I spent the week listening to some of the leaders in the field of human potential, I’ve spent a lot of my life rooting around looking for myself…and my potential. Anne Lamott was the highlight for me. I’ve always identified with her, maybe because she’s honest, willing to write and speak without her make-up on or her “best self” flag hanging out there. As I get older, I want to be just like Anne though she’d say, “No, you don’t. You just want to be just like YOU.”
The summit wrapped its content around “Self-Acceptance”. Sound a bit woo-woo to you? Maybe you’re thinking that we’re all a bit too self-focused already? If you’re grousing about the “young folks today”, most assuredly you are thinking, “My God, we ought to be teaching them to accept responsibility, show up for work wearing some decent clothes and looking up from those damn phones long enough to cross the street or drive a car!” So, I get the skepticism. I gotta admit, I wasn’t expecting much more than fluff…except for Anne Lamott!
I tuned in to watch about 12 presenters of the over 30 that participated. Scientists talked about neuroscience and self-esteem. Coaches, speakers, writers, addiction specialists, spiritual directors, many of whom you’d know took self-acceptance to a new level…a personal one. It certainly got personal for me.
You see, it seems that unless we really do like ourselves, it’s hard to like anyone else. And, there is no greater challenge to human beings than just that…liking ourselves. Question is, however, how can we be expected or know how to like ourselves when we’re born into such negative, untruths about who we are? Taught to be an imposter, hiding parts of our sweet selves that we have disowned because we are so ashamed of them. Things like my father and grandfather’s suicides, a mother who struggled her whole life with crippling depression, knowing what it felt like to have the repo guys come while I was in school, coming home to an empty house , and being delivered a Thanksgiving turkey and a “food bag” from the church so that we could have a holiday meal. I could, as I am betting you could as well, go on and on about the things in our lives we’ve done, been told, experienced or had done to us that cause us to carry shame. Much of my life and energy has been consumed by making sure nobody knew my secrets. I thought if they did, they couldn’t possibly love me.
So, how do we learn to accept ourselves? We get feisty. Ferocious about reclaiming that beautiful little person that came into this world exactly the way he/she was supposed to. Not perfect for very long, but making mistakes in order to learn how to live. Problem was, somebody didn’t get the memo…our parents and our society. Seems religion told us we were already born sinners. How can you feel good about that? Then, there was that thing about mistakes. Spilled milk wasn’t a normal thing children did. Yelling, or saying things like, “You’re so clumsy!” made their mark and went into our internal storage units.
We now need to learn how to treat ourselves as well as we treat our children, grandchildren, friends and others in our lives that we know are wonderfully imperfect. It’s our greatest challenge, and the most important thing in our life. For only when we can accept ourselves as flawed, imperfect, mistake-making, desperate-for-love human beings will be begin to protect ourselves from our own inner critic and be willing to share some of those “shameful secrets” with others who have similar stories. Then and only then can we know that though our stories may be different, we all have them. There’s such comfort knowing that because we no longer feel that deep fear of being and feeling alone. A dark place becomes illuminated when we share our stories with fierce honesty. First, with ourselves,then with others who are safe and who we know really won’t abandon us. The irony of being honest and vulnerable is that shared experiences, especially those that make us feel ashamed and alone, are the very things that bring us closer together. If you don’t believe that, look at all those amazing human beings on the ground around the world, and right here at home, being there for those who are suffering.
Don’t wait for an illness, earthquake, or life’s most challenging times to tell your stories. Ask for help if you need it any day of the week, or in the middle of the night. Be there when others give you the gift of their precious stories…especially the ones they’d rather not share. It’s an honor to to listen. Others who love you will be honored when you’re ready to share yours too.
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Are you tired of being alone, but think nobody would love you if they knew “this” about you? Don’t let this myth stand in the way of finding someone with whom to share this amazing chapter of your life!
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Donna Bailey, MS
Coach, Writer, Speaker and Expert in Dating and Relationships for “Grown-ups”
Donna’s Big RED Chair