I’m flawed. My ego can keep me from admitting when I’m wrong. My organizational skills leave something to be desired. And as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I catch myself being judgmental. There are a lot of areas I know I have to work on. But why’s that a bad thing? Why can’t we admit that we’re a work in progress while still loving ourselves fully?
Trick question! You totally can and should. It all comes down to understanding the aspects of ourselves that we wish to improve.
The Shadow Self
Some people refer to the negative parts of our psyche as the shadow self. The concept was coined within the spiritual community but, wherever your philosophies lie, I think it’s a great metaphor we could learn from. In essence, the shadow self is the branch of our consciousness where all our “bad” traits live. It’s the angry, jealous self. The one that might lash out or do wrong by the people around them.
It’s human nature to try pushing this shadow version of ourselves away; to recoil at the thought of it. Many people will keep it locked away, avoid confronting that side of themself or repress it all together. But this can actually do more harm than good— to ourselves and those we hold close to us.
*Incoming crash course on some light psychology*
Emotional suppression is a proven stressor. Bottling up our feelings can inadvertently increase stress levels and release a surplus of cortisol. When the brain experiences stress, it send signals to the body that your survival might be at risk. So when we experience prolonged stress, this can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease, intestinal issues and a host of other ailments. Research shows that once people learn to express their emotions, their health can likely increase.
Now let’s dive into another concept, psychological rigidity vs psychological flexibility. The latter is an ability to adapt and shift your perspective in the face of the ever-changing world around us. It’s maintaining an open mind. Psychological flexibility is essential to living your happiest, healthiest life.
Psychological rigidity, on the other hand, is the tendency to shut down in the face of anything that challenges your view of the world. It’s characterized by an inability to move out of comfort zones, an aversion to uncertainty and a difficulty embracing the present moment. We can all have moments of psychological rigidity— this is totally normal. But when left unchecked, it can hold you back, stunting your mental growth.
*this concludes your crash course*
Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of direct research on confronting our negative attributes. But from what we know about emotional suppression and psychological rigidity, it’s not a stretch to suggest ignoring these aspects of ourselves might affect us in a similarly negative manner. When we ignore our emotions and remain complicit in our fear of change we aren’t serving ourselves.
Self love and finding areas you need to improve on go hand and hand
Ignore the shadow self and it becomes a looming beast. Let your bad habits rule you and eventually it’s going to bite you in the ass. Trust. A lot of people choose not to take stalk of their bad behavior until they see dire consequences. Do yourself and the world around you a favor; call yourself out. Do the work to be a better person than you were yesterday and continue doing that for the rest of your life. We aren’t perfect beings. But that’s not to say we can’t try learning from our mistakes rather than perpetuating them.
When I say all of this, know I’m not preaching from a pedestal. I struggled for a really long time getting myself to confront my shadow self. Generally, I praise myself as a kind, genuine person. But I’ve been in the wrong. I’ve been harsh with my words and sometimes, it hurts the people I love.
I am imperfect. Examining my own negative attributes hasn’t been easy, believe me! It’s not fun work, but it’s necessary. So much of self love teaches us to embrace ourselves wholeheartedly. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the areas you know you need work in. If you’re truly trying to be the best version of yourself, there will be growing pains. Breathe through it. Know that you’ll be so much better for confronting that shadow self and learning how to coexist with it. You can overcome those engrained cycles of negativity.
Change for yourself and the world at large
We have an impact on the spaces around us every day. It’s up to you whether that impact is positive or negative. In my humble opinion, it’s our duty to leave the world a little better than we found it. Even if the only slice we change is our own inner ecosystem.
If you don’t know where to start, begin by looking outside of yourself. Explore new perspectives. Even when it’s hard, accept change; in fact, welcome it with open arms! Remember that growth is a life long journey. Learn to forgive yourself when you slip up while taking stalk on how you can do better next time. And above all else, know that we’re all in this together; stitching together the pieces and, if you’re open to it, learning lessons along the way.