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“Stop Trying To Improve Yourself”


Alter ego

I was recently in a book store and I came across the “self-improvement” section. For some reason that sign perturbed me. I have worked with hundreds of people and I haven’t met one that needed “improvement”. I know, that may sound strange coming from a psychotherapist. Let me explain.

Most people walk around thinking that there is something wrong with them. If they could only remove that part of themselves then life would be better for them. They come in with that hopeful look in their eyes, wishing I would just remove or add that something. Unfortunately I have to dash their hopes as I tell them I cannot do that. Their look of expectation quickly changes to a forlorn one.

Remarkably, it then turns into a perplexed appearance when I tell them that I don’t see anything wrong with THEM. They often then do a double take and look around, not believing that I could possibly be talking about them. That is understandable considering that many people have told them what is wrong with them countless number of times their whole life.

I say that I see a person with pain, with past traumas, with fears who has been  cycling in old repetitive disempowering patterns for years if not decades. They have done it so often that they have come to mistakenly believe that these patterns are who they are. And here is where it gets tricky.

 We are not our patterns…


Young children will internalize any repetitive messages they received in childhood. Their influencers are usually their parents, their siblings, and anyone else who lived with the family at the time. They also include the culture they were raised in, as well as their religious leaders, teachers or coaches early in life, especially before 8 years old.

These messages could be anything from what the child heard to what she saw, read about or experienced. So if she was called the ‘black sheep’ in the family from a young age she may grow up believing this is true. Likewise if a young boy was repeatedly called stupid whenever he made mistakes in or out of school, he could also internalize that message and mistakenly believe that he was stupid.

Other repetitive messages that my clients have heard over the years include:


  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “you are crazy”
  • “I wish you weren’t born”
  • “Stop crying. You are such a wuss”
  • (often to a boy) – “You are weak if you don’t play this sport” (could be football, hockey, soccer)
  • “Girls don’t do that…”
  • “I only want to talk to you when you have a smile on your face”
  • “Why can’t you be more like your _____________” (could be brother, sister, cousin, etc…)
  • “You got 97% on that test? Where is the other 3%?
  • etc…


It also includes what the child experienced. If whenever she was sad or angry, she was told not to be upset but just deal with the problem, she may lose touch with her feelings and become lost in life. If a parent repeatedly missed important dates like birthdays or school performances or were home but didn’t pay much attention to the child, he may come to believe that he isn’t lovable.

If a parent had rage and exploded periodically the child may blame herself thinking it was she who caused this. Similarly, if the child saw his mother terrified by the father’s rage, he may come to believe that he needs to rescue people in life and he defines himself this way.

If the culture within which the child was raised believed that boys were inherently more valuable than girls, then a girl may grow up believing she is worthless and not pursue careers that she is more than capable of doing. If there was a lot of fear and guilt instilled in the child from religious dogma, the child may grow up to believe that the world is indeed a very unsafe place and then fear taking any risks in life.

These are only a sampling of what could happen to the child. I give these to illustrate the point that the child could grow up believing that they are not good enough, unworthy, unlovable or unsafe for a number of reasons.



Can you begin to see how these early childhood experiences can lead to a child growing up to be a young man or woman and come to believe that he or she is actually the message they learned? It is very hard for people to separate their internalized childhood message from their True Self. They often need help untangling these knots just as I needed help with my own. In fact, most people (not just psychotherapy clients) have some misunderstanding about who they really are. Seeing it is like seeing your own back, which is very hard to do.

  You are not the message in your head


Bottom line, you are not the messages you hear in your head throughout the day. You know the one I am talking about. It is that irritating voice that keeps telling you how much of a failure you are or how unlovable you are or how if people only knew the real you, they would see that you are really a fraud!


But that’s not who you really are. You are someone with likes and dislikes, with talents in some areas and weaknesses on others. YOU have deep passions and a purpose, which are often difficult to see or hear through the noise of the messages reverberating inside your head throughout the day.

 YOU don’t need improvement…


You are fine just the way you are. What you need is to look inside yourself and  with some assistance, begin to see your total self – the whole package. I have seen hundreds of people who came to see me because they thought they were broken, unworthy or unlovable. After working with me for a while they began to see that they were not broken, just imperfect and wonderfully flawed like every other human being on the planet yet with their own unique talents, passions and purpose.


Don’t try to improve yourself. You just need to get back to the real YOU that is hidden inside yourself and that has been whispering its truth from birth. You need to turn down the loud voices that carry the false childhood messages and tune into what that still small voice has been saying all along – that there is nothing wrong with YOU – the real YOU.




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