Have there be times when you’ve been hard on yourself and received this well-intentioned nugget of wisdom: “You should accept yourself”? Or when you’ve disliked and criticized parts of yourself, and been told the very same thing again: “Why don’t you accept yourself”!
It’s perhaps the best piece of advice out there – but it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. And without that, many of us end up feeling even more miserable, burdened with an added inadequacy of being unable to accept ourselves – whatever that’s supposed to mean.
This is because feelings are not necessarily in our control – and for good evolutionary reasons. Feelings of low self-worth, that underlie our inability to accept ourselves, are equally resistant to well-meant guidance. The only way we can sneak up on them, and change them from behind the scenes, is through our thoughts. Essentially, accepting ourselves is about working with our mental chatter.
Listen to Your Mental Chatter
This means that firstly, you need to listen to it – non-judgmentally. What’s it saying to you? Do you identify all or nothing thinking, as in “always” and “never” scattered throughout your mental story? Are you “shoulding” yourself as in “You should have known better” or “You should be working right now”? What is your tone with yourself? If you visualize this voice, what does it look like?
Have you gotten used to talking yourself a certain way? Has it formed a certain identity of you in your own mind? Perhaps you see yourself as incompetent? Perhaps unlovable? Perhaps entitled – and “shoulding” others to be a certain way to safeguard your own rigid expectations of the world?
What opposing qualities, feelings and motives can you identify in yourself (and perhaps others?) For every desire to avoid a situation, you have an equally compelling desire to pursue a goal. For every moment of anger and emotional distress, you have an equally strong need to connect, to love, to show empathy and compassion. Can you identify them in yourself?
Negative patterns of thought are simply our mental attention stuck on a single recurring idea, situation or belief. Remember the record players of our younger days? Remember how the stylus could sometimes get stuck on the record and simply play the same note over and over again? Remember how sometimes all we needed to do was to lift it up and free the record so it could continue to play again? That’s what happens in our minds when our spoke of attention gets stuck on a negative thought. All we need to do is lift it up and place it on an opposing note, so we get to see the full breadth of our existence, and flow with the yin and yang of life.
Take Conscious Action
Once you’ve listened to the voice that criticizes you and creates doomsday scenarios, and connected to what’s bright and beautiful in you, you can decide on the best way forward. Perhaps the voice of guilt is reminding you that you need to be more attuned to your child or partner. Perhaps the voice of criticism is reminding you that you need to tend to tired and neglected parts of yourself. For when we accept that voice as an essential part of who we are – sometimes exaggerated, sometimes whiny, but always pointing to something deeper, we can use our darkness to love, grow and make a difference every day.
I believe that within each of us lives a little of the divine. That’s one part of our paradox. The other is the less desired parts that we reject – forgetting that it’s through them that we truly come alive.