Self-acceptance. Whoa, this is a biiiiiig topic. It has many tentacles with body image, relationship stuff, our shadow self, for the most part we all seem to have some sort of belief that there is something “wrong” with us – we are either not enough or too much or flawed in some way that we are just unwilling to accept.
This lack of self-acceptance drives us to do, say, eat, think, things that are very harmful to ourselves. It can drive us to over work, be perfectionistic, shame ourselves for not doing enough, people please, become addicted, the list goes on and on. When we don’t accept ourselves – we will suffer at our own hand (and mind) because when we aren’t accepting, we are judging and believing things, people, our ourselves should be different than they are.
Even the idea of “loving what is” terrifies us because we think that means we’ll stay exactly in the unacceptable spot we’re in. So we stay on the run, reacting, stressing, aaaaand suffering. Unfortunately this unwillingness to accept things exactly as they are is what keeps them sticky and glued in place. A.k.a. RESISTANCE.
I saw a Truthbomb by Danielle LaPorte in her most recent book White Hot Truth that almost made my brain hurt… “Can you imagine not craving to be different than you are right now?” Ummmm… no, I can’t even imagine that actually – you mean that’s an option?
Don’t get me wrong, I have glimpses. Moments when I have my heart wide open, focusing on love, and feeling full of compassion for myself and others. The culprit that most often will kick me right out into the ditch is either something to do with body image, or a relationship thing. They say being consistent makes you a professional – but this is not something I care to be a professional at!
In her book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach Ph.D echoes what I chatted about here last week, that out emotional patterns are want keep up trapped. Our fears and beliefs keep us caged and in a repeat loop and once we are AWARE of them, we can make our way out of the cage by accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives.
What she says this means is to be aware of what is happening in our body and mind in any given moment, without trying to control, judge or pull away. It doesn’t mean we put up with harmful behavior – our own or another person’s. It’s recognizing what is happening inside us and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart.
Now once in a while, some people will confuse acceptance of themselves with meaning they have a free pass to be a jerk to other people. I feel this is why acceptance is STEP 2 in the change or recovery process – because if you don’t first own your own patterns (a.k.a. your own B.S.), there’s a really good chance you will think accepting yourself means you should tell other people how to live or say things that are not loving in the name of “accepting yourself”. You simply can't change yourself unless you accept yourself first and you can't accept what you aren't aware of.
For my 2¢, who we all are at our core is LOVE. We are not our bodies, our thoughts, our beliefs, our relationships, our jobs – even though these items quite often clutter up what we think our identity is. Who we are is LOVE. It’s what we came here to be, do, find, give, receive, and exemplify. To accept ourselves would then mean to accept the love that we are. So this would take care of the excuse of telling others how they ought to live their lives or behave under the heading of “being yourself”.
We forget that this is what we are after about age five or so. We get in our own way with thoughts, beliefs, peer pressure, society pressure, you name it – we succumb to the distractions but that’s exactly the whole amazing idea!!! If we just came here for our time on earth and didn’t need to learn or grow – what would be the point! We get lost along the way and finding our way back to the love that we are is kind of the whole point. When we don’t accept ourselves it’s because we’ve forgotten who we really are.
I think the other misunderstood idea about self-acceptance is the belief that if I accept myself as I am, it means I'll be giving up on the idea of changing and growing. This is another one of those curious paradox's of life... the reality is, that until we accept ourselves, we really have limited ability to make real change. As Esther Hicks says "Be happy with where you are and eager for more " the present moment and conditions are always temporary.
Real change happens in our lives when we accept ourselves, others, our life – right where they are. Holding our experience with compassion is what sets us free. I still have plenty of work to do in this area. Noticing how I feel and actually honoring it – that’s some heavy emotional lifting some days. But just like physical strength training, we can train that emotional muscle too.
As Robert Holden puts it in his book Happiness Now! "Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact, your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you'll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you're worthy of.” This is a pretty compelling case for cultivating our self-acceptance – it leads to more happiness! Also a big clue if you or someone you know is very unhappy – there is a glitch in the self-acceptance department.
Probably the thing that grows our self-acceptance the most is growing our self-compassion. Assumption of positive intent, or acknowledgement that you are doing the best you can (and your best doesn’t always look exactly the same each day) AND so is everyone else… will lead you in the direction of self-acceptance.
The other thing you will have to do if you want to grow your self-acceptance muscle is quiet the gremlin in your head. My former coach Delia has a great way of address it… rather than telling it to shut up – which won’t work – you invite it in, ask it to sit down, have some tea and tell you what it wants you to know. Listen, then tell it you appreciate it looking out for you – but you got this and it can go over in the corner and sit down for now. It also helps to name it, so when it shows up you can just say “Oh, that’s just Zelda again – she’s always a little anxious and trying to protect me, I’ll tell her she can relax”. So yup, if you can even accept your gremlin rather than disowning it!!!
Maybe you’ve seen those t-shirts that say “Flawed & (still) worthy”. That’s what all of us are for sure. Self-acceptance leads very quickly into acceptance of others. With more self-compassion you’ll see compassion for others come right to the top too. When we first become AWARE of our stuff and then ACCEPT it – next up we are able to make changes that move us towards being even more whole.
That’s freedom baby. Freedom.
Sandy Edie Hansen
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