Lily ruminates about her failed marriage, beating herself up for mistakes she’s made and opportunities she’s missed. Tom, a recovering alcoholic, obsesses about the years he lost to booze and castigates himself for the people he hurt and the relationships he damaged.
For Lily and Tom, both approaching middle age, self-acceptance is a challenge, but isn’t it a challenge for all of us?
On the Road with Yourself
In fact, self-acceptance is one of the most important journeys we’re challenged with in this life. It is about being willing to embrace who we are, blemishes and all. Here’s a way to think about it: Imagine a container holding a variety of fruit, a perfect apple, a great piece of pineapple, blueberries that are just okay and a banana that is rotten, among a host of other fruits, some excellent, others less so. Is the container good or bad? Good? What about that rotten banana? Bad? What about that perfect apple?
Get it? You are the container and those fruits represent your behaviors. The container can’t be rated, that would be simplistic, but the fruits (your behavior) certainly can and should be rated. The problem with Lily and Tom, and most of the rest of us, is that we stubbornly rate the container – our total Self.
You Are So Weird!
In contrast, take my friend, Bob. When he told me about a strange medical procedure he invented to treat a rash and avoid going to a dermatologist, I told him affectionately, “You are so friggin’ weird!” He replied without defense, “Yes, I really like that about myself!”
A couple of weeks later he complained about glare when he drove at night. When I suggested it might have to do with aging, he confessed it was the result of corrective eye surgery. “Wait,” I said, “you wouldn’t go to a dermatologist for a rash, but you let someone put a knife in your eye?” “I have contradictions,” he stated with a soft smile.
Now there’s a guy who is comfortable with himself, who has embraced his “weirdness,” his contradictions, his limitations and fallibility.
Would you like to make that full embrace while you can? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Agree in principle with all criticisms of yourself. If someone says you are being selfish in a particular situation, don’t argue. Reply with something like, “You are right, sometimes I am selfish.” And that’s true! Everyone is selfish (and a lot more) at times. You are practicing the uncommon “art” of accepting yourself with imperfections, rather than all too common “un-smart” defensive behavior.
2. Cut the small talk short and discuss the issue of self-acceptance with your friends. Ask how they forgive themselves for mistakes and shortcomings. Ask about their personal “compassion philosophy.” Yes, we all have a personal philosophy that guides the inner conversations we have with ourselves about ourselves. Unfortunately, it is often not compassionate.
3. Debate with yourself whenever you lose perspective about the fallibility of all human beings, including yourself. Remind yourself that perfection is not for human beings. It is about doing your best, not being the best. If you hold a perfection standard, you are setting yourself up for torment.
4. About those rotten bananas in your container, don’t rate the whole container – that’s poor thinking which will only create more rottenness. Remember, obsessing doesn’t change anything, and as Jung said a century ago, “what you resist persists.” The irony is, accepting yourself rotten banana and all, is more likely to lead to change.