There’s a common saying amongst people who promote focusing on the positive. It comes in many forms, but this is what it usually distills down to: Everything you don’t like about yourself and your life can be changed.
Every time I read this, I grind my teeth. It’s a lovely idea, but it is not true. Some things cannot be changed.
For example, one of the things I do not like about myself is the feeling that I am a delicate flower. I am sensitive to lots of different chemicals and food groups. It’s inconvenient and complicates my life. I have to avoid sugar, caffeine, grains, dairy, and legumes because all these things cause me problems from anxiety and depression, to insomnia, fatigue, and physical pain. It’s how I’m wired and there is nothing I can do to change it.
So I get annoyed with the people who insist you can change anything you don’t like about yourself. I believe we can change a lot of things, and that it’s our duty to make choices that make us happy rather than staying stuck in a place where we are miserable. But there are plenty of things I can’t change, like my DNA and my past. Pretending otherwise just leads to frustration and self-hatred.
To be happy, we must accept the truth of who we are. I can’t live well as a vegetarian. That’s the truth. Mostly, I’ve accepted it. I eat a completely different diet now and even enjoy it. But part of me wants the spiritual simplicity of the vegetarian life. Choosing not to eat animals seems like the answer to the problem of staying alive with minimal harm to others. But because of my body’s needs, it’s not an option for me. To be a conscientious meat-eater is not simple or easy. It takes time to find suppliers who treat their animals humanely and do everything they can to give their livestock a healthy, happy, natural life.
While I don’t agree with the premise, I understand why people promote this attitude. We need to shake up those who are trapped by false beliefs. Plenty of people believe that something that is causing them trouble can’t be changed when in fact it can. I was one of them once. I was in an unhappy marriage and saw no way out. I believed that divorce was not an option because I thought divorce was evil. Then I caught myself hoping my husband would die in a plane crash and realized that in order to be happy myself, I was wishing fate would deprive my husband of his life. What could be more evil and selfish than that? It helped me break through my false belief — that the worst thing I could do was get a divorce — and change my life for the better.
But we also need to remind people that, as human beings, we have limitations and restrictions. Different people have different challenges. To someone who can eat anything, I am the world’s fussiest eater. When I listen to someone who struggles with ADD, I’m stumped, because one of my strengths is the ability to concentrate for long periods of time.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Most of us struggle to like ourselves and our lives. Being told we can change what we don’t like about ourselves is not helpful. It encourages us to deny the truth and to go right on hating the things we don’t like, instead of accepting the truth and identifying the things we can change, like our environment, in order to make things better.
While I’m not happy about having to eat meat, I am incredibly grateful to have discovered what my body needs to thrive. So I focus on the positive — that there is something I can do to improve my health — instead of beating myself up over the fact that my body cannot tolerate a vegetarian diet.
Do you agree or disagree with the “You can change anything you don’t like” philosophers? How do you deal with the things you don’t like about yourself?