Human beings are creatures of contradiction.
We can love and hate a person at the same time, feel simultaneously terrified and excited about a new experience, or find ourselves in social situations feeling utterly alone.
We struggle dreadfully with navigating these contradictions, grasping at anything that will help us make sense of them, and thus, an internal dialogue of self-exploration ensues.
Why on Earth am I feeling this way?
How can I possibly be feeling both things at the same time?
Why can’t I make any sense of this?
And, then the spiraling starts.
We don’t just think, we overthink. We don’t just process emotions, we get stuck in them.
We roll over situations in our heads again and again, like water in a barrel, waves of thought and feelings wildly swooshing around. We find ourselves caught in thought loops, anxiety streams, or heaven forbid, one of Brené Brown’s colloquial “shame storms.” And how the hell are we supposed to break out of that?
In my life experience as a Social Worker (and also just being one of those friends who everyone calls when they need help), I’ve heard countless people trying to work through their challenges, and struggling to make progress despite hours, days, weeks, and eons of time spent on self-development.
And so often people feel terribly, awfully, helplessly, incredibly…stuck.
But let’s think for a moment about what it’s like to have healthy, productive conversations with ourselves. This is, admittedly, rather difficult to achieve. Productive self-reflection leads to discomfort and difficult feelings, but also yields positive change, growth, and emotional resolution.
Healthy self-reflection includes the arduous process of sitting with and examining difficult feelings, curiously wondering about their origins, noticing internal patterns, and slowly unraveling their insidious workings.
It is not without strife or struggle, and does not always yield actionable results. But even when our inner wanderings do not produce the answers we may long for, productive self-reflection can often lead to a perspective shift, a new understanding, or an unexpected realization—all of which, in some way, shape or form our progress.
So what do we do when progress eludes us? When overthinking, spiraling, and worrying take over?
It is at this point that we can consider another quality of the healthy internal reflective process that can, perhaps, start to steer a stuck ship in a different direction.
Healthy self-reflection requires an understanding of yet another human contradiction. It requires us to simultaneously believe two things. First, the undeniable value of our inherent worth and second, that we are incredibly imperfect and have much room to grow. Both are necessary, and yet, can seem so opposed.
This paradox is most concisely stated in one of my favourite quotes:
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
This ability to hold the tension between wisdom and love for oneself is the foundation that we all need to reflect in a healthy way and explore our growth potential.
If we know, without a doubt, that we are inherently worthy as human beings, then we can accept that we will sometimes make mistakes, but they will not threaten our inherent value. If we have the humility to acknowledge that we are imperfect and can meet that realization with kindness, then we will allow ourselves to grow in love.
Holding this tension of being nothing and everything at the same time is an incredibly potent struggle in our human experience. But healthy internal reflection requires both.
If we think about our inner self-reflective process as an indicator of the relationship that we have with ourselves, then perhaps the answer to our tumultuous emotional or mental experience lies not in finding the solutions we so desperately seek, but in nurturing our relationship with ourselves, the same way we would nurture any other.
Some questions to ask ourselves when we feel unable to move forward:
Can I accept that I am imperfect and still worthy of love at the same time?
Do I feel like I should already know everything I need to know?
Do I get frustrated with my internal reflective experience?
Am I kind to myself when I’ve realized I’ve failed at something, while still holding accountability for it?
Does my lack of self-worth, low confidence, or low self-esteem fill me with doubts that stop me from making progress?
We need to allow ourselves to meet these questions with curiosity and non-judgement. Our relationship with ourselves is the engine that drives our introspective experience.
And how we think about what we think is just as important as the thinking itself.