With the 2012 presidential election looming like a vulture over an antelope carcass, we often feel the need to justify our position on this important choice to those around us, especially our mates. We can often plead the fifth when others issue political proclamations, but when you start reviewing your ballot at the kitchen table and your husband walks in and says, “So, honey, who ya voting for?” It is difficult to say, “No comment.” Then, he disagrees with you and begins to give reasoned arguments about why your decision is irrational. You get defensive and say, “You are just like my father, who thinks, blah, blah, blah!” You then look at your ballot with self-doubt. You read a few more articles, but your opinion remains the same. Should you change your position because your husband is better at this and knows more about it? First, you need to get to a place where you can understand whether your position makes sense or is based on insecurities that go deeper, but really have nothing to do with a reasoned argument, then you can make a reasoned choice. Self-acceptance serves as an excellent way to know what you want and why you want it, freeing you from doubt when crucial decisions present themselves.
What is self-acceptance? Why is it important? If we deny any part of who we are, not only are we rejecting ourselves, but we are also making it impossible to improve. By improve, I mean have more successful relationships, and a more satisfying work life. In order to really change, we need to objectively look at the problem without judging ourselves harshly and being self-critical. We don’t have to like what we see, or want to repeat it, but in order to really change, we must be willing to examine it from all angles. To that end, we must take a step back and observe, like a scientist observes an experiment. This means retaining a sense of self-love, despite whatever uncomfortable memories arise. Imagine how difficult it would be to truly have self-esteem, if we couldn’t analyze and correct our mistakes. We must also look at our parents’ mistakes and those who influenced us to avoid repeating them. This might require that we think about some painful experience, in order to come to terms with it, and figure out how it holds us back in our life.
Consider Debbie, a woman who lost her father when she was seven years old. Once grown up, Debbie often wondered why she was unable to stay in a relationship. She rapidly lost interest in any man she dated. She became indifferent, avoided talking, and eventually, the relationship would peter out. When she lost her father, it was too painful to talk about or to mourn. She was expected to just live with it. She was told to forget about it. By non-judgmentally focusing on her lack of feelings for the men she dated, and trying to be curious about it, she slowly came to realize that she was still, after all these years, trying to forget about her Dad’s death, and just live with it. She had never mourned, and to this day, was still scared of being abandoned. She now suffered from serious difficulties trusting men. Instead, she left them by becoming indifferent before they could abandon her.
By realizing why she did not allow herself to be close, she could then start processing her father’s death, and feel compassion for herself. Feeling compassion for yourself is one of the first steps to self-acceptance and self-love. Realize that there have been good reasons that you have been acting or feeling a certain way, even if the reasons are rooted in your childhood. Once you consider what you’ve been through, acting that way takes on a new hue and makes perfect sense in light of your failure to deal with something meaningful that happened in your childhood. However, you would like to change that behavior. That behavior doesn’t apply to your present life, although it sure did apply when you were younger. For Debbie, she never talked about her father’s death, so she did not want to get hurt again by getting close to someone and have it not work out. She felt she had to protect herself by shutting down, but that was not working. She realized that she did not want to spend her life without a satisfying relationship! By dealing with her past, her present and future self could evolve into someone who could have a satisfying, close relationship.
Self-protection begins to backfire at some point. The root of our anxiety lies in not being able to express our true authentic self. We try to cover up what we really think and feel. This leads to stress and anxiety. Once your anxiety becomes elevated, you cannot evolve out of unwanted feelings because you cannot accept having them to begin with. This creates a cycle of anxiety.
As long as you hate or reject vital parts of who you are, you will be at war with yourself. Your self-esteem will suffer. You will struggle with personal decisions, like whether to stay in a relationship, and with more external decisions, like whether to vote for Obama or Romney. Dealing with these issues can be painful, depressing, and stressful. However, there are many excellent methods now for helping ease the path. Talk therapy, EMDR, neurofeedback, and Somatic Experiencing can help. Give me a call, so we can discuss what would work best for you.