I started reading self-help books in my twenties. I would spend hours in the bookstore in the relationships and self-help sections looking for new books on making my life better. I was very self-conscious standing there wondering what people thought about me. I hid the titles as I went to the check-out counter so no one would know what I was buying. I had self-help shame.
Back in those days I also hid my spiritual life. When I was down the Jersey shore with my friends, I would wake up early on Sundays to go to church before everyone got up. When I walked back to the house after church everyone was convinced that I was doing the “walk of shame,” not believing I was coming from church. I built a persona around fun Debbie and it wasn’t cool to talk about God.
I didn’t share my inner life with anyone. I was afraid people would think something was wrong with me; that I was screwed up psychologically and unfit for a relationship. I kept my up my carefree surface persona trying to keep my spiritual cat in the bag. I hoped that my “self-improvement project” would be done soon because I wanted to move on and become a normal person like everyone else
Anytime I would try to let a little of my deeper side out, I was often met with mockery or people looking at my strange as if I said aliens had landed. Friends and dates would challenge my beliefs and point out condescendingly that if all this self-help stuff worked I would have a relationship by now.
What I didn’t realize is that what I was seeing was my own judgment of self-help reflected back to me in the world. I was using personal development and spirituality as a way to fix myself with the assumption that only broken people do this type of thing. So the people I saw judging me were just a mirror of what I felt about myself.
The “healing” culture.
It wasn’t my fault really. The idea of healing is so pervasive in our culture that people assume that any inner reflection is about fixing something dysfunctional. I assumed that most people had life figured out. Everyone else got married at 23, had a solid career and stable life in a real house not a bachelorette apartment. I felt that there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t have all of those things.
The reality is that so-called “normal” people are afraid to be caught doing personal development are living a powerless existence. They are driven by the herd mentality of grasping for external validation and security and are constantly unsatisfied. It is almost a curse when they get what they want because then they never do the inner searching to take their life from good to great.
The reason the average Joe judges and fears self-helpers is because they secretly know there is something more to life but are afraid to look inside. They want to brush their discomfort aside and pretend everything is okay, terrified of being labeled as having any problems. They change the subject or run from any intimate conversation and keep themselves in a prison of ignorance.
The Mastery v. Fixing Approach
Everything shifted when I stopped trying to fix myself and started to see personal development as a way to master my mind and express my creative potential. Personal and spiritual growth wasn’t intended to be about healing with a diagnosis and cure. Positive psychology assumes everyone is already at the normal functioning level and wants to take you to your higher levels of consciousness.
When I realized that understanding my true nature is the most interesting subject in the world and I should be proud of my knowledge and wisdom, I started sharing what I learned with co-workers, bosses, friends and dates. When I saw myself more as a master of life rather than a broken person, people responded differently to me. Most people were surprisingly open and it brought me closer to people. Even though there are always some who were not ready to hear it, I kept sharing anyway.
My final test of my self-help shame was with someone I dated before I met Dr. Rob. We went on about 4 dates and on our last date he told me solemnly, “I am attracted to you, BUT all that spiritual stuff is not for me. I just can’t relate.” For the first time in my life I didn’t feel rejected at all because he was rejecting the part about me I loved the most. If he only liked my surface, then he wasn’t the one for me.
This change of self-expression led me to finally connecting with the love of my life who, from our very first conversation, would go to places no one else previously would talk about with me. I am glad I didn’t change who I was for the other guy because I really wanted a deeper connection. I get to have these conversations every single day with my true love!
Many people that do personal development work are private about it. They wouldn’t want to admit they hired a life coach or took a workshop as if that was a mark of madness. Some never reach out for help because they feel ashamed of investing in their personal life. They look at hiring a coach as a flaw rather than a demonstration of commitment to a bigger life. They believe that if they spend more money that must mean they need more “help” instead of viewing it as getting the best higher education in mastering their inner life.
The world is craving depth and soul.
The dating market is filled with tips on how to act correctly to catch an alpha man or get a makeover so you’ll get more dates. The business coaching market measures dollars earned rather than someone’s fulfillment and inner mastery. The ordinary person is caught up with chasing the external carrot and more dissatisfied with life than ever.
Learning about yourself, your psychology and the mysteries of your mind is the most fascinating journey you can take. It enriches your life and helps you feel more connected to your heart and soul. In fact, it is the only way to truly live.
The famous psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that only a very small percentage of the population reach the level of self-actualization, so that makes you special and unique. We need more creative-minded people who want to stop being run by their conditioning like the rest of the masses. It is the people like you who expand the limits of the human imagination that inspire everyone to become what is possible.
The stigma of doing personal development or spiritual work has to change so more people will be inspired to embrace it. Teachers and students both must stop making it about healing and dysfunction and stick to its original purpose of human potential.
You are here for a higher purpose, not just survival
Your human conditioning is natural and necessary to survive. This is the sign of a healthy mind. But, we are put here to do more than just survive. We are given this life to become something more, to know our true nature and to experience life in all its greatness in love, abundance and health.
I hope one day that the world will see personal growth as normal and think the people who sleepwalking through life on autopilot are the real “outliers.” Deep down everyone is searching for answers. People who are willing to share what they learn will inspire others to find their path to become their potential and change the world.