Over the course of the years, I have discovered a magic trick. It is a simple one, but for many, not an easy one. Each of us can benefit from learning this simple slight of heart and mind.
The magic is self-acceptance. Accept yourself, appreciate yourself, have compassion for yourself and malingering problems can fall away. Of course, as with any magic trick it takes work, time and practice to develop the skill. Many of us carry around a secret cash of self-loathing carefully groomed by culture, capitalism and consumerism. In order to command our allegiance and monetary disbursements giant corporations invest millions researching and articulating our vulnerabilities and nurturing our secret fear of not being good enough. Our fears of not being acceptable are deeply ingrained. It will take some time and patience to eradicate them.
You may find yourself thinking, "Well, this does not apply to me!" It has been my experience that most of us resist acknowledging (even to our self) that we harbor pockets of self-loathing. I recall once reading a comment from the Dalai Lama about how surprised he was at the levels of suppressed self-hate he sensed among people in the West.
Some of us were raised by parents, who though perhaps well-meaning, disciplined using shame. "What's the matter with you now?" "You're driving me crazy!" "Don't be so selfish!" "Your room is disgusting!" Over the years shaming eats away at our self-esteem leaving us feeling worth less, shame full. Without realizing it we live with a constant undercurrent of never feeling quite good enough and loathing our self as a result.
Lack of esteem and lack of self-acceptance can lead to secondary issues of self-sabotage (because of not believing we deserve to succeed), failed relationships, gnawing depression, existential malaise.
Experienced therapists know it is not the school of therapy, the particular techniques used, the topics discussed, the past revisited that necessarily provide the most 'bang for the buck' in therapy. Rather it is usually the relationship with the therapist that contributes more than anything else to healing and renewal.
Why? Because with a therapist who knows how to offer unconditional positive regard, who helps you see yourself as good enough, who accepts and appreciates your feelings, vulnerabilities, efforts, concerns, you begin to have a different experience of yourself. You begin to see yourself through the eyes of the therapist - accepting eyes. You learn about the work you need to do to feel healthy and whole and you begin to do the work with levels of self-compassion and self-appreciation heretofore unexperienced.
Therapy offering this kind of experiential correction in our view of self takes time. In today's world of insurance that invariably pays only for short-term therapy, absorbing and integrating unconditional positive regard is not easily accomplished. The good news is you can also develop self-acceptance and self-compassion on your own.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
* refuse to give room to the habit of being self-critical. If you notice something you have done that you are not pleased with - ask yourself what you can do to correct the situation, and do it. Then let it go. Wallowing in calling yourself names and feeling bad about yourself just produces more of the same behaviors and offers more reasons for self-hate.
* catch yourself doing something good and silently affirm yourself. E.g. "Good on me!", or "Well that was not perfect, but it was sure better than the last time. I'm making progress." Just as you would deal with a hurt or damaged child, find things about which you can offer praise - but don't lie. The praise and acceptance must be based in fact and truth. Concentrate on finding what is praiseworthy about yourself. And don't tell me there is nothing praiseworthy! There is and you must step out of your self-critical rut to find it.
* Jettison the idea of perfection and adopt the concept of good enough. Of course, in certain areas of your life you will want to strive for excellence, but in a general sense learn to love yourself for being good enough, for being a human on planet Earth.
* Here's a little exercise that incorporates findings from acupuncture, energy medicine and positive self-talk:
Find the sore spot that we all have on the upper left quadrant of your chest - somewhere in the heart region.
With two or three fingers gently rub this sore spot in a clockwise direction while at the same time affirming: "With all my problems and limitations, I deeply love and accept myself."
Apparently rubbing this spot on one of the acupressure meridians helps to remove any blockage in the movement of chi (life energy) throughout the meridian and affects our general perception of self. It costs nothing, cannot hurt you and is definitely worth a try if you are dealing with a sense of worthlessness. (It is best to do this in private. :-)
After using the basic affirmation, you can eventually adapt it to specific situations:
"Even though I did not do well on that exam, I deeply love and accept myself."
"Even though I am feeling depressed and lethargic, I deeply love and accept myself."
"Even though I made a huge gaff, I deeply love and accept myself."
"Even though I still harbor a lot of resentment, I deeply love and accept myself."
"Even though I think this is a stupid, useless exercise from Bonnie, and can not possibly help me, I deeply love and accept myself."
"...telling the truth is often the seed that gives birth to love. When we are able to honestly name our fear, our sadness, and confusion -- and when we can meet ourselves, just as we are, with acceptance and compassion -- then we cultivate the possibility of an authentic loving kindness toward ourselves. Without truth, we may learn to accept who we appear to be, but what we are accepting is a lie. Mindfully naming where we are stuck, frightened, or caught opens the door to genuine self-acceptance and loving kindness toward ourselves and others.
Jack Kornfield, a gentle teacher of Buddhist meditation, says that the essence of spiritual practice is self-acceptance:
"...It is the ground out of which any other freedom or understanding can come. Our practice is to begin to listen to where we are closed to ourselves, to our bodies, our feelings, our hearts ... and out of this can come a very deep opening, and forgiveness, and healing of the heart.""
~ Wayne Muller
Legacy of the Heart, p. 176
Energy Psychology Interactive, David Feinstein, Ph.D., 2004
Energy Tapping, Fred P. Gallo, Ph.D., and Harry Vincenzi, Ed.D., 2002
Finding The Energy to Heal, Maggie Phillips, Ph.D., 2000
Compassion and Self-Hate: An Alternative to Despair, Theodore I. Rubin, M.D., 1975 (full of relevant, useful info despite the date of publication!)
Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Sharon Salzberg, 1995
Legacy of The Heart, Wayne Muller