March 3, 2017

Can We Change Who We Are? Leaving the "Bad" Parts of Us Behind

There is a fine line between wanting to better ourselves and wanting to become different people.

There was a time in my life--probably multiple times, actually--when I wished I could leave a part of myself behind and just become a different person. We all have that part of ourselves we don't like. When we imagine ourselves without that part, we are near perfect.

For me, it was anxiety. That demon of a feeling made my life very close to unbearable at one point. And I wished more than anything for it to go away. Somewhere under it, I was a different person, I felt it. Without it, I could be myself, I could be free, I could be happy.

I'm sure we all know this feeling. That if "that one thing" would just disappear from our lives, we could be truly ourselves. We could be happy. There are a lot of different types of hardships in this world, and everybody carries around something different like an invisible but very heavy backpack.

It seems obvious that if we could put that backpack down and forget that it ever existed, we could prance forward, carefree. But could we, really? Or is that just what we think would happen?

Who would we be without our pain?

We can only answer this question theoretically, since we will never be able to live a life of only pleasantries. But some suggest that the answer would not be as simple as we imagine it to be.

Haruki Murakami introduces the idea in his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that upon losing the pain they so desperately want to get rid of, instead of becoming the joyful person they imagined, a person would become an empty shell, unable to feel anything at all.

Nothing is as black and white as we think it is, that's for sure. What we think is going to happen turns out to be a completely different thing in the end. We think we are pulling one thread out, but everything ends up unraveling.

How we deal with pain, may that be physical, emotional or in the form of any kind of hardship, is one of the core questions of being a human. Because pain is an inevitable part of life.

That's why we try to better ourselves. So we can deal with our own, unique pain better, and maybe to lessen the pain of those we love. And that's a beautiful thing. But where does bettering ourselves end, and wanting to leave an essential part of ourselves behind begin?

There are many things about ourselves we cannot change, no matter how much we try. Just like we cannot change the color of our eyes or our skin, there are certain areas of our brain we cannot change either. We cannot change our past, we cannot control every emotion we feel or the thoughts that enter our mind.

Thinking that we should be in control only makes us feel like failures. We will never be in full control of every aspect of ourselves. We were never supposed to be.

On this side of things, another fine line approaches. And that is between accepting who we are and throwing our hands up in the air, declaring "I can't change!". We cannot change a lot of things about ourselves, and we cannot fully control what happens to us either. But we can choose how we react to all those things.

We can see our thoughts as just thoughts. We can see our feelings as just feelings. We can see our pain as an inevitable part of life--of ourselves. And even though we cannot control all of those things, we don't have to let them control us either.


To sum up, the pain we so desperately want to leave behind is an inevitable part of life, and possibly an essential part of our selves. Wanting to run from it or leave it behind won't work--it only makes things worse. But claiming we cannot change will not help anyone either. Rather, like with most things in life, we have to find that path in the very middle we can walk on. If we look closely and understand, we can accept all the things about ourselves we cannot change, all the while seeing that we can work with them.

I still feel anxious a lot of the time. But I'm not afraid of my own feelings and thoughts anymore. I don't want to control them, because I know they can't control me. I just let them be. I can always practice being who I want to be, despite of them. Their presence just helps me to be a stronger, more rounded human being. My pain makes me complete. It doesn't have to make me suffer.

We can live with our pain, we don't have to live through it. We don't have to control it, and we don't have to let it control us either. We can learn to live and let ourselves live.

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."

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