How is it possible to accept ourselves with all of the imperfections, awkward aspects, flaws, and constant changes that are in motion within our mind and body at all times?
We must hold and understand the difficult aspects of ourselves, our shadow, with compassion and love before we can ever accept the depth of who we are. Yet, this is incredibly challenging. We move into judgment and criticism quickly when there is something we don’t like about ourselves.
When we look at a beautiful crystal, do we judge the imperfections that are there or do we see the beauty in that imperfection and how it makes the stone thoroughly unique?
The practice to accept oneself is a process of learning to love – what’s within you and all around you. Energy may not be created or destroyed, but it sure can be transformed. Love is the key to transformation. The discomfort, dislike, frustration, tension, and negativity within ourselves holds us back from acceptance and does not allow for letting ourselves be, much less loving ourselves.
We must actively work to transform how we relate with ourselves.
Okay, so what is this process? First, take a breath and observe. Identify all that is within you – all of the colors and all of the shades. You may find that there are aspects of yourself that you don’t feel comfortable with, don’t like, or outright hate. These are negative conditioned patterns in your brain derived from past experiences. Begin stating an intention of renewing, overwriting, and transforming the negative conditioned patterns within. Acknowledge these patterns of thinking and do not identify with these thoughts.
As babies, we never judged how thick our thighs were or how chubby our cheeks were. We loved every moment and our hearts were open. As we have continued in our lives, perhaps very early in childhood or later on, we began learning ways of coping with pain and discomfort that involved judgment, criticism, and negativity to help us navigate a difficult world.
We are socialized to believe that these judgments and criticism give us more motivation and allow for us to soar in life and “do better”. What is truer is that judgment and criticism hurt us tremendously when they are given to ourselves by ourselves. When we become more aware, we see that these conditioned patterns actually clip our wings rather than help us soar.
The Dalai Lama stated, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; but when you listen, you may learn something new.”
Take time to listen inside to what your mind is saying and question if this is fallacy or truth. You will never be able to accept yourself with constant notions running through your head about all your faults and negative traits. No one would want to hang out with a friend who was constantly criticizing them, therefore, be the kind of person to yourself that you would be to a dear friend.
Everything you hear in your thoughts, take with a grain of salt.
We are not our minds. Understand and observe the conditioned patterns within you that lead you to think less of yourself. When you hold these inaccurate statements in your hand, you can observe them, challenge them and practice to change your mindset. Once you change your approach, you change your ability to accept the magic and uniqueness of who you are.
Dr. Lisa M. Templeton, Phd - www.interpersonalhealing.com
The belief at the core of self-acceptance is, “I am a person of value who is worthy of love and acceptance from others.”
Oftentimes, the development of this belief can get thwarted by even one experience. For example, the actual or perceived rejection of a primary caregiver or peer. It can happen in a matter of one moment. It can build slowly over time; many little experiences from which we get the message that we are simply not good enough, defective, reject material.
One may go from feeling confident and comfortable in their own skin to feeling a tremendous sense of self- doubt, self-consciousness, deep insecurity, shame, or self-loathing. Perhaps you don’t recall ever feeling “good enough.” Either way, you are not alone. This is an epidemic of disastrous proportions.
The mind is exceptionally skilled at finding ways to not feel uncomfortable, difficult, overwhelming, intolerable, or unacceptable feelings from creeping into our conscious awareness: And people engage in a myriad of off putting or destructive behaviors to keep this sense of not being good enough at bay. If you know and can assuredly say that you struggle with self-acceptance, then you are in a good place. Because it is here from which one can access a path of self- growth.
At the very least, it can be helpful if not necessary to explore your experiences and identify any from which you developed a belief about yourself that you are an unacceptable or inferior person. The reason being that this will allow for reflection upon those experiences and the ability to challenge the automatic thoughts that followed them.
Self-reflection and emotional processing are likely things you didn’t do at the time of the experience(s) due to a basic inability to do so on your own because of your developmental age. Without an empathetic adult to provide the reflection and space to process experiences one is left to form their own conclusions.
Children and even adolescents tend to view their experiences as having been caused solely by them. They believe that when something bad happens it is all their fault. Given that, it’s easy to see how countless individuals suffer from a lack of self-acceptance.
Once we take the time to go back and process the thoughts and feelings that occurred during or after the identified experiences, the underlying belief can change from “I’m not enough,” to “I am enough.” In order to accept oneself, a balanced view such as, “I’m human, I make mistakes, it’s my responsibility to correct my mistakes, and I’m capable of doing so. There’s always room to grow,” is needed.
This will provide the foundation from which to take the following steps:
1. Develop your emotional vocabulary and ability to identify your own feelings.
When we manage our feelings effectively, we navigate life's difficulties with a greater sense of skill and ease. Conflicts become easier to resolve and relationships are therefore more peaceful and rewarding. As a result we feel more confident and accepting of ourselves.
In order to manage our emotions, we must first know what emotions we are experiencing. Also, if we can name the emotion we are experiencing, the intensity of the feeling tends to decrease, allowing us to think more clearly about what we are feeling and why we are feeling that way and then decide what to do with the feeling.
Our thoughts, urges, behaviors and bodily sensations can clue us into how we are feeling at any given moment. Doing a simple search on the internet can also provide many tips on how to start identifying feelings.
2. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and use them to guide you
Our emotions serve an important purpose in our lives. For instance, anger can alert us that we are not being treated with respect. Imagine how life would be if people did not feel angry when being treated poorly by others. Would anything ever change for the better?
Guilt can be our body and mind’s way of telling us that we’ve done something that we think is wrong. It’s our job to be mindful and thoughtful of our emotions so that we can determine if a feeling is based on an assumption, our perception, or perhaps being triggered as a result of a past experience, or if the feeling has validity in the here and now.
Emotions are imperative to growth. If we can be aware of our emotions, make room for them, and accept them, we can then respond to them responsibly instead of reacting to them impulsively and creating more conflict and chaos. The latter is what sends us further into self-loathing and destructive compensatory behaviors.
3. Make and follow through with a plan of action
Feelings need to run their course and find resolution. If something gets in the way of that, they will make themselves known in increasingly unpleasant ways. Making a thoughtful decision as to what to do with an unpleasant emotion is imperative for handling them more effectively over time.
Let's say I feel guilty because one of my friends was saying unkind things about one of my other friends and I just agreed so as not create conflict. I can say to myself, “I feel guilty, I understand why I did what I did but I don't think it was the right thing to do, what do I do now?”
I could go back to the friend who was saying the unkind things and say that I don't feel right about how I responded because I don't agree with what she said, that I was hearing that she had some issues with my other friend and encourage/help her figure out how to bring it up to the other friend directly. Or I could make a plan of what I will say if it happens again.
I can then rest my mind knowing that, while I made a mistake, I learned from it and am able to use the mistake to further my personal growth. Some feelings are best expressed creatively, others might require resolution through being expressed to a trustworthy, non-judgmental person, like a therapist. Sometimes we just need to acknowledge a feeling with some understanding as to why it is there and let it pass: That is also a course of action.
Often times, our feelings are based on our perceptions and assumptions. In those cases our first step of action may be to investigate further and gather more information. When we find constructive routes to express the feelings that are weighing on us, we are rewarded with self-growth and ultimately self-acceptance.
4. Learn assertive communication skills
Many unpleasant feelings arise in relation to interactions we have with others, particular those we feel closest to. When relationships dissolve or end badly, we end up feeling bad/worse about ourselves. If we can learn the skills necessary to work through conflicts with others, we feel more connected as a result.
Learning how to communicate and resolve conflicts in a way that is respectful of both one’s own feelings and the feelings of others is key to rewarding and ultimately peaceful relationships. Stating feelings without attacking others and asking for what we’d like as opposed to telling someone what we don’t like are two components that lend themselves to conflict resolution.
For example, instead of saying, “you’re so mean, you always put me down” which tends to cause another person to become defensive and point the finger back, one can say, “it hurts when I express myself and I’m immediately told I’m wrong. In my relationships, I’d like to feel supported and know that attempts are being made to understand where I’m coming from." Being specific is very helpful. Oftentimes, people realize that they can do better but may not know how to. If I want someone to be more supportive, I may need to say what that sounds like.
“Pain is inevitable: Suffering is optional” (ancient Buddhist philosophy). We can use painful feelings in a way that benefits us by following the above steps. One of the many benefits of becoming emotionally intelligent is that we understand ourselves and others better, therefore making better decisions in regards to how we handle life’s ups and downs. Then, when we reflect and process our experiences, we have a greater sense of clarity regarding those things which we do not feel good about.
We can see those things as opportunities for self-growth instead of more reasons for why we are unacceptable. It is far easier to accept ourselves when we know that we are really trying to be our best selves at any given moment, because that’s all we can really do.
Siera Weiss, LCAT - www.sieraweiss.com
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