Self-Acceptance is not “love your garbage.”
“Self-acceptance” is considered to be one of the most important attitudes you can bring to any personal-development work. However, “self-acceptance,” as it is used in the generally accepted world view is nothing more than a stop-gap strategy for dealing with our belief that we are, in fact, broken.
“Self-acceptance,” as I mean it, does NOT mean “I love my crap.” It means: I accept that I am human. Let me give you an example of this distinction by talking about my dog. My dog poops in the yard. And, I step in it. I think, “that damned dog.” But, I love my dog, so I will accept the fact that he poops in the yard, and I will love him anyway. Now, does this make sense? Or, do I sound like an idiot? Does it make any sense for me to say I’m going to “accept” my dog even though he has this shortcoming of pooping in the yard? I could just say, “He’s a dog, doing what dogs do.”
What is the difference between accepting my dog’s shortcoming and acknowledging that he is a dog? One takes effort; I will have to occasionally look at him and think, “ohhhh, it’s not easy to love you.” It takes work to accept a shortcoming. With the other option, I just have to periodically remind myself that he’s a dog. In fact, my dog is perfect. He’s being a dog; that’s what he is. To expect something different is just silly.
And this is what we do to ourselves with the common notion of self-acceptance. Usually, when someone refers to self-acceptance, they are trying to love a perceived shortcoming. They are trying to apply a layer of “self-acceptance” over something about themselves they despise.
So what does self-acceptance mean to you? Are you trying to love something that is unlovable or hard to love?
Statistically speaking, it is highly likely that you feel like something about you is broken or needs to be fixed.
Everyone is chasing something, going somewhere, trying to improve, trying to be better. Most people don’t feel whole and complete in their lives. They feel like they are a work in progress, trying to get somewhere, trying to improve, get better, be more competitive, be more capable, smarter, happier, more trusting, more compassionate, more helpful, more, more, more!
Someday I will feel better
Someday I will have this all worked out! Someday, I will get where I need to go and I can stop running, Someday I will have/be/have done enough that I can appreciate myself.
How many people can relate to this? Can you feel how you are chasing after something? We all talk about “someday.” “Someday” we will have what we want and be what we want. Someday we will stop doing what we have to do and do what we want to do. Now you might think that “someday” is about what you will acquire — money, knowledge, power, relationships — but under every “someday” is actually a hope for the day when we can be who we want to be in the world, and feel how we want to feel in the world.
So, let’s talk about personal growth training for a moment…
Personal growth work attracted me as a way of making my life better, as a way to improve myself, as a way to make me more helpful, more important, respectable, powerful, lovable. In the courses, I learned how I was creating my world, how I was causing my difficulties, how to improve my relationships. It was amazing! I felt so powerful and alive. However, the strange thing I noticed was this: the more I fixed, the more I found was broken. It was like the mythical hydra head, you cut one and three grow back in its place! Has anyone else notice something like this?
So what is the problem? Are we just so flawed that we have to continually improve? I was told that I was like an onion. Each time I fixed something, I was able to move to the next layer … some kind of infinitely layered onion. And whenever something that I thought I had fixed showed up again, I was told that I was just dealing with it on a deeper layer.
However, the reason the same things keep showing up for me was because I wasn’t actually changing.
You don’t get better
So, another part of being human is that, for the most part, we don’t change. And you are NOT the exception to the rule! A few years ago, I started telling people that they were never going to get better. How many people would show up for a weekend workshop if we told them ahead of time that they wouldn’t be better afterwards? But, you will never get better! You are as good as you will ever be!
Self-acceptance, as I am distinguishing it, isn’t about accepting your perceived imperfections, because that just doesn’t work. We are inevitably drawn to fix anything that we think is broken! You can dress up a pig, and it’s still a pig!
You don’t get better, but your experience can improve
So before you get too discouraged about not changing, let me make another important distinction. This simple distinction may sound like semantics, but it’s a fundamentally different context to work inside of.
You don’t improve, but your quality of life can be hugely improved. You never enhance yourself; however, you can totally enhance your experience of your life. You don’t get better! You don’t get fixed! You aren’t broken. No matter what your spouse tells you, or what you tell your spouse, there is no real personal improvement happening at the level of who you really are.
This is a very, very important distinction. It isn’t a question of language. It is the difference between having a hugely improved experience of your life -or- seeing some momentary improvement but eventually coming back to the same place of not being good enough. If you can see that you are trying to get better, then you must see also that you don’t experience yourself as being perfect. Of course, if you were perfect, why would you need to accept yourself?
If you operate from an unconscious need of having to fix or improve yourself, you will probably still get some benefits from a weekend workshop, but you will also strengthen the belief that “you are broken and need to be fixed.”
I have a computer and whenever I opened my email program I get an error message. So I call someone to come over to fix my computer. They start to open up my computer with a screwdriver! I say, “Wait! What are you doing?” They tell me that they are going to fix my computer and so they need to open it up and check out the components. Can you see why I am concerned with this??
I ask them to just look at the software.
You know if you buy a new computer from the store, it may be a while before you get it to work the way you want it to, but it isn’t broken, it is just not working the way you want it to.
Now when you think about the computer sitting there, and you see that the computer is actually connected to the rest of the world through the Internet, and that the Internet is now part of that computer, and so are the other people that I connect with, does putting a disk in the computer really “change” the computer?
Do I actually change or fix a computer when I load new software in it? Clearly I can change the “user interface” or my experience of the computer, but is the computer actually “changing”?
Do you see the difference between these two statements? (You don’t improve. Your quality of life can improve.) Who can see that they are trying to get better? Who thinks that they actually can get better?
It is important that you see that most of you are here to get better. If you don’t see it, you can ask “are you experiencing yourself in life as perfect?”. Because even if you have an intellectual understanding of this notion, you are not experiencing it.
But remember, no matter what you do or learn, life will always be messy. This is an important paradox and distinction. No matter how much you improve your experience, life will always be messy.
You are perfect
To understand self-acceptance as I am distinguishing it, requires you to acknowledge your perfection. To see your perfection, you need to become more comfortable living with paradox and have reasonable expectations for what it means to be human.
How is it possible to be perfect and messy at the same time? How is it possible to be perfect and uncontrollable, unknowable, unpredictable, and often not what we want?
How many people would like to feel that they are perfect? Does it seem possible? Some people are afraid that if they felt like they were perfect, they wouldn’t have any reason to work on themselves… (this should be ironic)
Being perfect and feeling perfect are two different things. Being human means you often won’t feel perfect. But that IS perfectly human. It is important that you are willing to take this concept beyond an intellectual understanding to a feeling/knowing/experiencing place for yourself. Intend to know and feel your perfection, not just understand it!
Try this: Close your eyes. Look for where you don’t feel perfect. See if you can identify or distinguish that feeling. Look closely: what are you saying? What do you need? What is missing in you or what is extra? What is broken? What part seems true? What is the fact, and what is the feeling?
Give yourself a litte time to do this …
Now tell yourself that the feeling is perfectly natural and doesn’t actually mean anything. It is what every human feels from time to time. It is a perfectly human feeling. Can you feel yourself relax a little?
Remember, we emerge into adulthood with this feeling. However, unless we distinguish it and acknowledge the mistaken belief, we will do things that reinforce it and make it more real for us.
We are way bigger than we can see or know with our mind. The magic in life happens outside of the small part of us that we are aware of.
Self-acceptance means that we accept ourselves as human. It means that we stop trying to be something else — something more evolved, more in control, more paranormal, less messy, less complicated. Self-acceptance means that we make peace with the fact that we are not getting better because this “messy/confusing” nature is part of being human.
Right Purpose / Healthy point of view
The point of view we take here is absolutely key. If we take the point of view that WE are flawed, then we will continue to experience that, regardless of what we do. We will continue to need to fix ourselves and we will never be able to experience our wholeness. Any time you have some “success” in fixing yourself, you reinforce the notion that you are broken.
Maybe you understand that, as a child, you made some mistaken decision about your insufficient competency, capability, character or lovability. Maybe you understand that you have been going around in your life trying to prove or improve yourself. You might be wondering, “what’s the big deal about improving myself?” So what?
It is a big deal because you actually do damage to yourself. Every time you learn something driven by THIS purpose, you reinforce the neural pathways in your brain that say “you can fix yourself” and “you are broken.” This mistaken belief gets more deeply embedded into your brain, and it becomes harder and harder for you to feel whole, complete, and unbroken. This is why people that are “highly successful” are sometimes more stuck in a meaningless life than those that aren’t so successful. They have actually done more damage to themselves by reinforcing that they are not enough!
You really want to stop that!
If we take the point of view that we are perfect, then we are able to enhance our experience of life without the on-going, unrelenting, debilitating need to improve. We can engage in practices to explore and discover what makes us experience what we are experiencing — and what impact we can have on that experience — without being preoccupied by some mythical problem that needs fixing.
This point of view can have a huge impact on our happiness.
Unmet expectations create resentment and resignation. When our life does not live up to our expectations, it is impossible to be happy and to fully express ourselves.
Part of being happy is having reasonable, healthy expectations about your what your life will look like. Part of being happy is seeing that you will never actually be better than you are now, you will not actually, fundamentally change, because who you are is perfect. This view is not the same as being resigned to your circumstances. You are not your circumstances. You can improve your circumstances, but you don’t improve YOU. You are human and will continue to be human and have human-type experiences.
We are simply missing the reasonable expectation that our existence will continue to be messy regardless of what we do.
Today, declare that you are perfect … this may give you more freedom and excitement about making changes in your circumstances. Then consider if you are ready to be simply human … no more, no less. Human is a miracle!
Love and blessings, David