This week and next week I'd like to explore a subject super near and dear to me - the idea that self help doesn't 'work' because it doesn't address the actual issue that most of us are dealing with.
I want to explore why self help/improvement can FEEL so REAL and useful when we first get on a new program, why we may be attracted to continual modalities of trying to 'fix' ourselves, why we always inevitably 'fall off the wagon' - and what we can do instead to actually support ourselves in growing and feeling better in this life.
Self improvement works in the short term, but never tends to give LONG TERM results, because it's trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist.
There's A Reason Self Help Doesn't Get Us Where We Want To Go:
There is a reason that most self help/self love/spirituality/ self improvement modalities don’t ever get us where we want to go.
There’s a reason why at the beginning of a new spiritual/self help/self improvement regiment we get that ‘high’ of feeling like we’ve found IT.
Like we are FINALLY going to ‘get rid of’ all those negative habits, thought patterns, symptoms and pain in our lives.
We feel that jolt of hope - whatever the guru is teaching sounds so TRUE and RIGHT - they hit on all of our pain points perfectly, then deliver us that perfect solution.
The beautiful before and after.
The rational for why whatever’s going on in your life boils down to some flaw in YOU that this program, way of being, teaching is going to help you FIX.
Why when we first get started it’s hard, but it feels GOOD on some level.
We feel like we are finally going to conquer our demons.
We are finally going to find ‘self love.’ We are finally going to GET THERE.
We are going to become ‘normal’ - no longer plagued with the pain of our coping, self sabotaging and scapegoating.
We are able to muscle our way through the first few weeks. It seems like things are ‘improving.’ We feel better. We get control over our habits. We get control over our emotions and thoughts. The protocol is clear and concise enough that we know what we’re supposed to be doing. We know how we are going to get ourselves from the bottom of this mountain to the top. We KNOW that this is going to solve EVERYTHING for us (while we may not admit to ourselves that this is what we’re thinking, if we look deeper, we will almost invariably find that we ARE putting most, if not all of our eggs in this basket.) We are feeling like we are finally going to get the LIFE we deserve - that when we just get rid of this coping/self sabotaging/scapegoating/addictive behavior - ALL the other pieces of our lives will fall into place. We feel like we will finally be able to DO and BE who we think we ‘really are’ - just without the harmful habits. We will finally be FREE to be our ‘higher self’ who doesn’t have these painful patterns.
We drill in on our thoughts. We start to take ‘responsibility’ for our habits - seeing that it’s all a matter of mind over self. We do our self inquiry work looking for that THING that is FLAWED - that’s causing us to do the ‘wrong’ things - the false belief, the negative belief, the unforgiveness, the victim mentality, the not owning our power enough, the weakness, the negative emotion, the ‘bad habit’ (that was born from nothing). We dissociate from our thoughts. We disconnect from our bodies - these parts of self that seem to be hell bent on destroying us - so that we can gain some CONTROL. We work to connect to ‘our higher selves’ - who we REALLY are without all of these terrible ways of being.
We’re on it.
When in reality our nervous systems have been triggered and re-traumatized by the very medicine we are being offered.
The idea that there is something wrong with us that must be fixed so we can be happy/healthy/productive feeds right into the childhood trauma we all have - where we were fully out of control of our environment. Where we were dependent upon the approval of our caregivers for sustenance - and where being rejected = death to our little brains and bodies.
When we assume WE are flawed when we are hurting, we are reverting to a childhood coping mechanism - because in childhood all we had control over was our OWN BEHAVIOR.
We couldn’t solve our own problems.
Change our environment.
Get out of abusive situations.
We couldn’t identify, validate or meet our own needs.
We couldn’t express as our true selves or go on our genuine growth path when that meant that we would be rejected or abandoned.
All we could do was modify our inner world so as to be better loved or understood by those around us - and that hopefully would get us what we wanted or needed. We never learned how to identify what hurts when something hurts. We never learned how to OBJECT to something that was hurting us - because for most of us when we did we were either ignored, punished or shown that our caregivers were just as helpless as we were in fixing our problem for us.
Also the idea that our pain is coming from US makes us feel EMPOWERED. It simplifies systemic issues, erases lineage and pattern, it glosses over trauma and patterns set into our bodies before we had cognition, it makes the HOPE of freedom possible - because it makes it simple. Just fix yourself and everything will be better.
We don’t want to hear that we aren’t broken but that we’ve been conditioned into a world that doesn’t know the truth either. We don’t want to hear that we will have to figure things out for ourselves, embrace parts of us that got us rejected, go on paths of discovery where we are going to make mistakes and get hurt - it’s all too scary.
FOR GOOD REASON.
These things were existential threats in childhood. The idea that if we just fix ourselves life will be perfect is soothing. It means we are fully in control of the problem, we can figure out what the solution is/the spiritual practice gives us that solution, and then we can rest easy knowing life will be amazing on the other side.
So when the self help guru/spiritual teaching tells us it’s us who needs fixing, we want to believe it. And again, it tracks with the narrative we got as children - your pain is due to you not acting right. You’re not being given what you need/you’re being harmed because YOU are bad - and if you change you will be rewarded. That’s how it worked in childhood.
So these modalities resonate with us deeply because they are FAMILIAR.
But they don’t actually get at what’s really happening.
So we do our best to keep up with whatever we are trying to keep up with, we fly high on the idea that we have the solution. We feel triggered and this feels like adrenaline which can be mistaken for the feeling of truth. We have a hit of consensus reality and that stirs us enough to move - but not for long.
Why We Fall Off The Wagon:
Then. We start to slip up. We lose momentum. Something comes along and distracts us or triggers us. We feel our steady grip on our new ‘solution’ starting to weaken.
Try to re-connect with that initial surge of motivation.
We re-read and re-listen to the instructions.
We attempt to get ‘back on track.’
But the harder we try to keep going, something keeps blocking us. Those negative emotional states keep resurfacing. Stronger than ever. The negative thoughts start to over-crowd our best efforts at replacing them with new ones. The only belief systems keep proving themselves to be true, despite how hard we are trying to replace them with what we WANT to believe. Our self sabotage, coping, numbing and addictive behavior comes back but this time with so much power and force it almost feels like we’re possessed. We go DEEPER down than we’ve ever been. The fall seems to be WORSE, leaving us in a deeper place of pain than ever before.
This fall from grace reconfirms that we are broken.
It reconfirms that we are weak, flawed and in need of this self help modality.
The fact that for the first few days/weeks we were ‘on it’ and it was ‘working’ proved to us that the program works. The technique works. We were feeling better. We were doing better. We were on the right track - and it was just US that failed the PROGRAM. If we had just been able to stick with it, it would have kept working. If we hadn’t been distracted by life, if we hadn't gotten lazy, if our triggers hadn’t come up how they did, if we hadn't lost control of ourselves, if we had just been able to control our impulses/emotions/thoughts - we would be FINE right now. We would be BETTER right now. We will be closer to living that ideal life.
We’re back at square one - but we’re onto ourselves this time.
Maybe we will try this program again. Because again, it was working, we just messed it up. We can get back in the saddle and keep going - and this time we won’t trip up. We know what happened, and we can do it differently this time.
Maybe we give up on this teaching/teacher/program in search of a new one. Maybe we start to doubt this charismatic leader, but no worries, there are plenty more where they came from. Perhaps we feel that there were elements of this program that ‘worked’ but we just need something a little different, something that will REALLY get at the ROOT of what is wrong with us specifically. That last program just didn’t have the right problem in mind. Now we know ourselves a little better, what our TRUE flaw is, so we can pick a better fix it program.
And we loop.
We get on the program, we get results for a while, we feel amazing and hopeful, then we fall off, our pain comes back stronger than ever, we blame ourselves, reinforce that we are flawed, and we get back on the program or onto a new one - round and round.
Never actually finding freedom.
There’s a reason for this.
Let's pause and digest this, and come back next week for part two!