Psychological or spiritual orthorexia is this same over-fixation but applied to the emotional life—obsessing over whether you are living as the most self-aware, psychologically enlightened, emotionally aware person you can be. “Just like an over-fixation on food or exercise isn’t wellness behavior, neither is an over-fixation on your feelings,” Chawla wrote in one of her Instagram post captions. “You are not a project, you are a person. You are allowed to just be. This whole thing is optional, you are under no obligation to make yourself do it.”“The messaging I think people are getting is that this fixation on the self is some kind of apex enterprise,” Chawla said. “It’s not. The wellness is actually living your life.”In 2017, Conni Biesalski arrived in Venice Beach, California, from Bali, desperately wanting to relax and have fun. “Too bad that I was scheduled for two personal development workshops,” she said in a video blog on YouTube titled “I had a SPIRITUAL BURNOUT.”Biesalski went on to explain how she had been on her “inner journey” for years, trying to feel in control of her emotional reactions and examining why she was drawn to certain kinds of relationships. “You get to a point where nothing makes sense anymore and you’re just kind of done,” she said in the video. “Just over it. And you need a break.”
“You are not a project, you are a person. You are allowed to just be. This whole thing is optional, you are under no obligation to make yourself do it.”
“It’s so hard for us to just be with what is, rather than wanting it to be different and transform it.”
But he fears it has become an obligation, something that’s required at all times. He’s wary of the trendy application of therapeutic tools for optimization purposes, like mindfulness practices, coaching, sleep therapies. “It’s no longer something you seek out in order to feel better. It’s something that is demanded of you, not because it’s valuable in itself for human beings, but because it will make you more productive,” he said.
“Then, we might forget about collective organizing. We might forget about improving our workplaces by restructuring, by better wages, by having a workload that is actually manageable instead of doing mindfulness so you can cope with something that is too hard.”
She now recognizes that some of the same traits from her eating disorder were present in her relationship with personal development. “I remember having a conversation with my own coach and she said, ‘It's almost like you’re now bingeing on personal growth,’” Leath said. “That desire to fill a void just jumped from an unhealthy habit to what you could argue is a healthier habit. But it was still another expression of a fundamental sense of not being good enough.”Brinkmann sees parallels of an obsession with personal development with clinical depression, too—because it’s rooted in the belief that you’re never good enough and that it’s of your own negligence of action that you’re not good enough. “This culture of self-improvement tells the individual that no matter how well you do, no matter how much you produce, no matter how well you perform, you’re never good enough because very soon you have to do something more, something else,” he said. Spicer hasn’t given up completely on the self-improvement practices he was exposed to while writing his book. Some, like mindfulness, are tools that he reaches for in moments of anxiety. But these tools are small parts of his life, he said, used when the need arises, not centerpieces to organize his whole life around.When it comes to the “self,” Spicer explained that the work is actually in learning that we are “good enough.” It doesn’t mean that who we are is the pinnacle of existence, or that you have to love your flaws. It might mean sitting with and being honest about ourselves, accepting not being the best. “It’s the idea of being a good enough person, accepting we’re not perfect and we’re not going to be perfect, and in fact being perfect would be rather damaging, not just to ourselves, but also to the people around us,” Spicer said. In the last few years, Biesalski said she’s tried to embrace fun and play more—activities that don’t have any “purpose” to them. She has even created a list of activities that she loves to do with no ulterior motives, that she can turn to when she’s feeling stuck. “It’s created a place to breathe more,” she said. But, she admitted that after so much time trying to get better, it was challenging to simply sit with herself. “It is still a little hard, after all these years of continuously working on myself, to completely get out of that headspace.”Follow Shayla Love on Twitter.
“This culture of self-improvement tells the individual that no matter how well you do, no matter how much you produce, no matter how well you perform, you’re never good enough.”