We wish we could accept ourselves as we are. Sometimes we can. But sometimes we can’t. We can accept the fantasy of how we wish we were, but we can’t accept the reality of how we are. So what is the first step in self-acceptance when we can’t accept ourselves? We have to accept that right now we can’t accept ourselves.

Strange to say, the pathway of healing is to accept ourselves — including our self-rejection. We think that if we reject certain aspects of ourselves, they will go away. Instead of accepting ourselves as we are, we keep looking for the version of ourselves that we prefer. But we are who we are, and we aren’t helping ourselves or anybody else by pretending otherwise. Once we acknowledge that we have been rejecting ourselves, we can start working toward accepting ourselves.

Once we have accepted our self-rejection, we must drop the fantasy of perfection. Maybe we would like to be super mentally healthy, super insightful, super something. But instead, who shows up? Not Super You or Super Me. Just you and me. There’s how we are, and there’s how we wish we could be — only one of those is real.

Remember that every perfect person is just someone you haven’t gotten to know yet. Think about the process of falling in love. At first, you might think the object of your affection is the most perfect person you’ve ever met. Little by little, though, you begin seeing that person’s quirks. Sometimes these quirks can be deal breakers, but in loving, long-lasting relationships, we learn to accept our partner’s quirks. Maybe we even learn to love those quirks. The same is true for ourselves: in order to have a healthy relationship with ourselves, we must learn to accept our quirks.

As a third step, we must give up working on the impossible goal of being superhuman. We all have limitations, and when we obsess over changing these limitations, we walk down a pathway of unlimited work with limitless frustration — the pathway of self-rejection. Giving up on being superhuman is different than giving up on self-improvement. It’s not wrong to want to make healthy changes in our lives, like working to overcome an addiction or exercising more, but positive change cannot result from beating ourselves up if we relapse or don’t see instant results. We have to learn to accept ourselves throughout the journey of growth, and that means accepting that we are bound to fail once in a while.

You might be wondering, “So I have to accept myself as I am, my self-rejection, my talent as a fantasy creator, and my desire that fantasies show up instead of life as it is?” No, you don’t have to. But when we fight against the reality of who we are, we are not growing. We are trying to shrink the reality of ourselves to fit into a fantasy.

The reality of you is always too large to fit into a concept. Only by accepting ourselves as we are, and life as it is, can we grow into the truth of reality.

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Jon Frederickson
Jon Frederickson, MSW, is co-chair of the ISTDP Training Program at the Washington School of Psychiatry where he has been on the faculty since 1988. He teaches mental health professionals around the world. He is the author of The Lies We Tell Ourselves: How to Face the Truth, Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life. For more info, please visit istdpinstitute.com.

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