The power of self-acceptance
5 tips for flowing with the river of life
Lena Chen, BA(Soc.Sci), EFT-Cert1, CH
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How many of us can say "I deeply and completely accept myself" and mean it from the bottom of our hearts?
If you can, I sincerely congratulate you and I believe that you are leading a happy life, one that brings joy to yourself and others around you.
But the majority of us would not be able to say and mean it, including myself. Try it. Say that sentence in your head, and be aware of the thoughts or feelings that arise in response. Go ahead!
What response did you get?
For some, it may be a cynical "Yeah right!"; for some, it may be a "Yes I think I do, except that…"
For some, the moment you say that sentence in your mind, the inner critic inside you might immediately cry in outrage, "How can you even say such a thing? You're stupid and worthless and unlovable…", and continue with a super duper long list of your flaws and failings.
The opposite of self-acceptance is self-rejection, and that forms the basis of all of our problems, and yes, I do mean ALL of our problems, including the fact that your child is misbehaving, your boss is too demanding, and your spouse just doesn't care.
That may not make a lot of sense to some of us. You may wonder, "What has my inability to accept myself deeply and completely has to do with the people and situations in my life that are causing me distress?"
Imagine that each of us sits on a boat that floats down the river.
Like any normal river, it has dangerous curves and is sometimes filled with rocks that make the course more challenging. However, if our boat is sturdy and strong, it will guide us down the river, and we will have a safe journey, even an enjoyable one, since we can relax enough in the security of our boat to enjoy the scenery.
We cannot control the river of life, though we can choose the course that we wish to take – and every course has its own set of obstacles. What we can do is to build ourselves a sturdy boat, to keep ourselves afloat. Yet, every part of us that we reject, be it our appearance, emotions, "negative" traits, etc, is like a hole punched into the boat, allowing water to seep in, and making us more vulnerable to the obstacles that we encounter. As the holes increase in size and quantity, it becomes challenging to steer the boat towards our desired direction, and we may even lose faith in our ability to complete the journey.
When we are able to accept ourselves, including the parts of us that we perceive as ugly and worthless, warts and all, we have built ourselves a comfortable and strong boat, which brings us down the river without too much effort from us. Even when we encounter rocks and huge waves, our boat keeps us protected, and we can face all dangers, knowing that they will pass eventually, and we will still be safe.
Not easy? Of course it isn't. We live in a society that promotes negative labels and unrealistic ideals that are deemed as "normal". Parents are taught to ignore or punish their children who are misbehaving, which translates to the child as "If you don't meet my expectation, I won't accept you". Advertisers make it their goal to convince you that you have to buy their product or use their service to become worthy of love and acceptance. It is almost impossible for any of us to make it to adulthood and be able to accept ourselves deeply and completely.
Still, it's never too late to start strengthening the boat you are in. Here are a few ways to do so.
Avoid the pirates
As far as possible, reduce your contact with people and situations that cause you to feel bad about yourself. How can anyone strengthen their boat when people around them are constantly inflicting further damage? People who try to damage other people's boats very often cannot help themselves because they themselves also have damaged boats. Have compassion for them, but also stay away from them as much as you can, until your boat is strong enough to withstand their attempts to damage it.
Find the cracks and holes in your boat
Become mindful of your negative self-talk, and start to "repackage" them as, "Even though I am fat/incompetent/ stupid (and other negative self-talk), I deeply and completely accept myself." This is the standard phrase used in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a natural healing method that is based on acupressure and is both simple and effective. Just saying this phrase by itself can be very powerful, though you may also tap the fleshy side of your palm while saying the phrase, which stimulates your energy system and reinforces the effect.
Accepting your flaws does not mean that you no longer need to improve. On the contrary, this gives us even more strength and motivation to change for the better. What is the point of beating ourselves up over our flaws over and over again, only to feel so low that you can't even see yourself as having the ability to change? Be aware of the cracks and holes, but don't make it worse by hammering on them!
Mend the cracks and holes
Forgive yourself more frequently. If we are able to eavesdrop into another person's self-talk for one day, we will probably find it ridiculous, even laughable, at the kind of things that he will beat himself up over. Yet, we are doing the same things ourselves, taking all kinds of little events as a confirmation of our unworthiness. Ok, so that didn't go the way you hoped – that's life! Oh, so you made a stupid mistake? Congrats for being human! Learn to say, it's ok, I'm ok and I forgive myself. A boat that is sturdy and strong is more likely to "behave better" than a boat that has been damaged from criticism and judgments.
It is not about pretending that we have no flaws. Rather, it is about acknowledging them and loving ourselves in spite of our imperfections. Only man-made diamonds are perfect – and their value is nothing compared to natural diamonds, whose imperfections make them sparkle all the more.
Feelings of guilt and shame are rarely what drives us to achieving success and happiness. Usually, they lead to the very opposite – you may do the right thing because of the guilt and shame, but if they are the only motivations involved, chances are you will still feel bad about it in the end.
Yet, it is also not about repressing the negative emotions and beliefs that we have about ourselves. Try forgiving yourself, even for having negative emotions and beliefs. As the saying goes, what we resist, persists. My clients and I often find that when the negative emotions and beliefs are acknowledged and accepted, they dissipate by themselves almost like magic.
Lay a stronger foundation
Give yourself positive affirmations more frequently. It can be as simple as thanking yourself whenever you are doing a small act of kindness for yourself or others. When we complain of being unappreciated by others, it also means that we have forgotten how to appreciate ourselves. Louise Hay, author of "You Can Heal Your Life", recommends looking into the mirror everyday and saying "I love myself" as many times as possible. This may feel uncomfortable when you first start, but once the holes and cracks are filled in, you will feel better and better everyday.
Seek out good boat owners and boat repairmen
Build up a positive support network which will give you the tools and resources to strengthen your boat. Surround yourself with people who themselves have strong and sturdy boats, and are able to give you love and appreciation. Go for counseling or self-development courses that can help you find the cracks in your boat, and give you the tools to mend them.
As the nursery song goes:
Row row row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
Life is but a dream
Indeed, when we travel in a sturdy and strong boat, life does become a dream. What kind of dream? The kind whereby we can accomplish anything we want, because our boat gives us the security and protection we need, and we don't have to waste any energy worrying about the obstacles that may lie up ahead. The kind whereby events become less substantial, so we can take things less personally, and simply accept whatever comes our way.
May you have a wonderful journey!
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Lena Chen is a Holistic Therapist who has empowered hundreds of people to free themselves of old self-sabotaging patterns so that they can finally connect with the wisdom and joy that is already within them. She is the author of “Emotional Freedom At Your Fingertips: how to get from PISSED to PEACE in mere minutes with Emotional Freedom Techniques” as well as the creator of the EFT Affirmation Cards. For weekly inspiring healing insights and tips, subscribe to her highly popular newsletters at her website www.lenashealinghaven.com.
Posted February 12, 2010 08:56 AM
Great article Lena. You used a visual metaphor that was so appropriate for the points you were making.
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