Changing Yourself & Growing *IS* the Essence of Loving Yourself in a Healthy Way


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I read this on another blog a few days ago . . .

You do not have to change in order to love yourself. You have to love yourself in order to change. That means embracing yourself completely, right now at this moment—as a bitter, scared, disorganized faithless mess. This is called radical self-love and we will be practicing it here. After you have learned to love yourself completely, just as you are—good change comes. Only then. Loooooove then change, not chaaaange then love. We must stop loving ourselves conditionally. We MUST stop being such jerks to ourselves. We must treat ourselves how we’d like others to treat us. (http://momastery.com/blog/2012/08/14/one-bad-word-appearing-twice-sorry/)

You do have to change in order to love yourself. Accepting yourself as-is, warts and all, is not self-love, it’s self-indulgent; it’s self-stultification; psychological suicide. To “accept” yourself “completely” as you are, right now, is not healthy self-love, it’s just bad self-help.

None of us are finished projects. We all have aspects of our lives that we can improve upon, do better in, learn more—and not in some narcissistic, self-indulgent, make ourselves into a more attractive product or better commodity sort of way—but in a way that makes us both more fully human and humane, more wise, compassionate, open hearted and open minded. Grow or die. Always learning, always evolving, never able to step into the same river twice—that is us, that is our lot. Not human beings; but human becomings.

These are some things I just figured out. You probably already know them. You do not have to change in order to love yourself. You have to love yourself in order to change. That means embracing yourself completely, right now at this moment—as a bitter, scared, disorganized faithless mess. This is called radical self-love and we will be practicing it here. After you have learned to love yourself completely, just as you are—good change comes. Only then. Loooooove then change, not chaaaange then love. We must stop loving ourselves conditionally. We MUST stop being such jerks to ourselves. We must treat ourselves how we’d like others to treat us. (http://momastery.com/blog/2012/08/14/one-bad-word-appearing-twice-sorry/)

To me this is, for the most part, some really really bad advice. It’s very seductive sounding, and it may even seem sensible on the surface. But scratch beneath that surface and it starts becoming apparent that it’s really mostly just a nonsensical platitude that will make some people temporarily feel good. Now I know (I assume) Glennon means well. She has (seems to have) a heart of gold. But this advice—especially these lines—“You have to love yourself in order to change” and “Love then change, not change then love”—are horrendous. Some of the worst possible self-help type advice imaginable. I cannot stress this strongly enough. Do not buy into this seductive sophistry! It will likely be like drinking sea water—it may take away your thirst for a moment, but it will only make you thirstier and leave you in an even more dire state.

The only real good (as far as I can discern) that can possibly come from a person trying to love him- or herself before changing is if a person has a harsh and degrading “inner critic” or manner of self-talk and this piece of advice leads a person to ease up on the throttle in regards to their self-berating and to take a closer look at what they’re saying to themselves and why—in other words, to examine more closely their inner critic or “inner naysayer.” This is how we very concretely stop being such jerks to ourselves.

More on this in a moment.

But first a few more thoughts on why “love then change, instead of change then love” is likely such bad advice.

First off, it sets up a false dilemma, namely that in order to begin loving yourself you have to first and as a prerequisite radically accept yourself completely, warts and all, and that if you don’t accept even your most unsightly warts, then you will somehow be unable to change yourself and you certainly won’t be measuring up to Glennon’s standards (and the standards of whatever author she is getting this idea of “radical self-love” from) of self-love and self-acceptance.  That’s false. It’s nonsense. Try it out for yourself. Reject your wartiest wart—look at this wartiest wart in all its wartiness—and see if you are still able to change and grow. Pluck your eye out if it causes you to sin, rid yourself of the hand that does wanton things, reject those parts of yourself that need and deserve rejecting. (Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-47)

Secondly, love before change and not change before love is absurd; it’s illogical, nonsensical. If a person must first love him- or herself before changing, then that presumes that the person is presently NOT loving (or accepting) him- or herself as is and completely. BUT to do so—to actually begin loving oneself completely and just as one is would entail some sort of change—from a state of rejecting oneself or not loving oneself, to a state of loving or accepting oneself. So the platitude itself is inherently contradictory. It’s psychobabble, playing fast and loose with language, not being very impeccable with one’s words and their meaning; it’s not a very accurate map of reality. It’s like handing someone a piece of paper scribbled on with crayons and saying “this is a road map for personal transformation and greater self-love and self-acceptance.” The map is not the territory.

And in this case, it’s not even close to resembling reality.

You do not have to embrace yourself completely in order to change. In fact, you ought not embrace yourself completely. It’s a silly idea—complete self-acceptance. At best what speakers of such platitudes are likely advising is that a person be a bit more compassionate with oneself and kind to oneself—don’t beat yourself up so much and just berate yourself. You don’t have to go full-“John McEnroe” on yourself every time you make a mistake or fail. Don’t be a complete perfectionist who every time one fails or suffers a setback starts laying into oneself with a bunch of counterproductive negative self-talk and overgeneralizations (“you suck” “you’re a loser” “you’re no good” “you’re ugly” what have you, et cetera). And don’t be an over-correcter and quitter who gives up one’s high standards—in essence throws out the baby with the bath-water. Instead, keep your high standards and do demand much from yourself—not so much for yourself, but *from* yourself and *of* yourself—but do so in a way that is kind and humane, the way you (hopefully) would for a child you were trying nurture and raise.

You deserve your own kindness and compassion and understanding just like everyone else does too, so don’t exclude yourself from it.

What you—or anyone—needs to do in order to change is take off the blinders, get rid of the softeners and buffers, and start looking clearly—really clearly and honestly and unflinchingly—at oneself. Stop all the bullshitting of oneself. And stop being afraid to feel the feelings that most people are too darned afraid to feel or that they’re ashamed to feel—namely feelings of guilt and shame—the feelings that many people invest a lot of time and effort into stuffing down or covering over or distracting and distancing themselves from, and instead start tolerating the unpleasantness of those feelings more and more. And *that* is the essence of self-acceptance—learning how to stay in the moment with those sorts of tough to emotionally stomach feelings and not running from them or trying to play games with them. And that is the fruit of mindfulness training and meditation and a real spiritual practice—you don’t run from strong emotions, especially strong negative ones like guilt and shame and anxiety and fear—but instead you stay present and aware and really investigate those feelings, dig into them, listen to them.

If you’ve made bad decisions in your life, then get good and perturbed over the choices you’ve made and make your amends and get to actual work on those character flaws or defects that allowed you to do wrong. And for heaven’s sake, don’t take it easy on yourself and let yourself off the hook with a lot of excuses and rationalizations (rational sounding lies).  —Remember that scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden gives Jack a chemical burn on the back of his hand?  The message of that scene would seem to be to stay with the pain, feel the fear or the pain and don’t run from it—tolerate as long as you can and understand that the mind will likely want to throw in the towel a hundred times before the body will.

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On the other hand—and this is critically important!—don’t gratuitously beat yourself about it either. This is what’s meant by not being a jerk to yourself. Don’t simply put on that old recording of all of the nasty hurtful things your parents or significant others in your past have maliciously (with malice or hate) said to you—“you’re no good,” “you’re a failure,” “you’re a loser”—what have you—whatever that negative recording is that goes off in your head automatically whenever you falter, fail, miss the mark, err. That recording has to go—or at the very least it has to be seriously examined. Because it’s (likely) not reality either. That record has got to be changed—and that much I will agree with in the whole “love before change” nonsense—before you can grow. And paradoxically it is in fact growth. You (likely) have to get that negative naysaying self-berating John McEnroe-like record off the turntable. Dismantling that automatic involuntary voice that goes off whenever you get stressed or fail—getting rid of that nonsense—is a major feat of growth.  And is necessary for greater growth. It is to begin well. And as Aristotle reminded us, that is half the battle.

Getting rid of that counterproductive and unrealistic recording—this unexamined (uncritically examined) and uninvited inner critic—is both growth and will lead to greater growth. It’s a very unhealthy voice and it’s a voice that (in all likelihood) needs to be thrown out.

And the only way to truly do so is to replace it with a much healthier and more realistic and understanding and wise critical voice—a voice that is much more realistic and constructive—and encouraging—in its criticism and feedback—a more objective and decent and well-meaning voice—the voice of healthy mother- or father-figure.

So this is a good place to start if you *really* want to change and begin growing as a person: deconstruct or dismantle that unexamined inner critical voice. Start challenging it—Is this really true? Am I really a failure/no good/loser—whatever that nay-saying voice has to say. Are you “always” this or that? Is always really an accurate and apt word?

And then start looking for and surrounding yourself with healthier (wiser and more loving) mother- and father-figures. M. Scott Peck, Erich Fromm, David Schnarch, Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama, Dr. Laura (don’t hate until you’ve given her first two books a fair chance—there’s actually some really sound advice in them), Gordon Ramsey, Anne Morrow Lindburgh.

As Nietzsche put it (paraphrasing): If nature didn’t give us a good (healthy, wise, loving) mother- or father-figure, then we owe it to ourselves to go out and find one for ourselves.

I found mine in the form of some very wise and sound books. (And that’s in no way a knock against my parents).

In summary, getting rid of that of that unexamined inner critical voice is a good place to start in anyone’s effort to start truly growing.  Getting rid of (that is, starting to examine and peak behind the curtain of) that unproductive and unexamined inner critical voice is the way we stop being jerks to ourselves and how we treat ourselves as well as we are supposed to treat all people (all, meaning ourselves included).

And it’s also crucially important to start doing noble good and brave and courageous things as well irrespective of how full or low our self-love and self-esteem tanks are. That’s how we start building real esteem and love for ourselves—by doing good before we feel completely good or worthy. We must do the thing we’re scare shitless of first, before we get the courage; that’s how we get the actual increase in courage and confidence.  —Remember that scene from Three Kings?—It’s a great scene!—

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Similarly, we must do good and brave and noble and healthy things first, before we get the increase in health and energy and self-love. Stop being a jerk to oneself means stop uncritically bashing yourself every time you make a mistake, instead lead a more examined life—examine your own patterns, examine what you say to yourself, examine your self-talk, dig deep and examine your motives—what you’re running to and from and why.

And ceasing being a jerk doesn’t mean ceasing to be a jerk to ourselves only: it means to not be a jerk to the world either—to not be the type of person who has to *always* feel good first before he or she will do the right or noble or healthy thing. Oftentimes the feelings won’t be there. They won’t or can’t come first. You’ll be in a dark night or valley of the soul or the psyche, the self-esteem and self-love tanks will be running low, and there—*right* then and there—at that crucial juncture, that decisive moment—that moment that may well appear innocuous—will either appear or lurk some form of temptation—something tempting you with a quick and easy fix, a shady and shiesty way of feeling good on the cheap. Feeling good cannot always precede doing good. And in adults—and if we are to truly be(come) adults, it frankly cannot. In real adults doing good often precedes feeling good. Love isn’t a feeling, it’s an action. Love is what love does. Love isn’t always about feeling good or being self-accepting enough first. That’s how kids and emotional children in adult bodies live. Real men and real women do the right and healthy and good thing first, and consistently struggle to do so, irrespective of how they feel.

It’s not self-acceptance precedes change. Life just doesn’t work that way. It would be easier and more comfortable if it did, but life—the good life—unfortunately just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes—oftentimes??—change must precede self-acceptance. Sometimes that change is in the way we speak to ourselves. And other times the change is in the way we act and treat either ourselves and or others and the world. When we talk about treating ourselves the way we ought to treat others, that is good and important. But think about it: would any of us seriously raise a child on the notion that he or she must first feel good before doing what is good or right or healthy? Then why would we want that for or accept that from ourselves?

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About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in "Fight Club", "Three Kings", Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-47, Mature Love, Mental Health, Momastery, Self-Love, Toxic Parents, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Changing Yourself & Growing *IS* the Essence of Loving Yourself in a Healthy Way

  1. Pingback: Your First Step to an Improved Life – Let Life in Practices

  2. yazrooney says:

    Hello John, I think what Glennon means by acceptance of every aspect of yourself is this: when we accept it all, it means we are recognizing that it is there. Only when we accept it is there can it be healed. Many people don’t want to admit they have negative beliefs because they are frightened, and so these ideas own them. But by facing them, and doing it lovingly, half the battle is won. I assume that’s what she means. You are right, we still have to change, but I think Glennon is saying let’s do it with love, rather than with a whipping stick.

    Thank you for visiting my site. I hope you enjoy it! Best wishes, Yaz

    • John says:

      Hello Yaz,

      Thank you for reading and thank you for commenting! I appreciate it.

      And I like your take on Glennon’s words. But I personally don’t think that’s really what she is really saying. But maybe she is.

      “Acceptance” is (can be) a tricky word. It can mean the opposite of denial, which is what I think it ought to mean in what Glennon is saying. But it can also mean resignation or submission to, embracing something, not changing something, which is how I read Glennon’s words–there’s a connotation of approval, resignation, just letting certain parts of ourself “be” and not try to change or outgrow them.

      To my mind, the whole passage is fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies. If there’s something about ourselves that we’re not accepting–either in terms of our being disapproving of it or in denial about it–then accepting it is itself to be making a change.

      And I do agree with you, Yaz, that sometimes change takes place (best?) under calm and supportive and loving conditions; but other times perhaps change takes place best under the threat of massive negative consequences or even death (“Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a: fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” – Samuel Johnson) Sometimes a near-death experience–or at least a more honest relationship with our own and others’ mortality (no more denial)–is just what is required to get us off our buts and push things within us to a critical mass (or get us to “rock bottom”) and drop a lot of the games that we play with reality and ourselves–especially the (very rosy-sounding) idea that we need to love and accept ourselves first before we can make a change. Sometimes life doesn’t work that way or give us that option.

      And that’s the point (or at least one of the points) of my post.

      These are Glennon’s words–“Only then. Loooooove then change, not chaaaange then love. We must stop loving ourselves conditionally.” Her use of the word “only” here is misguided at best and downright arrogant at worst. (I prefer to think she is misguided, and obviously that may be come across as very arrogant of me to say, as may it be arrogant of me to point out that perhaps pointing even this out is arrogant, ad infinitum, et cetera et cetera, arrogant, arrogant . . . ) “Only” is a categorical. Plenty of people make changes without first (or as a prerequisite) having learned to love themselves “completely.”

      Ultimately, in my opinion, what Glennon’s words come down to is a bunch of pretty sounding feel-good nonsense. She may mean well–I think she definitely means well–but–but–she may well be doing her readership more of a disservice than a service feeding them this sugar-water. Maybe some of her readers will make changes after reading her post and being inspired to love accept themselves and take a warm bubble bath with these sorts of ideas. But–but–would these “changes” be the same changes they would have wished to have made when they’re dying or when they get the terminal diagnosis?

      Fair question.

      It appears to me to be more and more important in this life not just to know what to think but how to think. So much of what ails us stems from our un(critically)examined ways/patterns of thinking, or just plain not thinking and instead drinking the kool-aid.

      Thoughts?

      Thank you again for reading my post and commenting, Yaz.

      Warmest regards,

      John

    • Jennifer says:

      Sometimes Love comes as a whipping stick. Only soft minded New Age pop psychology suggests otherwise.

      “Many become popular because they speak and write with a reductionist style that brings the
      complex and disturbing down into canned formulas of what spiritual growth is supposedly all
      about. Dozens of such New Age authors could bring their works together into one large volume
      entitled, “How To Become Aware of the Depths of Your Being Without Disturbing the Routine of
      Your Comfortable Lifestyle.”

      ― Lew Paz, Pushing Ultimates: Fundamentals of Authentic Self-Knowledge

      Real LOVE is not that. I prefer Marshall Summers explanation of LOVE ….

      “Love is not a behavior, an attitude, a mannerism. It is not etiquette. It is not convention. Love may express itself in many different ways—softly or forcibly. Love can appear meek. Love can appear strong. Love can challenge you. Love can criticize you. Love can expose your illusions, your fantasies and your self-deception. Love is not what people really mean when they talk about love, in nearly all circumstances…. Real love emanates from Knowledge. It in essence is the expression of Knowledge.

      It is this greater love that is so far beyond and distinct from the love you hear about in conversation. People say, “I love this. I love him. I love her. I love this food. I love this place. I love your dress. I love nature. I love the woods. I love the ocean.” Real love is something beyond all this. The real love that moves you to give your life, that refocuses your life, that tells you that you are in error, that confronts you with the fact that your life has been misspent and you are trying to take it in a direction that is not its true direction, this is love!

      The love that keeps orienting you towards your greater purpose for coming into the world regardless of your plans and goals, the love that does not change, the love that does not adapt to your wishes, this is the love.

      Knowledge will take you somewhere you could not take yourself. Knowledge will take you beyond your fears and your preferences because all preferences are based on fear—the fear of not having, the fear of being wrong, the fear of losing, the fear of death.

      What is love? Love is the movement of Knowledge.

      It is only when you realize that getting more of what you want will not make a difference that you will turn to Knowledge. It is only when your plans for personal fulfillment are shown to be weak and fallible and unfulfilling that you will turn to Knowledge. Here profound disappointment is extremely important and holds a great opportunity for you. But extreme disappointment is what everyone wants to avoid, so they keep trying to plan and scheme and focus their life to get what they want. Their predicament is only deepened. Knowledge is speaking to them all along, but they cannot hear. They are not open to that. They want what they want. They are driven by fear and preference. And so love is unknown to them.

      There is a greater love. This love does not have only one appearance. It is not associated with a certain kind of behavior or etiquette. It is not a social convention. This love will pull you away from danger. This love will challenge your thinking and your attitudes. This love will show you that your life is going nowhere. This love will move you to go one way when you want to go another. This love will restrain you. This love will redirect you.

      You take everything you are doing in life, and you ask yourself, “Fundamentally, is this what I really need to be doing?” Every relationship, “Is this relationship helping me? Is it important for me now?” Everything! And you will have a deeper sense of it coming from Knowledge, way deep inside of you. Perhaps it will be a feeling. Perhaps it will be an image. Perhaps the answer will come a week from now. You have to keep asking and listening. You are asking for the Great Love to redeem you, to reunite you, and to put you in a position where your greater gifts can be realized and given to the world.

      Only Knowledge can take you there. Knowledge can bring two people from opposite ends of the world together for a greater purpose. That is the power of the Great Love. And the Great Love is what the world needs now.”

      – from “The Great Love” by Marshall V. Summers

  3. janeadamsart says:

    I came across your blog through Otove’s, and I appreciate your very thoughtful writing.
    Some thoughts arising: we are a humanity incomplete, and our tension is in that stage, believing itself to be complete, believing itself to be the full monty. As our dna consciousness was in the vertebrates which crawled out of the sea millions of generations ago … so is our potential – and inescapable – evolution from what we think we are now.
    To love ourselves is not a feelgood recipe; it is to look objectively and very straight at what we actually are – the landscape. Knowing this, walking it, rather than looking at the scribble on the map, changes the view all round. It can be at first incredibly uncomfortable, and I run out on any string possible to avoid it; but the honesty is value beyond measure. Loving, is this capacity to receive … the sharp edges too.
    The snag with the feelgood recipes is that they give labels to identify to. And labels are just labels, scribbles on the map. That is the hazard of weekend-intensive workshops and spiritual consumerism.
    The work of love is daily, consistently, plough to the rich resistant ground, and seagulls following.
    Becoming our own wise parent – building on the actual parents – is the liberation of taking responsibility for where we rove and roam, rather than passing the buck. Freedom is like seeing the whole picture. Life is tremendous – especially now. The tensions and challenges and fatigues are big, but the fields are wide.
    Connectivity … a verb, not a noun! Movement, like the tide.

    • John says:

      Hello Jane,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I’m glad you found my blog. You make a lot of very interesting points in your comments. I especially agree with what you wrote about the hazards of weekend-consumer-spiritualism and how you contrasted that with the rigors of the daily work of real love! That’s an excellent observation!

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Jane.

      Warmest regards,

      John

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