The Path to Self-Acceptance
(This week’s exercise is from the PeRLs of Wisdom e-newsletter created by my colleagues Judith Bell and Daniel Ellenberg, part of the trainings in their Rewire Leadership program. A resonant fit with the tools and techniques offered in Bouncing Back. Info about subscribing to the free PeRLs of Wisdom newsletter below.)
Path to Self-Acceptance by Judith Bell, PhD
Many people say they accept certain aspects of themselves when they are really saying they are resigned. What they perceive as horrible parts of themselves are here to stay so they might as well acknowledge them and move on.
My experience has been that this kind of acceptance is less than optimal. It leaves the person feeling victimized by the aspect of themselves which they continue to dislike. That constellation of feelings: desire to change, dislike toward a part of yourself, resignation about it creates stuckness, not change for the positive.
I have found that true acceptance leads to relaxation, relief, and then to appreciation rather than resignation.
While in teacher training at the Institute for Artistic and Creative Development, I identified an aspect of myself that immediately catalyzed a huge shame reaction. Rather than express my dislike or anger directly, I expressed it so that no one other than the intended recipient would be aware of the dagger I had just thrown. I labeled this aspect of myself, “my sweet bitch.”
- My internal reaction: Terrible. I felt like a horrible person. I definitely felt unlovable.
- My solution: I engaged in an AID (Archaeological Internal Dig)
- My discovery: I realized that this behavior grew out of my family of origin in which my sister and I were not supposed to get angry. However, my father and mother were allowed to show anger. This created a problem for me as a child, as you may well imagine.
- My realization: To survive, I came up with this “sweet bitch” style with which I could express anger surreptitiously.
- My perceptual shift: The “sweet bitch” was actually an intelligent, creative solution to the internal conflict I experienced between expressing my anger and following the wishes of my parents.
- My new perspective: Rather than get rid of this self-style, I could learn to express anger directly and cleanly.
- My acceptance: An expanded sense of self meant that I did not have to get rid of this character. If I accepted it as a part of me, I could make conscious decisions whether or not to use it.
I became clear that the “sweet bitch” style helped me deal with my internal conflict. As a young adult, away from my parents, I could learn to express anger clearly, cleanly, self-responsibly, and directly.
The path above from the awareness of identifying an aspect of myself to expanding my sense of self has become a template that I use with myself and others to move from shame and blame to deep acceptance and joy.
The practice today focuses on this passage from awareness through understanding to acceptance.
Get in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Have your writing materials nearby so you can use them as thoughts, feelings, and images bubble up.
Allow yourself to relax and focus on your breathing. Then, when you are ready to begin, look at one item at a time, close your eyes and reflect on it, then open your eyes and write. Use a spontaneous writing style, letting your thoughts and feelings flow without editing anything.
- Remember a moment in your life when you became aware of a behavior you did that surprised you or for which you felt shame, remorse, or dislike.
- What was your internal reaction?
- Engage in an AID or the FID to discover any historical associations with this behavior.
- Describe your discovery from your history that contributed to you coming up with this behavior as a successful strategy.
- What realizations do you have about yourself and your early history that makes this strategy intelligent for your circumstances?
- What perceptual shift is taking place now as you reflect on this or do you think is required for you to get that your behavior was a good survival strategy?
- What perspective can you take that allows you to see this behavior as another behavioral choice that you can use or not use if, and only if, you are conscious and accepting of it?
- How can you recalibrate and expand your sense of yourself to include this behavior as another choice? You may save this behavior for special occasions and only pull it out in a pinch, but it will always be available to you if you should want to use it.
After completing the process above and writing your responses for each, let yourself finish these sentence stems:
- If I accept this behavior as a part of me, it means…
- Expanding my sense of who I am to include this behavior gives me the ability to…
- Making sure this behavior is in my conscious awareness means that…
Enjoy the journey. The more you bring unwanted parts of yourself into your consciousness and shine the light on them, the more joyful and free you will feel.
The free and easily downloadable PeRLs of Wisdom e-newsletter is an amazing resource of articles and practices about the Process engaged to Rewire Leadership. To subscribe: www.rewireleadership.com