What does it mean to accept yourself? Just as you are. As is?
Maybe you were lucky, born into a family of accepting adults and siblings and relatives and neighbors.
Or, maybe, you were like most of us, born into a family of imperfect people who had their own issues and struggles. Who sometimes lost their temper and dumped on you. Criticized you. Blamed you for things that weren’t your fault. Maybe you were hassled by the police just because you were fifteen, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe you’ve experienced strong prejudice and mistreatment. Bullying.
When you’ve suffered in these ways as a child and a young person, you have to be strong to survive. You have to be determined and believe in yourself.
It can be daunting to realize as an adult, after you’ve fought your way through childhood and adolescence, that sometimes you’re really hard on yourself.
You say to yourself, I have very high standards. I am meticulous. Okay, maybe a little perfectionistic. Employers love you. If they want it done right, they get you to take care of it. In addition to your other duties.
The trouble is, it’s exhausting. It’s hard to throttle back on the pushing and the trying – and the self-criticism.
Your therapist tells you, “Have some compassion for yourself. Give yourself a break.” What the !@#$% does he know?
But you think about it later. Maybe there is something to that. Other people seem to like themselves. You decide to give it a try. But how? How do you give yourself a break? Dole out some compassion to yourself? You draw a blank. Stupid. You never do things right, even simple things.
You talk about it next session with your counselor. “Try this for a start,” he says. “Stop calling yourself names.”
What does that mean?
“For example, you called yourself ‘Stupid.’ When you catch yourself doing that, change it. Edit it. What could you have said to yourself instead of calling yourself a name?”
You think about it and decide maybe you could have said something like This is confusing, it’s all new, I don’t know how to do this yet.
“Great,” the shrink said. “Perfect. You changed from calling yourself a demeaning name to describing what was happening, and how you felt about it.”
“It’s a beginning. You may be surprised to realize how insulting you are to yourself in your inner dialogue. Try it. Change the insults to descriptive, compassionate statements. Like the kind of thing you would say to a friend who was struggling with the same thing. You’re not demeaning to your friends, are you?”
Not really, unless we’re playing. But he’s saying, talk to myself like I’m my friend? That’s radical.