The Good News of Being “Messy”

“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”  ~ Carl Rogers (Psychotherapist)sunset

Break-throughs, as most therapist will tell you, are those beautifully authentic, & at times surprising events that occur when clients reach new levels of self-awareness and understanding. We may think of them as the “Ah-ha!” moments.   Oftentimes, tears foreshadow these precious moments as emotional stretchmarks are taking shape – the result of leaning in to the discomfort and being present with the anxiety, the fear, the anger, the sadness, and whatever feeling is taking hold. Much like digging through the mud to find that precious gold nugget within the depths & yelling “Eureka!” at its sight, breaking through normally involves a great deal of effort, which in-turn makes the prize that much more valuable.

As with most aspects of our lives, we love the result – the product, the knowledge, the “goodie” – but we tend to despise the process. The getting-there is the hard part. The messy part. The rolling-up our sleeves and delving into the muck can be emotionally exhausting as it requires that we allow ourselves to be transparent with our very imperfect, human qualities.

In reality, this messy process occurs when we let our truth seep through. And truth may feel scary. It may even shock and disrupt the normal ebb-&-flow of our day-to-day lives, which has long adjusted to concealing our emotionally vulnerable parts as we operate under the false assumption of “I’ve got it altogether.”  In the process of facing the challenges of living, we  often experience the need and pressure to present ourselves to the world as flawless, shiny boxes with neatly-tied bows, in which our worlds are perfectly & cleanly organized.  We may falsely believe that “cleaning-up” our spills & stumbles and fitting ourselves within the tightly-closed box of both outward & inward perfection will protect us from harm and even propell us towards success. I believe this is false.

I tend to believe that this “perfect box” is not only unreasonable but it also thwarts rather than motivates our growth. We were never meant to fit inside the confines of perfect parameters. Furthermore, I think Carl Rogers [quoted above] was on to something when he compared people to sunsets. Perhaps messiness is not only intrinsically human but also wonderfully beautiful & valuable.

Valuable how? Valuable in the way that accepting our messiness can. . .

(a)  bring us to a place of humility,

(b) teach us about reality [ after all, the world is messy too ],

(c) free us from the trappings of impossible expectations,

(c) promote a healthy love of self,

(d) encourage greater kindness towards others [ no longer requiring perfection from them either ], and

(e) challenge our anxiety & worry by acknowledging [ & perhaps even welcoming ] events that color outside the line.

Now, people may reject this good news of being messy.

Some persons may reject it out of a fear of allowing themselves to settle and become complacent in possible areas of needed improvement. I certainly understand these concerns.  However, I remain faithful to the power of unconditional self-acceptance. In fact, studies of mental health (including this one: Self-esteem and Self-Acceptance: An Examination into their Relationship and their Affect on Psychological Health, 2006) confirm that discovering self-worth and gaining self-acceptance not only provides greater stability in mood [ managing depressed and anxious emotional affect, for instance ] but also results in improved functioning at work and at home.  

When we can be content and happy with ourselves, our whole selves, there is magnificent freedom to live wholheartedly – unafraid to exists in our own skin.  So, what parts of you overflow and spill outside of “lines of perfection”, and how can you love yourself not only despite it but for it?

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

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