Thoughts on Self Acceptance
A phrase in a forum board post caught my attention and
stuck with me: “I so desperately need … to be ok.”
We will be a lot happier when we stop desperately needing
our selves, our relationships, and everything else to be ok.
Does that make sense? If not, perhaps we’re striving for
some idealized concept of normalcy, at the expense of accepting our own
Striving to make things perfect is a hard habit to break.
I think about family holiday dinners when I was young. Grandmother was up
before dawn starting the rolls, cooking and preparing; the table was set
perfectly, and we all dressed up in uncomfortable clothes to look our very
Why? To create some perfect tableau of what Thanksgiving ‘should’
look like? (Thank you, Norman Rockwell…)
It’s ok to make traditions and be fancy. But if
imperfection ‘ruins’ a holiday, we’ve created the ideal—and invited the
Wanting things to be ok, working toward specific goals for
our life and our relationships—that is healthy and productive. But there
are a couple of ways we can make this a source of stress.
‘Desperately needing things to be ok’ describes the first
problem. Theneed,and the fact that it isdesperate.That is a big demand! Things
will not always be ok—in your relationships, in your job, or in other
parts of your life.
Sometimes things will not be ok in parts of your life that
you can change—so that is often a matter of overcoming the feeling of
being overwhelmed, knowing where to start, and taking action.
But sometimes things will not be ok in parts of your life
that you can’t change, or can’t reasonably change right now. So learning
acceptance, though not easy, is really important. It is mostly a matter of
changing our beliefs about the situations.
Sometimes it’s a matter of describing the situation more
realistically. We use a lot of absolute words, and we especially use a lot of
them when we describe things we’re upset about. Words such as always, never,
etc. Changing our vocabulary is a basic tool in changing our beliefs.
Sometimes it’s a matter of recognizing and reminding
yourself about the parts of your self, your relationship, your job, etc., that
you find pleasing, supportive, or beneficial in some way (even as simple as ‘it’s
a paycheck’ in the case of an unpleasant work environment).
This is where a journal can be very useful: it gives you a
record you can refer to in times of stress—simple reminders about what
you like about a person (including yourself!), place, or situation. You can
begin to see the patterns, record the changes, and identify when you are
creating demands and stress.
Sometimes it’s a matter of disputing the overstatements.
Useful questions to ask yourself include ‘is it really
that bad?’ … ‘have I experienced things that were more unpleasant than this?’,
etc. When you catch yourself thinking the negative, think the positive. Say it
When I say that we are striving for an idealized concept
of normalcy at the expense of accepting our individuality, I am getting at one
of the ways we sabotage our self-acceptance. Not self-esteem or self-image.
Just accept that you are unique and have value simply by being alive, and that
you have quirky characteristics just as everyone else does.
Maybe there are ways those characteristics could be viewed
as flaws, in that they lead to unhealthy behavior. So we work on that behavior.
But unless those quirks (‘flaws’) are sociopathic, we can choose to accept them
in ourselves and in others.
If you are, say, impulsive and crave excitement, you can
recognize and accept that and find things to do that allow you to have fun with
it. The characteristic is not a flaw or a defect. You are not defective, weak,
If your spouse/partner has a different way of looking at
things, you can remind yourself why you like that difference and how it may be
helpful to your marriage and your long term goals.
Whenever you hear or think a sentence that begins ‘You
need to…’ or ‘you should be more…,’ let it set off your absolute thought radar that
an expectation is about to be expressed. There’s not much difference between
expectations and demands.
When you try to define your self by how others see you or
whether or not they approve of you, you are trying to mold your image—what
the world sees—to what you think is ‘normal’.
By definition, then, you think you are ‘abnormal’ when you
don’t meet their approval—your friends, parents, coworkers, significant
others. Great shame or stress about what others think of us can be really
crippling emotionally! It may be unrealistic—the fact is they probably
aren’t thinking as much about us as we believe they are. More to the point: it
So, in sum:
world won’t always be perfect;
will have characteristics that sometimes get you in trouble;
are difficult situations and judgmental twerps we sometimes have to deal with.
If other people make judgments about you based on limited
or incorrect information, or based on their own prejudices...don’t worry about
it. That’s their problem. Don’t make it yours!