Why Self-Inquiry Can Be Self-Destructive, Even With The Best Intent
Frequent self-inquiry and reflection can form a great starting point to make progress in any area of your life. But are you asking yourself the right questions?
Regardless of what it is we seek to improve, we always start by identifying a current situation as less than optimal and then defining what it is we do want instead.
The way we go about our dissatisfaction, however, varies a lot, and our methods here can make all the difference.
Recently, while following a course on harnessing the power of (self-)love, I realized that much of my self-inquiry throughout the years hasn’t been as effective as it could be. Despite my intentions to improve myself on many levels, my questions have been everything except empowering.
I’d be thinking about the same issue over and over, questioning what was wrong (with me, with others, or the world), without ever finding any satisfying answers.
My “jam,” like that of many, I believe, was judgmental rumination.
And although there certainly have been some major breakthroughs here and there, there are more efficient ways of moving past and beyond life’s hurdles, I’ve now found.
Which questions do you frequently ask yourself about yourself?
And do they make you feel:
a. Inspired to take action?
b. Motivated to learn something new?
c. Ready for change?
‘Cause if not, it might be time to question the questions.
Self-inquiry versus self-destruction
As life has it, I’ve found myself in less than favorable circumstances more than once.
Be it in a job that left me feeling drained or uninspired, a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, a housing situation that didn’t exactly bring me the level of comfort I was looking for, or the occasional financial mishap.
Whatever the distress,
- Why do I always make the same mistake when it comes to A/B/C?
- Why does this keep happening to me?
- Why does this keep showing up in my life?
- Why can’t I make any significant progress in this part/area of my life?
- Why does this situation upset me so much?
- Why can’t I just let A/B/C go?
I’ve been asking myself a gazillion of these why type of questions, on and on.
But although learning was definitely part of my intention, it wasn’t the essence.
‘Cause if you look more closely at the questions listed above you may notice that they all have something in common: apart from the why phrasing, they all contain a form of judgment.
The questions I’d ask myself during setbacks weren’t uplifting, inspiring, and enticing me to grow; they were destructive and keeping me small.
Why, why, why?
Generic why phrased inquiries such as “Why do I hang out with person A/B/C?”, “Why do I work here?” or the one I explored in a previous article: “Why do I have sex?”, can lead to some very helpful insights and shifts of perspective.
But “why” isn’t always the best type of inquiry. Not all why‘s can be answered and when there are multiple causes for a certain event, the why phrasing may leave you with a rather incomplete, perhaps even distorted answer.
Do you seek change or resistance?
We’re such creatures of habit that even our methods of self-improvement can be self-destructive, as they may keep us trapped in a loop of thoughts, continuously pointing out the things we think we lack or dislike about ourselves, offering zero alternative ways of being.
If we keep asking ourselves judgmental questions about our “deficiencies”, the answers, resolutions, or relief we so claim to desire, don’t exactly arise at the speed in which they could.
We may, instead, end up affirming the things that dissatisfy us.
“Why do I always make the same mistake?”, for instance, easily becomes the affirmation: “that’s the mistake I always make.” “Why does this keep happening to me?”, becomes: “this always happens to me.” And “why can’t I make any significant progress?”, becomes: “I am stuck here.”
We look at what is so, feel displeased, focus on our disapproval, and, then – as nature has it – we watch it pertain or get even worse. That what we focus on, grows. “Good” or “bad.”
When self-inquiry leaves us with feelings like guilt, shame, blame, pain, or fear, should we keep at it? Or should we perhaps change the questions?
Changing the questions
Let’s see what happens when we change the “why’s” into “what”s”, “how’s” or “when’s”, for instance:
- What mistake am I making when it comes to A/B/C?
- What can I learn from this mistake?
- What is this mistake giving me that I might (subconsciously) be seeking to experience?
- What is this mistake reaffirming about myself?
- What is it I am afraid of when it comes to A/B/C?
- What is the desired outcome instead?
- Which steps could I take to get closer to that desired outcome?
- What do I have to change about my current approach?
- Where can I find help?
- How can I ask for this?
When we’re phrasing our questions more concise, not only do they become more easy to answer, they also change completely in their nature.
We can move away from shaming and blaming ourselves about the situation we find ourselves
Opening up to new possibilities
If your inquiry points out self-judgement or judgement on the people around you, be wary not to victimize yourself.
Victimization is everything but empowering and doesn’t lead to positive change very often. It’s much more likely to lead to frustration and anger, and if we linger in it for too long, even depression.
When you accept a current situation as your predicament, and you let go of the notion of whether or not it is fair that this is happening/occurring/showing up in your life, it becomes easier to open yourself up to new beginnings. Regardless of whether or not you understand exactly why it had to be so.
Therefore, when you catch yourself judging or resisting something that’s happening in your life, look for ways to come to terms with it first. Welcome the negatives too. For if you do not allow certain emotions to arise, you rob yourself of the lesson they may have in store for you.
Do you think it’s possible to tell yourself that whatever the situation of your disapproval, this too, is OK? Even it’s not what you prefer?
And that perhaps, things actually occur for your greatest good, even they‘re not exactly what you desire?
Are you able to tell yourself it‘s OK to be displeased? It‘s OK to mess up or to be disappointed? And that it simply is OK to be exactly where you are, in any given moment?
When we’re allowing that what is exactly as it is, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, we allow it to move through us, release it, and subsequently, open ourselves up to new ways of being.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”Carl Rogers
Change seems hard; we often resist it
If you seek improvement in any area of your life, change is inevitable. But because we often attach ourselves to what‘s familiar to us – even if it‘s (self-)destructive – change can seem difficult. That doesn’t mean change is hard, however. It just means we’re resistant.
Self-inquiry can help you well on your way to find new possibilities but your questions will only propel you forward when you truly seek to gain understanding and/or find a resolution.
With a sincere willingness to learn, change is assured. And learning itself should never make you feel down and out. Allow your self-inquiry in the process to make you feel empowered. Every step of the way. And when you fall? You simply get back up.