have what we need, when we’re not able to be realistic about the challenges we’re facing - we’re not going to be able to move forward in the ways that we ACTUALLY can, and we’re going to get sucked into taking action and spending our time and energy on things that aren’t relevant to us and our situation, and that ultimately WON’T get us where we want to go, nor will they be supportive of us in general.
The problem again with toxic positivity is it sets people up to be blind to the actual obstacles in their path which then causes them to enact solutions that aren’t actually solutions for them. It gives them the false idea that if you just do X, Y and Z you will get where you want to go - when in reality X, Y and Z are not the actual path forward. When we can’t see where we ACTUALLY are, we can’t make a clear plan for moving forward. If we don’t know where we are on the map, we can’t plan a route. When we’re ignoring the boulders on our path, this doesn’t make them go away - it means we can’t get around them. Toxic positivity doesn’t make room for systemic issues, for chronic health or mental health issues, for trauma, for lack of resources or upwards mobility, nor does it offer anything in terms of HELP or SUPPORT when it comes to facing these things in real life. Which means people who are facing these issues in their lives will not be being supported in what THEY actually need to move forward. They will be being given tools and resources that may have worked for people in different circumstances - but this isn’t actually helpful.
This kind of romanticizing of life - believing that everything that’s in our path is there to help us GROW In some way and this idea that ANYTHING is possible means that we can be being harmed in very REAL ways and we will be fooled into not taking appropriate action to protect ourselves or help ourselves. It means we may continue to put ourselves in situations where we’re being harmed thinking that it’s some ‘test’ to try to overcome, when in real reality we need to remove ourselves or some form of support that we can’t give ourselves. Sometimes we are facing things that are never going to make us stronger, no matter what our mindset is - and what we REALLY need again is protection, healing, support or tools for nourishing ourselves in a real way within the circumstances we might not be able to change. Sometimes we’re being harmed. Sometimes what we are facing isn’t there to make us stronger or better - but is a very real issue that needs to be addressed with more than just self help. Sometimes our traumas, misperceptions and misunderstandings are causing us to bang our heads against a wall and we aren’t seeing it. Sometimes what’s holding us back are things we absolutely can’t change or overcome - at least not with self help - but rather are things we either have to accept and work with knowing that they are going to limit our potential, or are things we need community support around changing.
The magical idea that everything on our path can and will make us BETTER if we just have the right mindset and tools is wrong.
Some things are just hurtful and harmful.
Some things really will be obstacles for us that limit our potential in ways others aren’t limited.
Sometimes we’re looking at a system of inequality and antagonism that really DOES need to be addressed on a community or even larger scale, in order to make it a reality that we’re all working with the same set of tools and potentials.
Sometimes, what we are up against has nothing to do with us and our choices.
This is scary.
Sometimes what we’re up against isn’t something we can overcome or is something that will at least limit what we’re able to do and achieve.
This is hard to look at, but it’s reality.
If we aren’t looking at reality for how it is, this means we’re going to be delusional in the tools we DO have and the steps we CAN take to move forward. It means we’re going to be using someone else’ map, and that map won’t work for us.
With this, toxic positivity is so damaging because it leads people to believing that if and when they aren’t making progress, it’s all THEIR fault. Because when the message is that anything is possible with enough grit, determination, alignment or ideal choices - this means that if you AREN’T getting where you want to go, the ONLY reason that could be is that you aren’t doing the right things.
When we’re told over and over again that we can have anything, and that we are our only true obstacle, when we’re told over and over again that any lack of progress or set back is a sign of either weakness OR as sign of a test or challenge that’s simply there to make us stronger - we’re going to blame ourselves when life is hard and we aren’t where we want to be.
We’re going to go internal, and we’re going to assume that it’s a weakness in us that’s dragging us down.
This is the worst part in my opinion.
This kind of toxic positivity turns people into ones who will blame themselves for abuse that they’re facing, who will blame themselves for existing within limiting and harmful systems. Who will continue to work to fix THEMSELVES when the actual problems they are facing aren’t coming from WITHIN but rather from WITHOUT. It means people with traumas, chronic illness, mental illness and other circumstances that lead to a diminished capacity will think themselves weak or incapable when in fact they are working HARDER than others. It means those facing systemic injustice will continue to believe that they deserve it in some way, that it’s a karmic tool to make them stronger or that these injustices simply don’t exist. It means those who do accomplish what they are looking to accomplish will be reinforced in their victim blaming of others and their shaming of those who aren’t ‘achieving their dreams’. It means we will continue to generate more and more people who are living in a system that benefits them who believe they are successful purely on their own merit, and it means we will have people who are being held back, antagonized and exploited continuing to believe that they are the cause of their own suffering.
When we can’t acknowledge systemic inequality, exploitation, genuine lack of resource, genuine illness/trauma/issues that can’t be solved with a positive mindset or hard work and when we can’t come to a realistic view of what’s ACTUALLY happening in someone's life and therefore the potential they actually have to move forward - we don’t make everything magical. We simply keep people even more stuck because they are then working with a reality that isn’t true. So whatever steps WOULD be available for them for forward momentum will be obfuscated in favor of steps that are never going to do anything for them.
It’s this very lack of nuance, this lack of compassion for the fact that people may be in dramatically different circumstances with much larger obstacles in their way, this projection of self onto everyone else and the subtle or not so subtle shaming that comes along with a lot of self help that makes it so toxic. The fact that people are primed to blame themselves is a massive issue, and the fact that most self help won’t look at systems and systemic issues means that people are being fooled into laying down in mindset traps that keep them stuck under the guise of empowering them.
Rather, they are partially suffering because of shitty systems, and they are partially suffering because they’ve never been given REAL tools to enjoy a good life, nor have they been allowed to develop a healthy perspective of life and what gives it meaning.
So Where Does This Leave Us?
The reality is, for most of us, quitting our jobs, becoming entrepreneurs, going on some sort of radical diet plan to heal, ‘dialing in our day’ so that we can become as productive as possible and figuring out where we’re holding ourselves back from living our biggest dreams - isn’t the work that’s actually going to improve our lives.
For MOST of us, acknowledging the good that we already have, that we’re already doing, that we’re already experiencing and that we’ve worked to create is the first step. Stepping out of the constant ‘you’re not enough/doing enough’ messaging that our society LOVES to send over and over again so that we can get clear on what WE actually feel is step one.
Are you really missing something? Or is it just that society keeps telling you that you’re missing something?
Next, there needs to be an acknowledgment of systems and how things work. There needs to be a reality check around what is under our control/what is because of our choices and what isn’t - so that we’re empowered to make the best choices we actually CAN that will have an actual IMPACT, and so that we can release blaming ourselves for any pain that isn’t our fault. In this we can direct our energies to changing systems where it’s systems that need to change, instead of wasting energy trying to change OURSELVES. We need to come to terms with what within SOCIETY doesn’t work, and where we can check out of the painful ways of being that we don’t actually have to participate in. We need to have LESS drive to ‘fit in’ and more of a drive to again, realize what actually feels good for the human life and how we can create that even within the limits of society.
From here, we need to realize where we’re being manipulated by self help. We need to realize that even when we’re going for our dreams, trying to create lives that we love and so on - that a LOT of it isn’t about planning, getting pumped up, having the right mindset and morning routine - a lot of it is just showing up, day after day, doing the boring work of building. We need to realize that a lot of the time we DON’T need more self help - we just need more investment in the projects that matter to us.
Finally, we need to get real help for real issues that are holding us back that self help can’t touch. We need therapy, trauma work, things that SOOTHE rather than things that stimulate, and we need to be seen and validated in who and what we ARE - vs. being told over and over again that there’s something more inside of us we need to be reaching for at all times. We need space a lot of the time - not more tools.
There’s a time and a place for self help. There’s massive benefit in taking control of your life where you can. There’s so much that good habits and personal choices can do for us. This is true. But it’s not everything.
So just be careful. Don’t look to self help to fix everything. Don’t allow self help to convince you that all of your pain is your fault. Don’t expect that personal choice is the ONE THING you need.
Look at systems.
Look at yourself as a whole being who’s already good enough and work from there.
Remember, you don't have to do this self love path all alone.
Figuring out how to support ourselves, how to be on our own side, how to figure out what our emotions are saying, how to problem solve so we can build lives that work for us - it can be confusing.
That's why I've built the Mystery School - a three year self study program designed to take the guess-work out of this path, so you can start to really connect to who YOU are, what YOU need, and how to create a life that supports that.
It's a program designed to help you begin thinking in 'systems' so you can be a part of the positive change we need to see on this planet.
It's all about finding compassion and working with curiosity so we can understand ourselves and life in general better, and so we can use that understanding to create BETTER models for LIFE!
I’d love to have you as part of the community - remember we also meet as a group once a month for an exclusive live chat where we address whatever's most pertinent for everyone at the time. The course itself is self-paced so you can work through it at whatever speed works for you - starting whenever you like!