There is a lot of talk in the personal growth space about self-acceptance and self-compassion. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began to understand what this means and, more importantly, what it doesn’t mean.
I used to think acceptance was: being resigned to the way things are in this moment.
In other words, if I accept myself where I am right now, I’m giving a big thumbs up to being this way forever. I’m giving approval that this place is okay. I’m giving up on my ability to go anywhere beyond where I am right now.
Now I know, this is NOT what acceptance means.
And, I’m learning what it does mean:
I am loved and valued in this present moment, regardless of whatever has come before and whatever might come after.
I am worthy of love and connection, even when I regret the choices and actions that led me to this moment.
I will not judge yesterday’s actions with today’s brain. Yesterday’s brain did the best it knew how.
I will allow myself to be aware of and fully experience my emotions as they are right now without needing to analyze, fix or judge them.
I am worthy of being seen and understood without judgment or advice for how to move forward.
Here’s a secret about acceptance - it gives me the security I need to start thinking about what should come next. It doesn’t encourage me to stay where I am, instead it helps give me the fuel I need to see my next steps. Forward movement might take a while, depending how “stuck” I feel, but it’s still true that acceptance (instead of fixing, judging, analyzing, etc.) is what’s needed.
For example, I’m continually learning to give myself acceptance when it comes to eating and health. I struggle with emotional eating after years of having an unhealthy relationship with food. Here is what it sounds like to have acceptance and self-compassion when I suddenly realize I’ve eaten my way through half a bag of potato chips:
Initial thought - “I feel like a failure. Why am I mindlessly eating all these chips?”
Response based on judgment and fixing - “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I have more discipline? I shouldn’t be doing this! Stop it!”
Response based on acceptance - “I had a bad day and I’m struggling with difficult emotions. It makes sense that I would turn towards food, this is the coping skill I’ve used for so many years. I know I’m creating a healthier relationship with food, but today it feels so much harder. I’m not bad for being here, and I’m not stuck here. But I am here, and if I can’t find my way to a healthier space tonight it will still be okay, I won’t be stuck here forever.”
Most of the time, when I go to thoughts focused on judgment and fixing, I end up like the cartoon characters who have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I feel split between two parts of myself who are at war with each other. While the “angel” might win out for a time, I ultimately sabotage myself in the long run.
Two of the best things I did to help myself cultivate acceptance and self-compassion was join a personal growth group and work one-on-one with a coach. Personal growth doesn’t happen in isolation! If you’d like support for your journey, I’d love to work with you one-on-one. Schedule a free introductory appointment here.