A friend asked how it’s possible to want change for someone without making them wrong for how they are now? Does loving someone exactly how they are mean giving up wanting change? Does seeing a different possible future automatically mean that right now is not ok? How can you stay on the path of personal development while simultaneously being fully accepting of how things are now?
My friend was asking me for guidance because she’s really struggling with this one. She catches herself shaming herself for where she is, and that feeling gets worse the clearer she gets on the changes she wants to make. I’ve certainly caught myself doing this. In some kind of cosmic cruelty, this feeling gets worse the more you learn because your understanding of what is possible increases and becomes more clear while the ability to make the change happens far more slowly.
I could see that she perceives right now as “bad” and the possible future as “good.” This makes her anxious about how she is now and impatient to make changes. She sees these changes as required and urgent. This makes it nearly impossible for her to feel love for herself right now as she is since she sees herself as a problem that needs to be fixed. All this is causing her deep suffering.
I shared that the ideal is to be able to love yourself right now without requiring any changes AND hold a vision for future possibilities, to see right now as “good” and the possible future as “better.”
I then gave her one of my favorite ways of testing how I’m treating myself: I imagine talking to a three-year-old child. I hate the idea of talking with a child and blaming her for not knowing something, making my love for her conditional upon her learning “how to be better.” What I want for that three-year-old is the feeling of being loved exactly as she is right now, with all her mistakes and lack of comprehension, with all the moods and resistance. And all the while I would still be holding a vision for a future into which she can grow, a future filled with greater understanding and deeper enjoyment of what life has to offer. I would be loving her now and in the future.
I know from experience that treating a child with conditional love only makes them rebellious and resentful. I know the adult me would be resistent if someone were to say that they would love me only once I changed to fit their vision, that I’m not worthy of love unless I comply. It makes no sense for me to think that my inner critic is going to have any more success with this approach. Better just to focus on seeing myself right now as good. And know that doing so does not mean giving up on the future, that doing so is actually the most loving thing I can do.