It All Starts with You: Don’t Let Self-Improvement Become Self-Loathing
Its a fine line.
The desire for self-improvement often seems to be noble on the surface. But before adopting it as a mantra, we should look beneath the surface to what truly motivates us to pursue that course.
Are we being noble, or are we comparing ourselves to others?
When you see someone else violating the rules for self-improvement you imposed on yourself, what is your reaction? The fact that you even took time to notice means you are emotionally attached in some way. You believe it says something about in relation to that person. That you are either superior or inferior.
If you choose to abstain from alcohol, and you notice others drinking, you will either feel like you have more self-control, and are better, or you will feel like you are missing out on the fun. Feeling superior or inferior, that is the price of judgement. You will notice people fixated on their phones, if you are attempting a digital detox. You will notice a lot of things about others.
And you will judge them, and by extension, yourself.
Comparing ourselves to others is natural, almost instinctual. In some cases comparison and judgement can help us avoid mistakes, so we don’t end up in someone else’s situation. We judge alcoholics so we can avoid alcoholism. We judge deadbeat dads to motivate ourselves and others to take care of our children. Judgement in many ways makes the world go around. But as in all things, moderation is necessary.
Does your judgement fall on another’s actions primarily? Or on the person? We can use that judgement to direct our actions to better ends, or we can just use it to get an emotional high. Or to confirm our inadequacy, which is a comfort in its own way. But judgement will become a habit.
If you compare yourself to others constantly, you will follow one of two paths.
You can set yourself above others. And that will come across to others, either consciously or subconsciously, and they will avoid you to not feel judged. Or you can set yourself below them. Which will also come across to others, and they will likely confirm you judgement, consciously or subconsciously. And the cycle of self-loathing can descend into depression.
The first path is very lonely. You will ignore and be haughty to others. You will turn towards yourself and only pursue your needs and wants, without regard for those around you, or at least your impact on those around you. People will relate to you less and less, and will slowly fade away. In the end it will just be you, on a lonely climb to a summit that you will never reach. Its like Sisyphus, but instead of perpetually pushing your self-improvement boulder up the same stretch of mountain, you will continue to push it up a mountain that grows ever higher.
Sisyphus was alone.
The second path may not be lonely, but it will feel lonely. Many people simply seeking to feel better about themselves will smell your inadequacy a circle like vultures, keeping you around for the ego boost they can’t create for themselves. Others will commiserate, but they will get tired of being pulled down. And they will leave. You will only be surrounded by those seeking to use you, and it will throw you in a cycle of depression that circles lower and lower. Until you get off the carousel.
Either way, if your goal for self-improvement is not to be better then your previous self for its own sake, you are on the wrong path. In fact, you are on the path of self destruction. Many of us find ourselves on this dangerous path at many times. And we must at these times stop ourselves and recenter. And reevaluate who we are doing this for: others or ourselves?
If working to improve yourself makes you feel better, then great, keep doing it. We can only give to others out of our own abundance, but our cup must be full first. Its all about the story we tell ourselves.
We have to tell a story to ourselves that we are whole, that the very act of our existence comes with it a certain level of inherent dignity and respect. Self-respect comes first, and all of the decisions and actions that appear to be worthy of respect will follow from it. You will think about yourself correctly, take care of yourself correctly, and then treat others correctly. And that will reinforce itself. People will feel fulfilled by being around you, and those who would drain you will see that it won’t work. All of this will come back to reinforce your thoughts and drain you of toxicity.
And from this abundance, self-improvement will come naturally.
The key is to be better for the sake of you, not to be better then others. Only someone who feels they are inherently worthy will pursue things for their own sake. Someone like that will not pursue validation from others. Someone like that will be centered and confident, and will be in the best position possible to improve the world around them.
It all starts with you.