The curious paradox is
that when I accept myself
just as I am,
then I can change.
- Carl Rogers
Most people who come into my office have a list of things they hope to change. They usually are not happy with themselves for not living up to a standard of how they want their lives to be and are tired of suffering. They often want me to tell them what to do, how to change, and how to fix their lives.
Many people find it hard to imagine accepting themselves as they are, when clearly they are not who they want to be, do not feel the way they want to feel and are not where they want to be in life. This leads to a lack of curiosity about their anxiety, depression, addiction or self-rejection.
Sound familiar? It's easier to find a self-help book telling you how to change than one guiding you to accept yourself, to dig deep and find a place of compassion and love for yourself, just as you are.
Paradoxically, this is the precursor to any lasting change. A solid foundation of self-regard and acceptance ( and maybe some humor about it!) will see you through all that you will face throughout your life. The idea that perfection is achievable or even desirable, will only create internal conflict in your life.
Self-acceptance does NOT mean complacency; it "simply" means befriending yourself, creating an internal spaciousness to explore who you are and what your true desires are. This allows shifts to occur, sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic. In either case, change comes from a place of positive self-regard rather than despair, anger or self-recrimination.
Wholeness is not achieved
by cutting off a portion of one's being,
but by integration
of the Contraries
Many people come into my office struggling with seeming opposite feelings or beliefs, often thinking that they have to eliminate one or the other of them. They often label one as "bad" and the other as "good," wanting to eliminate the "bad" or troublesome part of their personality.
Black or white thinking is very prevalent in our culture; there is not a lot of encouragement to accept and be comfortable with ambiguity or with the wide range of "gray" in between the opposite poles of black and white.
It's often hard to accept that you may feel both anxious and excited about something, fearful and courageous, loving and critical, vulnerable and protected, serious and also fun-loving. There is only a "problem" when the different parts are out of balance, or when you bounce back and forth between them, in an unconscious and uncomfortable way. Even addictive behavior has a message in it, if you can listen beneath the behavior to the need that is trying to be met.
Carl Jung proposes that if you can sit with the "tension of the opposites," if you can tolerate the discomfort of this/and instead of this/or, another, previously unimagined way of feeling or thinking will emerge. If you can tolerate the seeming opposites in yourself, an integration will eventually take place. You will achieve a sense of wholeness, of being more truly yourself, without having to eliminate any parts of yourself.
The only life that
you could ever be happy in
is the one you actually have.
~ Fred Luskin
How often do you wish you had a different life? How often do you say to yourself or others that you will be happy when.... ( you lose weight, you have a better job, you have more money, you are in better shape, you are in a relationship.....) How often do you compare yourself to others or envy someone else's life, wishing you had a life like theirs, thinking that if you did have their life, THEN you would be happy!
So much time and energy, both mental and emotional, are often spent on wishing for your life to be different than it is, which really translates into a desire to be someone other than who you are. Happiness or contentedness seem elusive in your life while others seem to have it effortlessly. With this mindset, your focus remains outside of yourself, which perpetuates the feelings of unhappiness in and with your life.
A sense of discontent or unhappiness can actually be the doorway into happiness in your life. These feelings and thoughts are actually directing you INWARD, into building a relationship with yourself and your life that is satisfying and compassionate. Because you will never have another life (at least in this incarnation), happiness can only be found in this very life that you have.
If you need help finding happiness in your life, call me for a free phone consultaion to see if I can be helpful to you!
despite its wrenching pain,
cannot be unlived,
but if faced with courage,
doesn’t need to be
~ Maya Angelou
Everyone, to one degree or another, has lived through painful experiences in their lives. Some people have suffered unimaginable pain in their families, relationships, neighborhoods or war/refugee histories. Others have been fortunate enough to have had basically trauma-free lives; yet even these individuals have experienced the smaller traumas of daily life like not being understood, seen or acknowledged sufficiently that have affected their sense of self and created some shame or self-doubt.
As Maya Angelou says, we cannot change or erase our histories; they are the unique stories and experiences that make us who we are. Yet so often, they are relived again and again in present time. Most people see and experience the world and other people not as they are but through the lens of their past experience which impacts their current expectations.
The key to not being doomed to continually re-experience ( think of the movie Ground Hog Day) the same relationships, traumas, misunderstandings, etc is to courageously turn and face them. It's similar to a familiar dream scenario where an individual is being chased or pursued and is always running away from the perceived danger. What might happen in the dream if instead of running, the dreamer turned and confronted the pursuer?
Similarly, the only way to be able to live a different life today, one free of the dysfunctional patterns of the past, free of the paralyzing fears or worries about what happened previously, is to truly face the past. Re-experience the pain as an adult who can metabolize it in a way a child couldn't when it was occurring, feeling the sadness, the anger, the pain and whatever else there is to feel fully. Grieving what was and what wasn't. Learning to differentiate what is going on now from the past. Letting go of repetitive unhealthy patterns, creating new habits and new neural pathways. Embracing mindfulness, an awareness of what is right now in this moment. Not easy, but well worth the effort!
The supreme happiness of life
is the conviction of being loved
or more correctly,
being loved in spite of yourself.
~ Victor Hugo
Everyone craves the sense of safety and well-being that comes from feeling loved and accepted; yet frequently love (for others, from others and for ourselves) seems to be given or withdrawn according to perceptions of good or bad behavior, strengths or weaknesses, flaws or abilities, body image and age. Love is too often conditional, or perceived as being so.
It is often hard to imagine or believe ( I hear this from my therapy clients all the time) that you are lovable or deserving of love because of ______ ( fill in the blank!). Maybe you will feel worthy of love when you_________( again fill in the blank), sometime in the future, a future that never arrives.
Often this sense of shame about who you are will cause you to perform all kinds of (usually unconscious) strategic maneuvers to keep people from getting close enough to see your flaws. The fact that the term "impostor syndrome" resonates widely in our culture today, speaks to how many people feel they are hiding and fooling people about who they really are. And that it's absolutely necessary to do so, or risk being rejected.
Imagine how free you would feel if you felt inherently lovable, just as you are (despite whatever you feel to be your flaws)! Imagine how you might do things differently, feel differently, take more risks, feel more open, more satisfied and less inhibited. Imagine how it would alter your relationships if you could be more authentically you, no longer needing to hide all the time behind a social persona. Relationships of all kinds would feel profoundly different, whether friendships, intimate or family relationships, co-workers. and community relationships. I realize that this is more easily said than done. However, maybe it would be worthwhile to sit down and write about this, meditate on it or enter therapy to find ways to truly embody a sense of your inherent lovable-ness.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley