The Trap of Trying to be Better

Art by Bryce Widom

Art by Bryce Widom

Personal and spiritual growth is a paradox if done well. I must balance acceptance of “what is so” with “it’s time to grow and develop.”

Trying to be someone other than we already are is one of the core underpinnings and traps on the spiritual growth path.  Yet, most trustworthy teachings are about not being different than who we are, but accepting who we are.

Here’s a classic example of language we use that perpetuates further dissociation from who we really are.

“I just want to be a better dad/mom.” “I just want to be a better partner.” “I just want to be a better man.”

We need to take a closer look at the term “better.”

I think I get what people mean there. Just like a basketball player wants to improve and become a better athlete, right?

But language matters. Do I really need to be “better?” No, I don’t. It’s a slippery slope into believing an untrue story that I am not good enough as I am. In sports it is  appropriate to try and get better at something. On the spiritual path, it’s dicey terrain.

Our society/culture is filled with judeo-christian, psycho-spiritual, puritanical messages about how we are not good enough. Buy this product, come to this church, go to this therapy, eat this way instead of that way, value these things, be different than you are. But hold on, I’m remembering something…. I already am enough. I always have been. Better is to be something other than me, or something on top of an already perfect human being. Add more layers so that others accept me even more? There’s nothing “more” to accept (except of course, the places in me where I have not fully accepted).

And, when others don’t accept me? So what?—that’s about them, not me. Instead of going for “better,” what if I be who I am, as I am?

And, the reason I have felt like I need to be better is because I have simply felt “less than” whole and inadequate. But feeling inadequate isn’t the same as being inadequate. And, the more and more I have examined myself, the more I stumble upon the truth–there’s nothing, repeat nothing, inadequate about me. My flaws come from the fact that I am fragmented from my whole self, the entirety of me. My fragmentation comes from me being out of alignment with, or dissociated from, my truest self. And, fragmented characteristics employ learned strategies to defend against the very thing I have claimed to want: love, acceptance, and inner fulfillment.

How to Accept while Changing

So, it’s critical I take a deep look at my own self-acceptance or lack thereof and take inventory. How much do I really accept myself? What percentage? What’s missing? any place where I believe I’m not good enough, or where I think I need to be “better,” is me not accepting. I notice the areas of my life where I am not fully embracing me. Could be money, sex, relationship, career, whatever. Once I note the specific area where I’m not accepting, that becomes THE place of my inner work. And the work is not to improve or be “better.” It’s to move toward acceptance.

My intention and prayer is on accepting that single place where I’m not embracing me. I dive into my body and learn to heal and integrate those parts while changing the story in my brain. Slowly over time, my actions and inner work lead me to accepting myself in the area of focus. My self-love increases and my outer life in that department can now change as the new inner life takes hold.

So, my “inner work” on this human plane is not about changing me, it’s about accepting me and being me, fragmentation and all, as a way to get back into alignment and back to wholeness already living inside of me.


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  • Dan

    Reply Reply June 30, 2013

    Goddamit man.
    You know, everywhere I go right now – close relationships, my men’s circle, my parents, the people around me, are telling me ‘how well i’m doing’ right now (just made some pretty huge changes in my life)

    And honestly – I can’t see any of it, all I can see is where I need to ‘get better’.
    “I notice the areas where I’m not fully embracing me” – everywhere.

    This is so wound up in me right now that even reading this post, I’m thinking “I need to get better at being accepting of myself”.

    P.S – I’ve got no idea why I haven’t followed your blog before. Thanks for the great work

  • Scott

    Reply Reply June 30, 2013

    This is just incredibly well written. I really appreciate your work.

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