Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Accept and Value Yourself: 11 Ways to Embrace Who You Are

“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” ~BrenĂ© Brown

I can’t remember exactly what it was she was trying to convince me I could do, but I had an argument to counter every bit of encouragement. There was no shortage to the ways I believed I wasn’t good enough.

She was trying to help me see myself the way she saw me—as someone smart, capable, and full of potential. I wasn’t buying it.

I’d been pretending for so long to be a better person than I really believed myself to be. I thought any positive thing another person said about me was just an indication that she was fooled by my illusion. If she could see who I really was, she’d change her mind about me.

I was tired of trying to convince her that I wasn’t actually as good as I’d been pretending to be. In desperation I finally asked the question I thought would end the conversation. Tears streamed down my face and the muscles in my chest squeezed so tightly that I could hardly choke out the words, “Do you have any idea how much I hate myself?”

“Yes,” she said, “I do.”

I was taken aback. I guess I’d expected my revelation to shock her. Apparently I hadn’t been hiding my self-loathing as well as I’d thought.

Part of me was relieved to know that maybe someone did actually see how much I was hurting. At the same time, I was terrified to discover that anyone could see more of me than I chose to reveal. I didn’t trust that she, or anyone else, could ever really understand.

Looking back, I think she did understand more than I originally gave her credit for. She may not have known exactly what I was feeling, but she knew what it was to hate oneself. She’d hated herself too.

While I was filled with self-loathing, my life was focused on keeping others from seeing who I really was. I didn’t like myself and couldn’t see how it was possible for anyone else to like me either. I hid while pretending to be someone I hoped was more loveable.

I chased after accomplishments to prove to myself and to others that I was worthy of love, but it was never enough. I couldn’t do or be all the things I thought were expected of me. There was always something more to prove.

For years I thought life would always be that way, but recently I was surprised to realize that I don’t hate myself anymore. Of course, there are still plenty of things about myself I wish were different, but my self-loathing is being replaced by acceptance.

I didn’t set out specifically to learn how to stop hating myself—I didn’t think that was possible. Instead, I was searching for direction in terms of a career. I was wondering how to make friends.

I read books and articles, listened to podcasts, and even worked with a life coach with the hope of making myself better. There wasn’t a particular experience or single idea that made the difference. What I found is an array of small practices and simple concepts that are helping me learn to embrace who I am.

The shift has been gradual enough that I didn’t notice how much I’d changed until I relived the memory of that old conversation. I’m no longer paralyzed by the belief that no matter what I do I’ll never be worthy of love. I’m slowly learning to trust and value myself for who I am, even as I acknowledge that there’s always room for growth.

1. Allowing myself to be a work in progress

I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to always know what I’m doing and never make mistakes. I’ve missed opportunities to try something new because I was so afraid of looking silly. I’ve given up on things I want to do because I couldn’t do them as well as I thought I should.

Being a beginner is just plain uncomfortable, but we all have to start somewhere. I’m learning that my value doesn’t come from getting everything right the first time. Instead, it’s the mistakes and failures and trying again that help me learn and grow.

I can be proud of myself for being willing to practice again and again. It’s the baby steps, tiny changes, and consistent willingness to try again that develop the qualities I hope to embody.

2. Being curious about who I am

For much of my life, I defined myself by the ways I didn’t measure up to the person I thought others expected me to be. I didn’t know who I was—only who I was not.

I’ve started shifting my questions. Instead of wondering why I don’t care about what’s supposed to matter to me, I’m discovering what does matter to me. Instead of looking to others for clues about what I should think, I’m asking myself what I actually think.

I’m learning that being different from someone else doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong. Recognizing that there’s more than one right way to be is freeing me to start exploring my own strengths, personality, values, and preferences.

3. Letting go of what I can’t control

I’ve fallen into the trap of believing that if I could just do and say all the right things, then people would like me. I’ve made it my responsibility to try to make sure the people around me are always happy. That’s a lot of pressure.

The thing is, I can’t control what others think of me or how they experience life. I can only be responsible for my own actions and intentions. I’m learning to focus more of my time and energy on living in a way that reflects my personal values instead of trying to control other people’s perceptions.

4. Doing things that scare me

A lot of things scare me. I’ve let my fear hold me back from many things I want to do. I’ve hated myself for being a coward.

I’m learning that bravery isn’t the absence of fear. Courage isn’t something a person either has or doesn’t. Fear doesn’t just go away if we wait long enough.

I’d always wanted to waterski, but was afraid of looking silly or getting hurt. I did take a few tumbles while I was learning. To be honest, I still get nervous every time I get behind a boat, but now I’m also anticipating the fun of skimming across the water.

I want to have deep friendships, but inviting an acquaintance to get together for coffee or introducing myself to someone I admire online feels vulnerable. What if she doesn’t like me? What if I say the wrong thing? The thing is, I don’t always click with everyone I talk to, but through taking the risk to reach out I’ve met some wonderful friends.

Every time I do something that scares me, I build trust that I’m capable of doing more than I previously believed possible and that a failure isn’t the end. I’m learning to work with my fear instead of letting it define me.

5. Chatting with my inner critic

My inner critic can be incessant and quite mean. For the longest time I believed everything she said about me and accepted the way she talked to me.

Then I started paying attention to what I was actually saying about myself. What if some of the awful things I believed about myself weren’t actually true? How might my life be different if I talked to myself with encouragement instead of criticism?

One of my favorite ways to question the critical thoughts inside my head and translate them into more helpful language is to write out a dialogue with my inner critic in my journal. In these back and forth conversations, I can uncover what my inner critic is trying to accomplish by being so mean.

As counterintuitive as it seems, often she’s actually trying to protect me. She tells me I’m awkward and annoying in hopes that I’ll be careful to only say things that are sure to win approval…or even better, that I’ll stay home where there’s no risk of being rejected. She tries to discourage me from sharing my writing anywhere it might be criticized by warning me I’ll never measure up to all the other amazing writers out there.

When I take the time to understand the motivations beyond my inner critic’s harsh words, I can decide for myself which risks I’m willing to take instead of just believing I’m not good enough. I can also start shifting how I talk to myself by asking her to rephrase her concerns in a kinder way.

6. Asking myself what I think

I have a tendency to try to figure out what other people think before deciding what I’ll do or think or say. I’ve made a lot of decisions based on what I believe other people think I should do. When those decisions aren’t a good fit for me, I’m quick to assume it’s an indication that there’s something wrong with me.

I’m learning that I can consider other people’s opinions without denying my own. Disagreeing doesn’t have to mean I’m wrong. When I take the time to ask myself what I think, I get to know myself better, reinforce my trust in my own value, and choose a life that’s right for me.

7. Feeling all my emotions

I used to think certain emotions were wrong to feel. I didn’t believe I had a right to feel angry or sad or hurt. There was always someone who had it worse than me.

I tried to suppress my feelings, but they’d get stuck inside and lash out in unexpected ways. I hated myself for not being able to control how I felt.

But there is no quota on feelings. Feeling my emotions doesn’t take away from anyone else’s experience. On the contrary, it increases my compassion for others.

How I feel doesn’t make me good or bad, but it does give me information about what’s going on inside me. I’m getting curious about what is behind the emotions I’m feeling instead of criticizing myself for feeling them. It’s not my job to control how I feel, it’s my job to choose my response to those feelings.

8. Making space for fun and joy

I used to feel guilty when I took time for anything fun. I didn’t think I deserved it. Hard work and sacrifice were the only truly noble uses of time.

These days I intentionally make space in my schedule to do the things I really enjoy—sewing, experimenting with art supplies, walking in nature. Not only does having fun energize me, it also reminds me that I’m worthy of care. I’m learning so much about myself and how I can create more beauty and connection in this world.

9. Sharing vulnerably with another person

Self-hatred prompted me to hide from others. I tried to only show a version of myself that I thought would be accepted. I was terrified I’d be rejected and alone if people knew the truth about me.

It’s hard to let another person see my fears, disappointments, and hopes. I don’t want anyone to know I make mistakes. It’s painful enough to hate myself—I couldn’t bear the thought of other people hating me too.

But it’s actually when I’m willing to share my vulnerable parts with another person that I’m reminded I’m not alone. We all have struggles. I can choose to hide mine or give another person an opportunity to support me.

10. Asking others how they see me

I have a tendency to assume I know what others think of me…and I tend to assume it’s bad. Making these assumptions keeps me from knowing the truth about how others actually see me. It also denies the support and encouragement they try to give me.

One of the scariest exercises I’ve done is asking people close to me to share what our relationship means to them, what they see as my strengths, and what qualities they like about me. It feels so presumptuous to ask another person to say something nice about me. What if they think I’m arrogant? What if they can’t think of anything positive to say?

And yet, in taking that risk, I get a glimpse of myself from another perspective. Sometimes I get stuck filtering my view of myself through all the ways I believe I’m not good enough. I need someone else to point out the parts of myself I just can’t see.

11. Compiling evidence

I still often default to focusing on the ways I don’t measure up. Sometimes I need a reminder of the best parts of who I am. I’m continually working to develop a habit of noticing the qualities I value instead of just looking for things to criticize.

I journal most days and I reserve the last three lines of the page for a set of small lists. I look back over the previous day and list what I am grateful for, evidence that I am loved, and ways that I am good enough. Each day these lists help me practice looking for my worth instead of just all the ways I fall short.

When I’m feeling low, it’s hard to remember the good things about myself. I keep a small notebook where I record compliments and positive comments others make about me, as well as the things I’m learning to value about myself. I turn back to this notebook when my opinion of myself could use a boost.

We don’t have to wallow in self-hatred, but leaping straight to self-love can feel impossible. Instead, we can make small shifts and adopt simple practices to help us learn to accept and value who we are right now, even as we continue to change and grow.

Will you join me? Choose one idea or practice to try this week. Remember, you’re allowed to be a work in progress!

I’d love to hear how it goes. What are your biggest obstacles to self-acceptance? What has helped you learn to appreciate who you are instead of beating yourself up for something you’re not? Let me know in the comments!

About Johanna Schram

Johanna Schram is learning to value wrestling with the questions over having all the answers. She’s sifting through the internal and external expectations of who she is supposed to be to discover who she really is, what she values, and what she has to give. Join her at joRuth and deepen your self-knowledge with her free guides.

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