I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of the ideal self and how toxic it has become for me to keep living with it.
“ideal self” so what is it? To me, it means the best version of myself. How I would act if I had everything together? How I would act if I had a handle on my emotions and was able to process them as they come in a “healthy way”. I always thought of it as something I could work towards. Every time I did something that I felt progressed me to this “ideal self” I felt good. I was one step closer to being the best version of myself. But every time I felt I did something that took me 10 steps backward. Somehow in my mind that meant all the progress had gone.
Isn’t that what we all want to reach our full potential in every aspect of our lives. To be the best version of ourselves. Yes, would be most peoples answers.
The thing is if there is a best version of yourself, that means there is also a worse version of yourself. Is that what you are right now? The worst version?
Okay, you might say no actually I’m the work in progress version? Okay that might work. But being a work in progress suggests you are incomplete. Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to improve what you are now, but there’s an unhealthy underlying mentally behind this “work in progress”. Because if you think about progress, you tend to start off from somewhere that is lacking, underwhelming, at times 0, which with practice and time, finally grows to reach its full potential.
So what’s the issue then?
There in that mindset is still that you are at a deficit in this moment. Well how do you measure success? Can you use the same definition of success in one area to another area in your life, especially when it comes to self improvement? Is that even possible? If so when will it be enough, some goals are not quantifiable. For example how can you measure confidence, self-esteem? You can say high self esteem, low self-esteem but you can’t really attach a quantifiable measure because it’s all relative. Even when you can, there is always more that you can do. Even when there is a quantifiable measure, and you can objectively achieve it? Can you remain consistent at achieving it? Are you now complete in that one area? Does that give you permission to just leave working on that area. When does it become enough?
So what would we do if we don’t have an “ideal self” to work towards? well why can’t we just accept who we are now? By that I mean accept everything that you are, without placing judgement or value on anything. For example, I have social anxiety, yes. It’s been a part of me for a while now. Every time I feel the symptoms coming on, I get angry at myself for having those symptoms, then I get angry at myself for not being able to deal with them in a healthy way, then I get angry that I’m angry. Just passing judgement after judgement on myself that spirals into depression. When it is something I literally cannot control. I can control how I respond to it, e.g breathing exercises. But I cannot control the onset of the symptoms, I can’t stop the biological reactions. Unless I avoid the triggers, but then I let anxiety control my life.
How about we stop fighting, stop judging and just let ourselves be? Feel the emotion but do not pass judgement on whether it is positive or negative. Acknowledge the emotion by saying hello, I see you, now let’s continue what we were doing and you can come along if you want. This goes for positive emotions too. Feel the emotion, but don’t attach value to it or attach the emotion to yourself. If you are going to feel joy, just feel it. You don’t have to put your emotions into a category. You don’t have to put yourself into a category by labelling where you are right now. Even if you feel like you are the most negative person right now, allow yourself to be that negative person. Do not pass judgement on yourself. I am acting shitty right now. That is it. Not you are acting shitty and now you are a bad person because of it. Let yourself act how you feel because it is how you feel in that moment. If you are feeling yourself, and in a good mood. Do the same, feel the emotion but do not pass judgement as to how positive this feeling is. It really just takes the pressure off.
How about you’re not a work in progress nor are you the worst version of yourself. The best version of yourself only exists in your head. It literally cannot be achieved, you can come close but you will always be short on something. You at any moment in time is just you. And that is not what people say “good” enough, it’s just enough.
I think what I’m basically saying is be present with your emotions. Be present with your whole self. The world already categorises us, we don’t need to do it ourselves. True self improvement is recognising that you need to push yourself not to reach this unrealistic ideal self or pass judgement on where you are now. It’s to allow you to finally see all the parts of yourself that make who you are. True self improvement is self discovery.
The veiled owl