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Episode 177: Accept Yourself

Despite New Year being a time associated with making changes, today I want to talk about what seems at first like the opposite of change.
Although it might still be a change, and might even be the best one you could ever make. Because there are surprising benefits that come from accepting yourself as you are, in making the decision to not changing and instead enjoying being you in the first place.

Now to many of you, that might actually be quite a big change. It could be that you've been unhappy with who you are for many years and accepting yourself without judgement, having any level appreciation for yourself, without any terms and conditions might be unusual for you.

Clients come to me often because their self esteem is low and they want to learn how to see the good in themselves, they want to feel like a good enough person. They've been trying to turn some new thoughts into new feelings, because they KNOW that they're a good enough person but they just don't feel it yet, so they spend some time looking at areas of themselves that they know ARE good, they try to focus on their strengths instead of the weaknesses.
The hope is that in reminding themselves that they are conscientious, thoughtful, kind and generous, it will raise their self esteem. But so often those traits comes out of their anxiety, their insecurity and low self esteem. They are thoughtful because they feel guilty just for being themselves, they're conscientious because they fear judgement from everyone.

I think there's more to raising self esteem than just focussing on all the things that you might think are good about yourself, because a contributor to low self esteem is often the inability to accept our limitations and weaknesses. Instead we should be embracing ALL aspects of ourselves not just the bits that we think are esteemable.

Accepting your limitations, accepting your problems doesn't get in the way of overcoming them, it actually facilitates it. It helps you to understand yourself better. With self compassion rather than self hate you can learn to put YOURSELF first rather than other people and begin to lift your self esteem as you start to see that you are just as important as anyone else is.

I think that self esteem can naturally rise when people stop being so hard on themselves. But if you have a lifetime of being your biggest hater it's not so easy. If your internal dialogue is overly critical and you need to create some sort of mantra to change your inner critic into an inner advocate then take small steps to change the language you use, not big steps.
One thing we know from a lot of research is that if you're self esteem is low and you try to improve it by swapping your hateful thoughts for pleasant ones, it could actually set you back quite a way.
Surprisingly, someone having a mantra that says "I love myself, I am a wonderful person" is going to seem so far away from how they really think that it's highly likely to make them feel worse. That's not to say that affirmations can't help, they just need to be structured appropriately. You can't go from "I'm a piece of crap" to "I am perfect" there are many many steps first.

If you find yourself saying "I'm a piece of crap" on a regular basis, firstly you need to recognise that thoughts are just thoughts, they aren't actually reality and start with an affirmation such as "It could be I'm better than I think I am" or "I have the potential to like myself."
I know it sounds like really small steps to work your way up to "I'm a good person" but patience is important when changing the way you think about yourself.

When you're starting this, it's worth recognising that your inner critic might not be the right source material for your beliefs about self, it might be quite biased against you.
Think of it like this. If you heard Donald Trump in a speech say that he's the greatest president that the USA has ever seen, you'd probably not believe him because you know that the source is biased.
If someone tells you that Mercedes are the best cars in the world you're going to think and feel differently about it depending on where the voice is coming from. If it’s a Mercedes sales executive you'd probably think of the source as a bit biased. If it's a friend who has had multiple cars over the years, you'd be more inclined to take their opinion on board because you'd know there's no agenda or bias. Well, maybe your internal dialogue is biased, maybe it's picked up an agenda over the years and is trying to hold you back.

Accept yourself, even if you think you're broken, so be it. Accept yourself as you are. Broken, wounded and stupid. And in that acceptance of yourself can be a freedom to move on from feeling that way.
When we accept something it begins to lose it's hold over us because it's over with, it can't be changed and we can let it go.
By letting go of the past you could pick up a better future. By letting go of self hate you can pick up self esteem and in doing that so many issues can begin to be turned around.

By accepting ourselves, we no longer need to look externally for validation. If we always look to other people to validate us to tell us if we're good enough or not we're probably not going to find what we need. We might find what we're unconsciously looking for instead, because we might be looking for rejection without realising it. Especially when we attract people who think the same as us, because we do. We are drawn to people who hold the same beliefs as us, and if our beliefs are that we are a piece of crap, then we're more likely to attract people who are going to talk to us in the same way.
As a result of that we could easily get into relationships with some very toxic characters if we're not careful. Conversely, if our self talk is more compassionate then it will eventually seem unfair that someone treats us badly and we can take steps to deal with that if we have to.
We'll know and feel that we deserve to be treated better. Which takes you ever closer to creating not just a better relationship with the people around you but, more importantly, a better relationship with yourself.