Often we see things in ourselves that we don’t like, and criticise them; perhaps something we see as a weakness, an uncharitable thought, an irrational fear, a laziness or unwillingness to do something we know would be good for us. The list is endless, and each of us has our own variety. Often when we see what we don’t like, we want to change it, to correct it, or to improve it in some way. And socially and culturally, this is what happens too. Certain personality traits are seen as acceptable, others are not.
Sometimes, what we dislike in ourselves is what we think is not acceptable to others, that we may be rejected or isolated if we show this side of ourselves. We may have learned this growing up, from our family or at school. We might have been criticised, punished or teased for behaving a certain way. We may have been bullied for our looks or our manner. We may have decided that it was safer to hide that part of ourselves.
Everybody has aspects of themselves which they don’t like. We try to control how others respond to us, by changing who we are. However, we cannot change ourselves by rejecting those aspects we don’t like. I’m going to repeat that because I believe it’s really important. WE CANNOT CHANGE THOSE ASPECTS OF OURSELVES THAT WE DON’T LIKE, BY REJECTING THEM. We can mask them for a while, by changing our behaviour, but the change will not be lasting unless and until we can find acceptance. As Dale Carnegie puts it in How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Criticism is futile because it puts the person on the defensive.” Putting those parts of ourselves that we dislike on the defensive will result in their persisting. The paradox is that until we accept that we may never change, change is not possible. We have to start from where we are.
Acceptance is not the same as resignation, nor is it the same as surrender. In resignation, there is a grudging acknowledgement of the situation. In surrender, there is a winner and a loser. In both cases, the energy is negative, and closed. There is a turning away, and an inherent rejection. In acceptance, there is an embracing of the situation, an openness to there being more than what can be seen here and now. In acceptance, we hold the hope of how we would like ourselves to be, and we are open to finding ways to get there.
We vary hugely in our likes and dislikes. We cannot please all of the people all of the time, but we can please ourselves. While being pleased with ourselves might be a step too far for those who have been brought up to believe that pride comes before a fall, we can be kinder and more understanding of our flaws.
Jude Fay MIAHIP is a counsellor and psychotherapist at AnneLeigh Counselling and Psychotherapy, Celbridge and Naas, Co Kildare, Ireland