All due respect to Elton John, but I’ve found acceptance—not ‘sorry’—seems to be the hardest word.
We crave it on an almost cellular level—in fact, our very existence was once tied to acceptance from our tribe. Today, we seek it all the wrong places from the size of our paycheck to our number of “likes” on Facebook. We search for it from strangers and spouses alike. We try to fill our acceptance vacuum with everything from boxed wine and Netflix to spin class and Xanax.
We may freely give it to others (deserving or not) but are stingy with ourselves. Self-acceptance is held up as the Holy Grail, available only to the deserving few that have perfected themselves and organized their kitchen drawers.
Our acceptance is conditional—only if I lose 20 pounds, my kid gets into the ‘right’ college, I quit biting my nails, I pay off those credit card bills, my garage is organized, or my sister stops infuriating me.
Once we feel a moment of acceptance, the feeling seems fleeting, so we try to hang on tighter only to discover the moment has passed.
So how do we nurture this acceptance we so crave? The secret is deceptively simple: Try your best and learn the subtle art of loving your imperfect self.
I believe that most people work hard on changing themselves—to be better partners, parents, people, and citizens. We have lots of successes. It’s easy to feel accepted and proud of yourself when you’re hitting on all cylinders.
But, I want to talk about the hard times; when we will try our best and still fall flat on our faces. This is where you have to dig deep knowing that true acceptance means embracing your failures too. Acceptance means tolerating a lot about others (and you) that we don’t like.
This may be difficult at first, but there is an incredible amount of freedom in radical self-acceptance. Wait…let me rephrase that: There are fleeting moments of freedom in self-acceptance. Why? Because, like everything else, we have to learn to accept and love our imperfect selves.
There will be mornings like I had in yoga a few weeks back where I reviewed everything that I said “wrong’’ over the weekend. However, by the end of class, I felt a shift. I realized that I accept others’ imperfect words ALL THE TIME! And, I am deserving of that same treatment. For a moment, I did not embark on a new self-improvement plan. I did not cancel plans for the next week. Instead, I rested in the grace of deserving room to be imperfect.
Over time and as we age, we need to have more of these perspective shifts. We should never give up on changing and improving ourselves. But this quest for change needs to be balanced by accepting ourselves, as we are at this very moment—perfectly imperfect.
Self-help work is great until it becomes a crash diet cycle. The changes we make need to be sustainable, and we need to build grace and mercy into the plan for the times that we waver. Because, most times, when we waver, we learn our biggest lessons.
By learning to love our imperfections, we make acceptance our friend. Even when self-criticism and disdain have taken the driver’s seat and are careening all over town, we must not stop the negotiation. Even if we are in the role of a hostage negotiator and our not-so-sane parts are holding our more reasonable parts hostage, we must persist.
What most people miss is that those crazy, critical, mean parts of us are still parts of us! We can’t shove them down. We have to work with them. We have to recognize and show them empathy. Only by loving our imperfections can we start to influence them and feel true acceptance.
We can’t get it right. But we can make it better. We MUST accept most of who we are or be forever doomed to ride the merry go round of trying to be something we are not. As lovely as self-improvement is, we must accept that most of us will stay the same. Our goal is not to completely change. Our goal is trim the edges, grow better, refine, improve but not strive to be someone we are not.
It’s learning to love and celebrate our imperfections that gets us on the road to acceptance.
Nicole C Weiss LCSW
- Phone: 619-318-5012
- Email: [email protected]