With the rise in hate crimes and violence towards Asian Americans in the past few weeks, I find myself wanting to escape to my bedroom and do nothing but order takeout and binge watch Schitt’s Creek. As the text messages from my white friends and colleagues roll in – what can I do to help? – I feel the additional burden of needing to come up with some satisfying response that makes them feel useful and valued. I want to be appreciative, but the truth is I have a pounding headache, my eyes are achy and swollen, and I can’t muster up the energy to think about anyone but myself.
“I’m just so tired,” I wailed to my therapist. She suggested that I reach out to my Auntie to learn more about my family history since my father is more or less shut down and I’m knee-deep in unpacking some serious intergenerational trauma. For some reason, though, this idea infuriated me. The thought of adding one extra task to my plate for the sake of healing was more than I could handle. It got me thinking: Do we have to keep working on ourselves forever?
Here are three therapist-based ways to achieve growth without pushing yourself beyond your personal limits:
1. Reframe Rest as a Form of Self-Care
In graduate school, I studied burnout in women because I wanted to understand why my female friends, clients, and I were so tired all of the time. Not surprisingly, I came across research that found that women, and especially women of color, are more prone to burnout because it is emotionally exhausting to try so hard to fit into a white-supremecist, patriarchal society every time you walk out the door (and sometimes within your own home).
“Unfortunately, those of us who are individuals of color or minoritized individuals — like members of the LGBTQ community, those with a disability, and so forth, are often compared to others from the dominant point of view,” explained Talkspace therapist Dr. Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW. “Folks of color are often scrutinized, compared to white people, or overgeneralized when we make mistakes.” Constantly trying to prove yourself in the face of preconceived biases can cause marginalized folks to become overly critical and strive for perfection at the cost of attending to their own needs. Learning to embrace rest as a form of self-care is a critical part of one’s personal growth journey.
2. Practice Unconditional Self-Acceptance
As someone who strives to be the best at everything, I notice myself bringing this kind of perfectionism into my personal growth work as well. It’s hard for me to accept that it’s ok to be flawed, to acknowledge that there may always be things I don’t like about myself or wish were different. In many ways, I feel like the self-help world has become another type of rat race, a competition of self-optimization of sorts. Chappel finds that people often compare themselves to others on social media, believing that if one person achieves something, then we’re all expected to achieve the same. “A way to break the cycle is to remind yourself that we all have to walk our own path and while some roads may be similar, none of them will ever be exactly the same,” said Chapple.
I was also encouraged to learn that there’s a benefit to accepting our flaws. Studies on the matter showed that people who practice unconditional self-acceptance, a core tenant of rational emotive behavior therapy, tend to be more resilient in the face of negative feedback, criticism, and setbacks because they don’t tie their self-worth to achievements. It turns out that accepting your imperfections is a type of growth in and of itself.
3. Give Yourself Permission to Ask for Help
There are times when our suffering is too much for us or our loved ones to deal with on our own. Part of self-improvement is acknowledging when it’s time to seek the professional help of a therapist. It is not uncommon, though, especially among POC, to believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. “Most folks of color do not seek out any type of mental health or wellness because of the stigma associated with these services,” said Chapple. “We also tend to prioritize other people’s needs over our own.”
I was just as skeptical as the next person when I started therapy over eight years ago, but it’s become one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself. According to Talkspace therapist Amy Cirbus, PhD, LMHC, LPC, therapy provides a structure for you to think and reflect each week. Moreover, therapy can help you develop skills in areas you might not have thought of or wouldn’t have been able to develop on your own. “We develop habits of familiarity that make us safe and comfortable, but aren’t conducive to growth,” Cirbus explained. “Therapy can challenge those habits and help you create realistic goals for yourself – and help you pace the achievement of those goals, creating markers of success along the way!”
As much as I’m committed to my personal growth journey, I’m also committed to enjoying my life. Sometimes enjoying my life looks like diving deep into my emotional wounds and carving out time to reach my goals. Other times, enjoying my life looks like taking a nap. There is room for many different types of growth and you don’t need to push yourself beyond your limits in order to find it. And when you need a little guidance, professional help is only a click away.