Do we really need to be better than we are?
We are frequently plagued with expectations for ourselves to do better and to be better. Approaching ourselves through this lens, it is very difficult to come from a place of self-compassion, because we are viewing all of our imperfections and making plans for the “fixing” of our various perceived flaws. If we are always striving to be better, it is hard to truly commit to loving ourselves as we are.
That said, of course, there is something to be said for discipline, the cultivation of skill, and the work of the self to be good, well, centered humans. The work of therapy invests us in just this thing (there are very few people in therapy that lack interest in self-improvement!). How do we both acknowledge areas in which we need or want to grow, and accept and love ourselves as we are in this moment?
IFS (Internal Family Systems) addresses this beautifully by encouraging us to get to know our Parts – all of them, even the ones that are less than our favorites – and to approach them with curiosity and kindness. We do not try to eradicate them or even change them, we simply get curious about them, hear what they want or need from us, and allow them to un-burden themselves, if necessary. Sometimes just the act of showing interest in Parts of ourselves that we formerly despised, ignored, or dismissed is enough to create radical shifts within our system. Parts are empowered to choose new “jobs” for themselves, and by virtue of this, we grow – we are different versions of ourselves, but we remain intact. We have not necessarily become “better,” but we have grown, in a loving and compassionate way.
Self-work does not have to be grueling, scary, or traumatizing. At it’s best, I believe, it is gentle, affirming, respectful, and quiet – a steady movement towards wholeness and healing.