When Self-Improvement Becomes Self-Sabotage: Deconstructing the "Fix Yourself" Mentality


In this burgeoning industry of self-development tools, books, coaches, and programs – where do we find ourselves? The attraction to self-development lies in the promise of change and transformation (as all effective marketing does). Except now, we are becoming awakened to the reality that it’s not the new car or the shiny new iPhone that will give us the feeling of freedom and liberation we crave. We are growing aware that it’s an inner transformation, a release of our old patterns, expectations, self-sabotage, old wounding and trauma that must be shed for us to be happy. There are many brilliant methods and many teachers, both ancient traditions and new technologies. Yet the mass marketing of new age ideas is growing increasingly familiar, reminiscent of the constant search for something that will give us the answer, something that will fill the void, and free us from ourselves.  

I do believe most in the self-development world have good intention, yet I still believe it’s important to be not only critical of the products and tools, but also aware of our own reasons for engaging in them. Are we curious about who we are at the core and dedicated to working through our pain, or are we stuck on a hamster wheel of believing we are not enough and must fix ourselves with these tools in order to be loved?

The Unconscious Cycle

The tools and approaches of self-development often provide a much needed deviance from over medicalized approaches to healing and are immensely useful. Many methods are brilliant, supportive, and well worth the time, money, and energy. However, what concerns me is the approach we take to the very goal of developing and improving ourselves. “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right”. Influenced by mass marketing of health and wellness, capitalism’s ability to strip the communal positive influences of most cultures and rebrand them for mass dissemination to the elite, and a culture of “newer, better, faster” may be more detrimental than helpful. I sense that the unconscious reasons many of us seek such tools keeps us stuck in the very cycle of suffering we are dying to get out of.  

I sense that the unconscious reasons many of us seek such tools keeps us stuck in the very cycle of suffering we are dying to get out of.  

Even the best medicine can be used to harm, and often the best methods and experiences can be used to dig ourselves into a deeper hole. The act of wanting to be better, do better, or break through our blocks is not inherently a bad intention. The ability to look deeply at the qualities we hold that are not working or serving is a valuable skill. Radical responsibility, deep inner knowing, and a search for meaning are some of the juiciest parts of life. However, most of us come to this work from a place of desperation. Starved of meaning, riddled with trauma, and plagued by a society that tells us it’s our fault. Unless we shift the energy we come into this work with, the tools we use will simply become another weapon we use against ourselves.

Discovering Why We Came Here

How many (especially womxn and those impacted most by patriarchy) are taken to this work because we have always felt (or been told directly) there is something wrong with us? Something we need to change about ourselves?

How many are taken to this work because pharma, medicalization of emotional suffering, and a disparate field of specialization didn’t work to address or validate our pain?

How many are taken to this work because of an inner fear and guilt and shame that we are not enough as we are and thus we must strive and seek to do better and be better?

It is not our fault we came to this work in this way, yet often this desperation and anxious seeking is what is keeping us stuck. The tools we thought would dig us out of this dirt may actually be used to grind our wheels deeper in the mud. The questions we came to this work with can become the justifications we use to punish ourselves deeper. The answers we seek can’t be found when we replace curiosity with the same authoritative approach (giving our power away to systems of thought outside of ourselves) that created the original wound of not-enoughness.

We do not need to blame the tools, the industry, or ourselves. We only need to become aware of our reasons.

Do we come with obligation, fear, or expectation? Or is it with curiosity and hope? Are we hoping something will fix us so that we may be loved, so that we may relax? Or are we willing to tolerate the ambiguity of life and growth? Is there a pressure to perform or perfect ourselves? Or is there a sense of purpose leading us forward into growth?

It may be any and all of these at once. It may be messy, but the more we understand our intentions and approaches, the easier it will be to dissolve the unconscious barriers, release the pressure, and take a step in the right direction.

Ask with an open heart and remind yourself always:

There is nothing I need to do to fulfill my destiny

There is nothing I need to be other than what I am right now

There is nothing I need to have that isn’t already within me

There is nothing to seek - I already have what I need