There's nothing wrong with you
If loving yourself unconditionally isn't important to you, it's only because you don't realise yet how much you're missing.
Before I tell you why there’s nothing wrong with you, let me tell you that there’s nothing wrong with me despite…
…feeling all over the place in the last week or so,
…struggling even to sit down and meditate more than I ever had,
…not achieving one of my important goals this year,
…being unsure if I’ll reach my 2024 goals and feeling insecure about it,
…generally feeling quite uneasy around Christmas and New Year,
…not being proud of how I sometimes show up as a partner,
….and many other things I think are “wrong” and should be different.
If I could read your mind, I would probably see a thought like, “Why would Evgeny think that any of this means there’s anything wrong with him? Sometimes, we all feel all over the place, miss our goals, and fail to be good partners.” You would be right to think so, but here’s the thing. If I kept reading your mind, I’d probably see some thoughts you take as evidence that there’s something wrong with you, and they feel incredibly real to you.
I know this because I’ve seen enough of this dynamic in my mind, with a part of me feeling like there’s something wrong with me. If only I “fix” it by achieving my goals, becoming an enlightened meditation master, making lots of money, and never feeling out of control, then and only then, I’ll finally be able to relax and feel safe, loved and accepted.
I once started working with a client who, in the first few minutes of the first conversation, outlined what was “wrong” with him and what I, as a coach, could help him “fix”.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” I said, “I will work with you as a coach, but we won’t fix anything because there’s nothing to fix. But maybe let’s start with noticing how you’re being hard on yourself.”
There’s nothing wrong with setting ambitious goals, learning new skills and striving to grow. However, too many of us, or maybe even everyone who grew up in modern Western culture, are inclined to see our perceived “failures” as evidence that there’s something deeply wrong with us, usually in a way that we struggle to articulate.
There’s nothing wrong with you. I mean it in a profound sense of you as a human being. Maybe you notice that some of your choices could have been better. Or some of the things you said were hurtful. Or how you treated others wasn’t okay, or even really not okay at all.
However, all of this is an invitation to reflect, accept reality and keep growing, not to feel flawed as a human being. It’s also an invitation to inquire into who you are, deep down, if you are not your thoughts, actions, body, family, possessions or anything else you may think of as “me” or “mine”.
The thing about that feeling that there’s something wrong with us is that it can never be fixed by external evidence. No amount of money or success will plug this feeling, except for a short time.
Another client, anxious to achieve her next big goal, remembered how she was looking forward to achieving something big she had recently done. “How do you think your next big goal will make you feel? And in what way is this feeling not available to you right now?” I asked.
There’s nothing wrong with setting and reaching goals, yet we can know we are fundamentally okay as we chase them.
In a way, our entire Western culture, built on Christian ideas, is driven by the narrative of the original sin and the promise of salvation. No, self-proclaimed atheists are not exempt; more likely, they are blind to this dynamic instead.
If you look around, so many of us dedicate our entire lives to fighting this feeling with more and more achievements, only to realise the feeling inevitably comes back. At times, the realisation of the futility of this fight makes people plunge into depression.
The way to work with this feeling — and most of us will need a lot of work, including me — is by recognising, again and again, that there’s nothing wrong with us in a fundamental sense and feeling it in the moment instead of understanding it intellectually.
“One could say that the courage to be is the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable.”
Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be
This isn’t a mental trick to replace one thought with another, less disturbing one. This is a realisation of something so profoundly true that you’ll want to cry when you feel it because you’ll know that no words can ever convey it.
Living and working from a place of feeling fundamentally okay is freedom. It’s the difference between how a cheetah and a gazelle feel during a chase. Both are running at the same speed and in the same direction, except that the gazelle is terrified and feels it can’t slow down, and the cheetah feels excited and knows it can stop the chase at any second.
If you’re setting intentions or goals for the next year this holiday season, consider setting an intention to learn to love yourself unconditionally. It’s a neverending path that is anything but easy. Yet, would you choose the alternative of spending the rest of your life living the delusion that you’re not enough instead of loving yourself unconditionally, knowing, deep down, that there’s nothing wrong with you?