The Road to Self-Acceptance

I used to be a self-improvement junkie. From self-help books and journaling, to daily meditation and yoga, I was forever striving to become the best I could be, but somehow always falling short.  Now that I’m older and wiser, I am so over it.

It takes tremendous energy to always be striving toward a better version of yourself. Almost as much energy as learning to love and accept yourself as you are, flaws and all. Of the two, I am convinced the latter is the greater use of our energy, and the more difficult, which may be why so many of us prefer the former.

Evolving  toward our highest potential is a beautiful thing. Sadly, too many of us start our journeys of growth and self-discovery from a place of lack instead of love, convinced we’re not good enough as we are and that we therefore need to strive and change to be better.

My entire life has been a struggle to feel good enough, to appreciate myself for who I am – the good, the bad, the quirks, and even my God-given strengths and talents. Did it start in the womb, with my 17 year old mother “disgracing” the family by having pre-marital sex and getting knocked up with me? Can shame be passed on at the cellular level? Does the stain of being the black sheep seep into one’s offspring?

Or could it have started with my father? He never could seem to accept me for who I am. He still corrects my speech (not how I say things, but what I say) and seems overly concerned with how I make him appear. There are digs about me acting like my mother, as if being like her in any way means that something is wrong with me.

What about those small moments that add up over a lifetime, such as when I was eight years old and sitting on my friend Jenny’s front steps with her and a group of girls. Someone mentioned the new landscaping around the front walkway of Jenny’s house and I, in innocence, said, “My parents said they copied our landscaping”, which they kind of had given it was identical and we lived directly across the street. Not that I cared, but my parents had taken issue with it.

Unbeknownst to me, Jenny’s mother was listening inside the house through the screen door. All of a sudden, a voice hissed, “You little devil. How dare you say that. Get off my property.” Stunned and afraid and ashamed, I left without saying a word and spent the rest of the day sitting in our garage watching the girls play. The residue of that day has stayed with me all these years.

I don’t know how my lack of self-acceptance started, but the days of feeling like I have to act a certain way, say things a certain way, dress and wear my hair a certain way – I could go on and on – to fit in and be accepted by others are slowly coming to an end. I am getting too old for such bullshit. I want to experience myself fully for the first time in my life, to know what it feels like to appreciate and accept myself as I am, right in this moment. I want to observe my thoughts, words, and actions without judgment, even the “bad” ones, and to naturally be myself first in every situation, instead of adhering to my tendency to adapt myself to others’ opinions of who and what I should be.

A funny thing that has been happening lately that has prompted this shift. All of the things I’ve learned and thought I understood in my self-improvement heyday are rushing at me, seeping into me as primal, mini-revelations during which I think, Oh my, God. This is what it meant. Now I get it. Now I really, truly get it, in my soul. I couldn’t explain the revelations if I wanted to because they go beyond words to a deep knowing.

What a gift! The world is opening up to me and I’m ready to dive into it.

Don’t Ask, Who Am I? Ask, Can I Accept Who I Am?

“By the grace of God, I am what I am.” – 1 Corinthians 15:10

homeless-man-and-dog

Do you think the golden retriever thinks any less of the man because he’s homeless? Image via http://webneel.com/30-most-inspiring-photographs-worth-million-words-photography-series

Note to my readers: The other day my aunt posted an article on Facebook, 27 Beautiful Bible Verses For Every Woman In Need Of Love, Reassurance And Strength. I was so inspired by the verses that I’ve decided to devote my next 10 weekly musings to a topic related to select verses. The beauty of most of them is you don’t have to be religious, or even believe in a higher power (or be a woman), for their universal message to speak to you

What if you accepted yourself exactly as you are, and stopped trying to change?

We’ve all met people who seem to know exactly who they are, and who accept themselves despite their flaws. They stand out from the rest because they’re comfortable in their own skin. Their very presence seems to radiate from a place deep within, rather than from ego or identity. I’ve always admired such people. They are few and far between.

Maybe you’re one of those people. Or maybe you’ve experienced moments of such clarity, where you caught a glimpse of your true essence. For many of us, though, it’s a never ending journey of self-discovery, filled with twists and turns , false starts and promises.

We’re trying to find our place in this world. We’re searching for that perfect partner, perfect job, perfect house, perfect life that will finally reflect who we think we are, or who we wish to be. We read self-help books, attend self-improvement workshops, seminars, and retreats. We meet with therapists to try to get to the root of our unhappiness. We get plastic surgery, new jobs, new wardrobes, new partners, new kitchens. We drink and use drugs. We try to change our spouses, children, friends, and ourselves into what we think will be better versions than currently exist.

We get so wrapped up in our identities that we become them, convinced they make us who we are. But what if our identities don’t feel comfortable, like a dress or suit that doesn’t fit quite right, but we wear anyway? What if our identities were given to us by others, or assumed because we were merely doing what was expected of us? What if they were literally forced upon us? Imagine if our myriad identities were stripped away, our families and friends wiped out, our jobs lost, our ability to move our body taken away – who or what would we be then?

Who we are goes deeper than our identities. I can call myself wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, employee, yoga practitioner, writer, but this doesn’t tell me who I am fundamentally. As long as who I am is defined by my relationships to people and things, I may never truly know myself at the soul level. Only here do we transcend any perceived flaws, imperfections, and false notions of who we are. The trouble is, it’s so hard to get to that place, and once there, can we accept who and what we find?

Can we accept that we were created perfect, despite our imperfections? That everything good, bad, beautiful, and ugly about us is exactly what was intended? Imagine if we were to fully embrace who we are naturally, if we stopped trying to be someone and something we’re not. We would no longer be fighting our true nature. We would no longer be rejecting ourselves, our gifts, and each other.

Acceptance is key. Think about the people in your life that you find difficult to accept as they are. Maybe it’s a child whose quirks grate on your nerves. Maybe it’s a relative whose personality rubs you the wrong way. Maybe it’s a spouse or partner whose habits annoy you. Maybe it’s the coworker who is a little bit too needy. If you cannot accept these people for who they are, how will you ever be able to accept yourself?

This week, I’m going to do my best to practice total acceptance, of myself and others. When that mean voice in my head tells me I screwed up, that I’m a lousy wife and mother, that my house is a disaster, that I should have gone to the gym more, I’m going to gently tell her to be quiet, and remind her that I’m perfect as I am. Ditto if she starts telling me similar stories about others. I’m going to make an effort to get to know myself better, to appreciate who I am, without trying to change a thing. I hope you’ll join me.