Self-Exploration: Self-reflection is complicated

Mindfulness sign. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Considering this column is about self-exploration, it’s probably ironically perfect that I have no idea how to articulate or offer advice for listening to oneself. Nothing, at least, beyond the obvious.

My therapist advises me to wait and see, to let things surface when they surface.

However, I get caught up around the thought of being complacent, of assuming that things simply will surface when I need them to or when I am best able to deal with it. If I metaphorically stare at an issue, will it be enough to startle some growth out of it?

Mindfulness is something that feels good. Mindfulness generally is key to me functioning and is done with the help of medication. But I worry that being aware and in the moment isn’t enough. That waiting for myself to unfold presumes a waiting for myself to be whole and well, when I know I will never get there.

This also presumes that I am simply watching and waiting for myself to grow into a healthier person, when truthfully, I’m not even doing that.

I’m just looking for results I can easily label good or bad – healthy or unhealthy.

I like acting like I’m comfortable in gray areas. It’s not even a full lie. I love analyzing complex texts and ideas. I like analyzing myself in my gray areas – I think those are where I like myself best.

It’s not the full picture, though. Truthfully, I’m obsessed with doing things “right.” I can’t even be in an area of self-analyzation without worrying about doing it wrong. I don’t really even know what doing it wrong constitutes, but I’m terrified of it nonetheless.

I don’t even like calling myself a perfectionist, specifically because I think it holds an underlying assumption that the person themselves comes close to perfecting things.

I guess I’m afraid of getting things wrong, of having bad things happen or of hurting those I care about. Logically I know and believe that there is value even in failure, that getting things wrong isn’t the worst possible outcome – or even one without learning.

But I cling to the desperate need to be right, to be doing the best things and using my time wisely regardless.

I’m sorry, readers, that there’s not inherent wisdom even in this realization. My therapist noticed it lightyears before I did, and now that I’m more aware of it, I leap to the next step: Doing Something About It.

And I slam into the following question: how do I do anything about it?

This realization that I am a perfectionist, that I care too much and too deeply for good versus bad, right versus wrong and always placing myself on the positive and healthy sides of these dichotomies is probably something I do need to sit with.

I don’t know how to sit with this. It feels like a simple sentence: I am a perfectionist. I am obsessed with dividing things cleanly into right and wrong. I want there to be layers of subtext to this so badly – though the issue isn’t whether or not it’s complicated.

I have to force myself to sit with this. I have to force myself away from wanting to fix it immediately. I have to even considered the implications of what it means to fix this issue. In doing so I find myself comforted, even in this avalanche of thought, that the waiting is filled with analyzing.

Which is good and fine, as long as I remember that I can rest and breathe, that I don’t have to be on high alert all the time. And that really has been my issue for so long, I think, that I run myself ragged – I really don’t know how to fill empty spaces.

Sometimes, empty spaces don’t need to be filled.

I’m reminded, when thinking of empty spaces, of old sermons the old pastor at my old church used to give us – spewing half-eaten meals down our throats like a mother bird for her children. He would rant and rave over the spaces within us that exist to be filled by God.

I wonder whether there are supposed to be empty spaces within us, spaces that aren’t meant to be occupied. I wonder what harm comes from the notion that we must be constantly looking to complete ourselves.


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