Thursday, July 24, 2008

Practicing Self-Acceptance

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” — Carl Rogers, psychologist

I don’t speak baby talk very well, so I can’t claim to know what babies think about the world, much less about themselves. Nevertheless, I strongly suspect they DO NOT have thoughts like “What a loser I am. I must be the worst crier in the nursery” or “Boy, I really suck at crawling. What’s wrong with me?” much less “I really hate my body.”

Where, then, do the negative feelings we harbor about ourselves come from? I would say it’s from fear that we learned starting when we were small and dependent. Children are mostly socialized by the granting or withholding of approval. We quickly learn to equate acceptance with survival, which, given that we are social beings, holds some truth.

Why do we fear? Paradoxically, in order to feel in control. We learn that we can’t trust ourselves to be OK unless we’re threatened with negative consequences if we don’t follow the rules. Is that really true? Are we only good because we fear being punished if we’re bad?

I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that. If that were true, why are there more people in prison that ever? It’s just not my experience that I’ve ever been successful in beating myself into becoming a better person.

What I do know is that I’m basically good, albeit unskillful at times. I suffer when I forget that and fall back into what Tara Brach in her sweet book Radical Acceptance (2003, Bantam Books) calls “the trance of unworthiness.”

It’s late and so I’m going to cut to the chase here, even though there is a lot more I could (and will) say about this. Join us for one of the discussion groups this Sunday either in Asheville or Hendersonville if you can and we’ll talk more.

Practice exercise:

Looking for the perfect relationship? Start here!

Describe how you would feel, what you would receive, how you would be treated if you found your perfect love. Do you long to be known, accepted, appreciated, honored, inspired? Maybe even worshipped a little bit? (It’s OK. Really!)

I know you see this coming: be the lover you want to find, as much as you can, to everyone you encounter, including that person you meet in the mirror. Move from waiting to receive to giving freely and your cup will fill as you experience the fullness, the goodness of who you really are. Simple as that.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

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