To live is to embrace a paradox that affects many areas of our lives, including our relationships with ourselves; we are at once ourselves and unaware of our true nature
Being who we are is quite straightforward in one way and yet so multi-faceted and complex that we spend our whole lives figuring it out.
Rediscovering who we truly are requires watching ourselves in action: what are we drawn to, what lights us up, and what leaves us feeling flat. Our emotions and interests are the best guides to our essential nature.
The process of self-discovery (or rediscovery, depending on how you want to look at it) can be a beautiful and at times challenging process during which we learn both to honor our deeper nature and to accept ALL of who we are. This includes our limited, broken, confused, and less inspired parts.
Self-acceptance is loving it all.
Reclaiming the self can’t happen without self-acceptance. We cannot have a real connection with our essence while disowning parts of who we are. We are again in paradox. Our deeper nature is not riddled with human flaws, but to truly live it, we need to embrace those flaws that do exist.
Self-acceptance does not come easy to most of us. It is not like we go to a workshop and walk out the door with self-acceptance. Instead, it seems to grow steadily and slowly, building imperceptibly under the surface at first and then showing us its strong roots.
We can work at accepting ourselves in a similar way to how we might learn to be more accepting of others. We can try to understand what they are thinking & feeling; walk a mile in their shoes. We can empathize with their challenges & see beauty in the complexity of their way of being. We can strengthen our self-acceptance by choosing ourselves in the present moment and removing the need to fix ourselves or become something else.
We can enjoy the quirks and the challenges instead of seeing them as obstacles. Self-acceptance allows us to see who we are clearly —to look ourselves straight in the face and own it—all of it.
Self-acceptance means that we do not push to the side those aspects of ourselves that we don’t like, marginalizing them to such a degree that even while we see so much we do like in ourselves, we have this heavy feeling that we are still unlovable.
Slowly, we love ourselves when and where we feel most unlovable; step by step we heal.
People ask me all the time what true happiness looks and feels like. My answer is always self-acceptance. The truth is that our happiness requires our acceptance – especially of parts of ourselves we like the least.
If you don’t have much context for self-acceptance, then you might not know what it’s all about. Let me put it into some concrete terms.
When you accept yourself, you’re okay with who you are. You’re also okay with you are not. You’re always on your side – no matter what happens in your life.
Self-acceptance definitely takes some practice. We all can get carried away with thoughts that are self-shaming, self-judging or self-criticizing. When you catch yourself thinking these kinds of thoughts, I suggest that you douse yourself with self-acceptance because it really is the best antidote to feeling cut down or simply not good enough.
You can get a sense of how self-accepting you are by asking yourself the following questions:
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you’re not alone. Self-acceptance is a continual pursuit that’s just as much about your relationship to yourself as it is about your relationship to others.
If you want to work on building your ability to accept yourself, you can start with these exercises that come from my book Real Answers.
Ask Powerful Questions:
Speak Your Truth:
Talk to Someone Who Was There:
Acceptance of your personal experience radically changes the way you approach almost every aspect of your life and ultimately allows you to engage the world in a more positive, productive way.
Want a step-by-step guide to find and live your life purpose? My Morning Mindset Life Purpose is an inspirational daily video series that delivers tips, insights and exercises straight to your inbox for three weeks. Morning Mindset will help you step-in your purpose and live your life to its fullest. Learn more here!
I am not on top of the latest and greatest news the way that some people seem to be. I have a tendency to get things a little later than hot off the presses. However, I happened to watch the Bruce Jenner interview pretty much as soon as it was available. It was a fluke really. While I am very concerned with equality for and understanding of all types of issues especially those related to gender, I was relatively oblivious to all of the press. Yup, that is the truth. I don’t watch reality TV and my consumption of media is low.
The night of this interview I was looking for a something to watch on Hulu and I stumbled on this interview. After watching 10 minutes of it, I knew I needed to bring it to my coaching training program, which was having an intensive the next day. There was so much in that interview that made for rich discussion when working with people. But, what struck me more than anything was that it reminded me that people –all of us—struggle with knowing and being our full selves and that this challenge causes us so much pain.
We can’t be happy if we do not truly accept ourselves. But, what does true self-acceptance look like? Let me see if I can put it into some more concrete terms.
You are either OK with who you are or you are not. You are either on your own side or you are not. And, what this feels like, when you accept yourself, could almost be described as weightlessness.
If you wonder whether you accept yourself ask yourself these questions:
If you answer “no” or are not certain, try some exercises taken from my book Real Answers to help you work on fully accepting yourself:
Powerful questions: With these next statements, you have the opportunity to become more aware of any areas of your life where it will benefit you to come to terms, as well as what you might be afraid of.
Complete these statements about yourself:
Speak your truth: One of the ways we can move into a deeper level of acceptance is to speak the truth about our lives, making it more real. This increased sense of reality just naturally works to increase our acceptance of what was. For example, I have an event in my life where I had a fight with a close friend of mine. After this fight, I begin to slip into some story around it. For example, my friend was really unfair or my friend overreacted. You can see that these are judgments, and as I was mentioning before, judgments are about the mask. If, instead, I am able to state the data about what happened, this is the actual sensory information. In other words, “What I saw was …,” “What I felt was …,” “What I experienced was …” If I am able to break down the information as truthfully as possible, I will begin to see the situation for what it is.
Talk to someone who was there: This is why personal growth groups and therapy groups work really well. If someone has gone through a similar experience―or, as is the case sometimes with family members, the same experience―sharing that experience with someone who can understand helps us accept that experience. We come to know that this is what truly happened and these are the effects it had. As I was saying earlier in this book, when people go through a trauma, they often minimize the effects or don’t recognize the effects. They do not see that what happened to them directly affects their life. For example, that their depression is related to the trauma or that their angry outbursts are related to the trauma. It is education, which allows us to see all these experiences connect inside of us―how we live them out. This is another example of how we can use acceptance to help with our awareness.
Bringing acceptance into your personal experience will radically change the way you approach almost every aspect of your life and ultimately will bring a lot of benefit to the world.
Like this topic and want to learn more? Join me for Real Answers Radio this Thursday, May 14th at 12pm EST. Real Answers airs live and your questions are always welcome! Tune in here
Recently, in my Celebrity Expert spot that will be on CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX affiliates across the country, Bob Guiney asked me if people are put off by my tattoos. I said that my work is about being yourself and living fully. So, whether people like them or not they at least show I am walking my talk!
The world is constantly going to give us feedback about ourselves, some of which is bound to not be positive.
One of the things that I see happen to my clients is that they sometimes get caught up in the idea that since they want to improve themselves that means there is something wrong with the way they are now and they should try and change as quickly as possible. They take negative feedback from others as sign that this is true. This way of thinking is very logical but not very accurate.
There does not need to be anything wrong with a flower for it to closed for a time before it blooms, right?
Sometimes the best way to move forward is to actually love and accept where we are when we are starting. Today’s starting point, was after all, a desired destination at one point in time whether or not we were conscious of it. And, where we are headed will one day be what we are eager to leave behind.
Then, of course, there are those parts of our self that we don’t like that never seem to change at all. For example, I can’t spell and I am often late. These are not my favorite traits but I can either love them or hate them but they are more likely than not going to be hanging around for a bit.
When we are confronted with parts of our self that we just do not like, it is helpful to remember that we are multifaceted people and that our strengths may actually need our weaknesses to be what they are. Who ever came up with the idea we were supposed to be without flaws anyway? Everyone has them and somehow they are still viewed as something that needs to be fixed.
What would happen in your life if you decided it is ok to have your flaws, weaknesses, and shortcomings?
One of the things that I always liked about the Greek gods is that they are all incredibly flawed. They were not powerful because they were perfect. They were powerful because that was the truth of who they were – flaws and all.
The best change comes from a loving unfolding of who we are in the world and a deep appreciation for the truth of who we are, every last bit of it.
I just want to take a moment to have gratitude for all the great dogs that are or have been in my life and the lives of people I know. I am writing this from outside a vet office where a dog I love very much is being tested for Leukemia. If she has it again, at this point there is no treatment and this brings me to my topic for the week.
Spring can be a weird time to talk about loss but loss happens regardless of the time of year. What I think is even more weird is when we pretend that loss is not supposed to happen. That somehow we are justified in feeling betrayed by life itself if we are confronted with loss. This is actually the source of more pain than the original loss.
Unfortunately, when we grow we not only gain we also loose. It needs to be like this. We heal ourselves and what we created no longer serves is. It no longer fits. Sometimes it falls away gracefully and easily and other times it is dramatic or painful.
It is easy in all of the transformation to pay attention to the wrong things. It is easy to get consumed with emotions. But there is an alternative.
In everything that is going on there is a place of calm. A place of truth. If we can anchor our attention in this place then the situations around us are simply that – situations around us. We are connected to what is deeper and more meaningful, what is leading us and pulling us to our greatness because this never leaves us.
A teacher of mine once said, “Don’t show up as the person you think you are. Show up as the person you want to be.”>/p>
A powerful statement, but I didn’t know who I wanted to be. Even if I did, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off.
I knew who I didn’t want to be: self-critical, self-conscious, and always focusing on my shortcomings. I wanted to learn how to get out of my own way.
For a long time, I thought improving my external situation by becoming richer, thinner, and smarter meant that I was learning. Not to say that accomplishing those things isn’t learning. However, in that cycle I wasn’t learning, but repeating the same story.
I kept trying to get from A to Z by pushing myself and always expected my results to meet my expectations. And the vicious cycle continued. I thought I’m not good enough; I’m pathetic and I’ll never get it right.
Ironically, my desire to learn continued to work against me.
It only brought me further from what I wanted. I now realize how necessary it was for me to relinquish control and create space for something other than my neurosis.
Today, I’m learning about integral awareness—taking in information on all levels, mind, body, and spirit. Not resisting, not expecting, not judging, but allowing; removing previous ideas about who I am. I have come to realize that true learning is unlearning.
Another word I associate with learning is deprogramming.
In other words, one must begin by emptying one’s cup.
Bruce Lee once said, “Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” By emptying my cup, I am making room for new experiences in my life instead of allowing myself to repeat toxic patterns.
In the process of unlearning and letting go, I have experienced some dramatic changes in several areas:
1. My relationships have become healthier.
In the past, I measured the success of my relationships by how well I could control their outcomes. I was often distraught because I continued to attract uncooperative, uncaring, unsupportive situations.
These days, if I attract someone who doesn’t want to operate from an open, supportive, compassionate place then I am okay with letting it fall away. I am learning to walk away, loosen my grip, and look within to understand my experience of what took place.
I recognize that I cannot look to others to heal what is broken in me. I acknowledge that I have the power to heal myself—to shift my awareness.
I push myself to stop complaining and get to work. My new mantra: the victim reacts; the warrior responds. The ego judges; the spirit absolves.
2. My relationship to my body is also experiencing a shift.
By delving deeper into meditation and other mind-body therapies, I’ve developed a healthier relationship with body. Previously, I was caught up in my appearance but not so concerned with the negative emotions and toxic substances I was stuffing myself with.
I kept telling myself, “If I look good now, I can just deal with the other stuff later.” Operating this way, I wasn’t in touch with my body. I had to unlearn a completely unhealthy approach, dominated by a feeling of separateness from everyone and everything around me.
3. I notice beauty in things I used to take for granted.
A recent experience that stood out was during a mural walk in San Francisco. I’ll never forget standing there in awe of the Mission District. I drank in the colors, symbolism, beauty, vastness, and sacredness of the images.
Connecting to what was actually going on around me, I had a deeper experience of sounds, smells, feelings, and even sensations in my body. I silenced my mind and was rewarded with the ecstatic merging of my inner self and the outer world.
Feet on Ground. Smile on face. Gratitude. Bliss. Peace. Sounds. Sensations. Light and Energy. No purchase necessary. I was truly alive, breathing, in the moment, a drug-free heightened state of awareness. Something a lot easier to achieve than I realized.
4. Writing is no longer a huge source of anxiety.
If “it’s the silence between the notes that makes the music” then it’s pretty much the same with writing. Until recently, I had a difficult relationship with writing. I had so much to say, but lacked the self-worth to actually sit down and get it on paper.
I’m no longer attached to the end result and I actually enjoy the process. Having “unlearned” my original anxiety-driven approach has provided me with a sense of freedom and movement in my writing.
I am learning how to bring together disparate elements and expertly fuse them into a polished stone. The fear and anxiety isn’t as strong. I’m opening up to exploration and possibilities; thus, leaving my former toxic relationship with words by the wayside.
5. I am finally greeting myself at my own door.
No longer so concerned with the person I want to be, my true self is being revealed through the unlearning and removal of what no longer serves me. I am emptying my cup of fear, doubt, and frustration, and am finally looking forward to raising a toast to life.
About Melodi Cowan
Melodi Cowan is the founder of Dharma Pals, an outreach program that provides seniors with healing and support through meditation. Read more of her writing on her blog, Thoughts Become Things.
Self-Esteem vs. Self-Acceptance
Though related, self-acceptance is not the same as self-esteem. Whereas self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves–not just the positive, more “esteem-able” parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualification. We can recognize our weaknesses, limitations, and foibles, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves.
I regularly tell my therapy clients that if they genuinely want to improve their self-esteem, they need to explore what parts of themselves they’re not yet able to accept. For, ultimately, liking ourselves more (or getting on better terms with ourselves) has mostly to do with self-acceptance. And it’s only when we stop judging ourselves that we can secure a more positive sense of who we are. Which is why I believe self-esteem rises naturally as soon as we cease being so hard on ourselves. And it’s precisely because self-acceptance involves far more than self-esteem that I see it as crucial to our happiness and state of well-being.
What Determines Our Self-Acceptance (or Lack of Shame) in the First Place?
In general, similar to self-esteem, as children we’re able to accept ourselves only to the degree we feel accepted by our parents. Research has demonstrated that before the age of eight, we lack the ability to formulate a clear, separate sense of self–that is, other than that which has been transmitted to us by our caretakers. So if our parents were unable, or unwilling, to communicate the message that we were totally okay and acceptable–independent, that is, of our hard-to-control, sometimes errant behaviors–we were primed to view ourselves ambivalently. The positive regard we received from our parents may have depended almost totally on how we acted, and unfortunately we learned that many of our behaviors weren’t acceptable to them. So, identifying ourselves with these objectionable behaviors, we inevitably came to see ourselves as in many ways inadequate.
Additionally, adverse parental evaluation can, and frequently does, go far beyond disapproving specific behaviors. For example, parents may transmit to us the overall message that we’re selfish–or not attractive enough, smart enough, good or “nice” enough . . . and so on. As a result of what most mental health professionals would agree reflects a subtle form of emotional abuse, almost all of us come to regard ourselves as only conditionally acceptable. In consequence, we learn to regard many aspects of our self negatively, painfully internalizing feelings of rejection we too often experienced at the hands of overly critical parents. And this tendency toward self-criticism is at the heart of most of the problems that, as adults, we unwittingly create for ourselves.
In other words, given how the human psyche operates, it’s almost impossible not to parent ourselves similarly to how we were parented originally. If our caretakers dealt with us in a hurtful manner, as adults we’ll find all kinds of ways to perpetuate that unresolved pain onto ourselves. If we were frequently ignored, berated, blamed, chastised, or physically punished, we’ll somehow contrive to continue this self-indignity. So when (figuratively, at least) we “beat ourselves up,” we’re typically just following our parents’ lead. Having to depend so much on them when we were young–and thus experiencing little authority to actually question their mixed verdict on us–we felt pretty much obliged to accept their negative appraisals as valid. This is hardly to say that they constantly put us down. But, historically, it’s well-known that parents are far more likely to let us know when we do something that bothers them than to acknowledge us for our more positive, pro-social behaviors.
In fully comprehending our current reservations about ourselves, we also need to add the disapproval and criticism we may have been received from siblings, other relatives, teachers–and, especially, our peers, who (struggling with their own self-doubts) could hardly resist making fun of our frailties whenever we innocently “exposed” them. At any rate, it’s safe to assume that almost all of us enter adulthood afflicted with a certain negative bias. We share a common tendency to blame ourselves, or to see ourselves as in some way defective. It’s as though we all, to whatever degree, suffer from the same chronic “virus” of self-doubt.
. . . So How Do We Become More Self-Accepting?
Accepting ourselves unconditionally (despite our deficiencies) would have been almost automatic had our parents conveyed a predominantly positive message about us–and, additionally, we grew up in a generally supportive environment. But if that really wasn’t the case, we need on our own to learn how to “certify” ourselves, to validate our essential ok-ness. And I’m hardly suggesting that independently confirming ourselves has anything to do with becoming complacent–only that we get over our habit of constantly judging ourselves. If deep within us we’re ever to experience, as our normal state of being, personal fulfillment and peace of mind, we must first rise to the challenge of complete, unqualified self-acceptance.
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.”
Perhaps more than anything else, cultivating self-acceptance requires that we develop more self-compassion. Only when we can better understand and pardon ourselves for things that earlier we assumed must be all our fault can we secure the relationship to self that till now has eluded us.
To adopt a more loving stance toward ourselves–the key prerequisite for self-acceptance–we must come to realize that till now we’ve pretty much felt obliged to demonstrate our worth to others, just as initially we concluded that we had to submit to the judgmental authority of our caretakers. Our approval-seeking behaviors since then (misguided or not) have simply reflected the legacy of our parents’ conditional love.
Undertaking such a heartfelt exploration of what I’d call our well-nigh “universal plight” almost inevitably generates increased self-compassion. And it’s through this compassion that we can learn to like ourselves more, and to view ourselves as deserving of love and respect by very “virtue” of our willingness to confront (and struggle against) what previously we’ve found so difficult to accept about ourselves.
In a sense, we all bear “conditional-love scars” from the past. We’re all among the ranks of the “walking wounded.” And this recognition of our common humanity can help inspire in us not only feelings of habitually-withheld kindness and goodwill toward ourselves but toward others as well.
To become more self-accepting, we must start by telling ourselves (repeatedly and– hopefully–with ever-increasing conviction) that given all of our negatively biased self-referencing beliefs, we’ve done the best we possibly could. In this light, we need to re-examine residual feelings of guilt, as well as our many self-criticisms and put-downs. We must ask ourselves specifically what it is we don’t accept about ourselves and, as agents of our own healing, bring compassion and understanding to each aspect of self-rejection or -denial. By doing so, we can begin to dissolve exaggerated feelings of guilt and shame based on standards that simply didn’t mirror what could realistically be expected of us at the time.
The famous French expression, “Tout comprendre, c’est tout excuser” (literally, “to understand all is to pardon all”) is a dictum that we ought to apply at least as much to ourselves as to others. For the more we can grasp just why in the past we were compelled to act in a particular way, the more likely we’ll be able both to excuse ourselves for this behavior and avoid repeating it in the future.
Becoming more self-accepting necessitates that we begin to appreciate that, ultimately, we’re not really to blame for anything–whether it’s our looks, intelligence, or any of our more questionable behaviors. Our actions have all been compelled by some combination of background and biology. Going forward, we certainly can–and in most cases, should–take responsibility for ways we’ve hurt or mistreated others. But if we’re to productively work on becoming more self-accepting, we must do so with compassion and forgiveness in our hearts. We need to realize that, given our internal programming up to that point, we could hardly have behaved differently.
To take ourselves off the hook and gradually evolve to a state of unconditional self-acceptance, it’s crucial that we adopt an attitude of “self-pardon” for our transgressions (whether actual or perceived). In the end, we may even come to realize that there’s nothing to forgive. For regardless of what we may have concluded earlier, we were, in a sense, always innocent–doing the best we could, given (1) what was innate (or hard-wired) in us, (2) how compelling our needs (and feelings) were at the time, and (3) what, back then, we believed about ourselves.
That which, finally, determines most problematic behavior is linked to common psychological defenses. And it almost borders on the cruel for us to blame ourselves–or hold ourselves in contempt–for acting in ways that at the time we thought we had to in order to protect ourselves from anxiety, shame, or emotional distress generally.
reblogged from http://www.psychologytoday.com