It’s a well known cliche that you cannot love others unless you love yourself. I’m not entirely sure about that one, but what I would like to add to that is that it’s incredibly difficult to accept love from others unless you can see yourself as lovable. How you frame your relationship with You is very important. Your relationship with yourself is the one relationship you will have access to every day of your life.
And it’s difficult to be friendly with yourself when you’re feeling bad. You may feel angry with yourself for experiencing pain or being sad. You may be regretful or guilty about decisions you’ve made. And all those feelings are acceptable and can be dealt with, but it’s really important to remember that YOU CANNOT HATE YOURSELF BETTER.
You can’t hate yourself into thinness, or happiness, or social comfort, or intelligence, or a higher salary, any more than you can beat a child into stopping crying. In fact hating yourself can only take an already crappy situation and make it feel ten times worse. In your times of need, you have most need of yourself. If you don’t value and support You, it is very difficult to accept support from others, because you feel so undeserving, and often almost ashamed of your need for support. Also, if you feel undeserving and devalue yourself, the people around you will pick up on that in a thousand unconscious, subtle ways and they will reflect that back to you. In short, if you believe that you are a fool, you will communicate that unknowingly all the time and people will respond to you as if you were a fool.
Acceptance means understanding and being OK with what it means to be human. You ARE human. You cannot deny this: there you sit, right now, in your chair, being human. And thing about being human is that we are imperfect. To accept that you are human is to accept that you are fallible.
Self acceptance does not mean choosing some of your (doubtless many) good attributes or behaviours and being proud of them. You’re completely allowed to be proud of your dancing prowess, or your skill at work, or your ability to bake perfect cookies, but there will inevitably come a day when you don’t dance well, or when you make a mistake at work, or when the baking goes all pear-shaped; and what then? Does that mean you can no longer feel affection for yourself?
Self acceptance also doesn’t mean that you never change or grow. We are by nature designed to grow and to want more: it’s why little babies learn to walk. But reaching for something from a place of gentle acceptance of what IS allows for a much kinder journey.
Oftentimes our inner dialogue reflects the worst of the parenting or guidance we have received: your inner voice reflects the fear and anxieties about imperfections that you may have grown up with, at school or from peers or teachers or often from parents. Sometimes it’s directly related to how we were spoken to as kids, and how we heard our parents speak about themselves. We grow an Inner Bitch, always ready to point out our flaws in graphic detail. It’s as if by giving attention to flaws and mistakes we can magically change them. It’s time to parent yourself differently: soothe, encourage and support the changes you want to make, don’t let yourself off the hook of putting in work that needs to be done, but always accept your humanness. (Parenthetically how you talk to you own kids is important for the same reason, as is how your kids see you treating yourself).
Self acceptance means that you give yourself permission to be YOU, warts and all. If your bum is too fat, embrace the bum-ness of it. If your nose if too big, it’s ok because it looks like YOUR nose. One of my patients once said, “Superwoman is dead. She tried to do everything.” Aspiring toward improvement is one thing; internally killing yourself because you are (unavoidably) imperfect is another. Have you ever hated anyone else because they had a big nose? Probably not. So why hate you?
This isn’t an easy habit to cultivate though. Here are some tricks to help you along the way.
Author: Joce©Psych in a Box
One thing I realise I talk about nearly every day in therapy is anxiety. It’s a way more common challenge than one may imagine, mainly because we are all born with the capacity to feel anxious, and with good reason. Anxiety is the feeling that motivates you to study for a test, or cross the road briskly and alertly, or run from a threat. It becomes a problem when it starts to run away with you: sometimes your brain misidentifies small or moderate threats as huge ones, and causes you to respond with a full scale body reaction to something as small as a missed meeting or some else’s dirty look.
It’s a very wide topic and I’m sure I’ll come back to it many times, but today I want to share a metaphor I’ve used in therapy lots of times: your anxiety is like a 5 year old in you who is afraid of the dark. And how do you respond to a frightened child? You don’t smack her or yell at her for being afraid. You’re doing this to yourself if you berate yourself for being ‘silly’ or ‘ridiculous’ for having worries. You also don’t agree with her: “Oh my lord you’re right! the monsters are coming!” You do this to yourself when you allow your thoughts to focus on ever-more terrifying scenarios, working the fear ever upwards toward panic, telling yourself horror stories. You soothe her.
You allow and accept the fact that there is fear, without ridicule (we are hardwired to look for threat – the caveman who ran away from the predator lived longer than the one who didn’t). And you gently encourage and soothe. You have kind conversations with yourself along the lines of “It’s going to be OK. This has happened many times before and it’s not so bad. It’s survivable. It will pass.” It’s also often useful to substitute the frightened child’s anticipation of a dire outcome with envisioning a positive one. Ask yourself questions like “How could this work out well?” or “What if it’s all going to be OK?” to allow the child to start envisioning a better and more soothing ending to the story. We are often consciously or unconsciously asking ourselves how things could go wrong, and the creative 5 year old comes up with many colourful (and terrifying) scenarios.
This takes some practice – we often have very strong self critical parts that stubbornly resist kindness and it takes a while to become accustomed to soothing. But in all things it’s more comforting to be your own friend than not! You will look at your own face in the mirror every day – it’s much nicer if you’re friends.
Author: Joce©Psych in a Box
How many roles do you fulfil every day? How many times do you feel that you are so busy tending to others’ needs that you don’t have time for your own? How often do you take the time to do the things that you WANT to do, rather than simply the things you SHOULD do?
I see a lot of burn out in my practice. I see moms whose “me-time” is work, because they feel guilty being away from their kids. I see parents who work 12 hour days, even though they’re contracted for 8-10 hours of work a day. (Think of it like this: at work you trade your time for money. If you get R800 a day for working an 8 hour day, that’s R100 an hour. If you habitually work 16 hour days you’re now earning R50 an hour – you have halved your own hourly income). So often there is a sense that YOU are not allowed to be happy or take care of yourself until EVERYONE ELSE is happy first. Except that you don’t have the power to make everyone happy. They will NEVER all be happy. And so, by that logic, neither will you.
For giving to feel sustainable, meet your needs first. Then, once your needs have been met, THEN you can comfortably offer yourself to others. Not the other way round. Is your time valuable? Because if you don’t value your own time, no one else will. The world will always demand too much. The boundaries need to come from you.
And brains need contrast: we need times of work and times of rest, and if you’re on the work treadmill all day it’s easy to come home and continue to sprint along, project-managing your home life too – homework, bath time, dinner time, bed time. Then you wake up and start again.
We all need to build in times of rest. Here are a few ways to derail the production line of life:
First and foremost in all things is your relationship with YOU. Nourish it as you would nourish your connection with a loved one. You’re not allowed to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend!
Author: Joce©Psych in a Box