Impulsive, messy, moody, a perfectionist, overly ambitious, lazy, naïve, distrustful… On a scale from 0 to 10: how easy do you find it to name all the things that are wrong with you? It probably takes you just a couple of minutes.
Susan Henkels has been working as a psychotherapist for 45 years. Year after year, she heard people telling her about all the aspects of their personalities that really needed to be fixed. When one day she was listening to another patient summing up what was wrong with them, she suddenly thought: ‘There’s nothing wrong with her at all.’ Henkels realized how powerful it would be to let people ask themselves: ‘What if there’s nothing wrong with me at all?’
Now, she doesn’t mean we’re all perfect. Sure, most of us could improve their diet a little, or exercise a bit more. But Henkels’ mantra means we can finally stop worrying about all our shortcomings. Imagine how much better our lives would be if we didn’t constantly doubt and criticize ourselves. ‘We create a list of things that are wrong about us, and create an entire life around it,’ Henkels says.
Nothing wrong with you
The properties we see as ‘problematic’ or ‘wrong’, can be our strong suit, Henkels thinks. In her TED talk, she remembers the time she talked to a movie director. When Henkels told him she was working on a book titled What If There Is Nothing Wrong With You?, she said he could easily sum up eight things about him that needed improvement.
Henkels asked him to name one, and the man said he suffered from ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Henkels asked him. He answered: ‘I always opposed my parents and teachers.’ Henkels asked again: ‘What’s wrong with that?’ The director: ‘I didn’t stick to the rules in school, and didn’t do what I had to do at home.’ Again, Henkels asked the question. ‘I always had a bad temper, constantly fought my parents, didn’t have any friends and preferred to be alone,’ the man said.
Problems or chances?
Henkels kept repeating her question, until finally the director answered how he loved being on his own, because it allowed him to think up stories and filmscripts. ‘Thinking about it now, I think the ODD made me into the person I am today,’ he said.
The next day, the man told Henkels he had had a good night sleep for the first time in years. He was free from self-doubt and worries about what he should or shouldn’t do. His next step? Examine the other 7 attributes he labeled ‘bad’.
The question ‘What if there’s nothing wrong with you?’ is about developing acceptance. If you get better at accepting things, it may reduce stress and worries in (and about) your life. It’s not a magical question, asking yourself doesn’t instantly make your life perfect. However, it allows you shut up your inner critic – that nagging, judgmental voice that keeps blabbering all the time – and let go of all the things you judged about yourself. It helps to create a place of peace and quiet in your busy, chaotic life and thoughts. That’s a place where new promises and possibilities emerge.
Text: Sanne Eva Dijkstra - Photo: Eye for Ebony