We all long for acceptance, to feel seen and heard and held in a space where we are accepted unconditionally by another person. Some of us are fortunate to have such people in our lives on a regular basis who offer us that. But whether we have such a person in our lives or not, we can also learn how to give ourselves this kind of acceptance and unconditional regard.
This can be a challenging task. We are human and we make mistakes and fall short of who we want to be — often. Typically it’s easier to see our shortcomings than our strengths. We experience emotions that we would rather not feel — some painful (e.g., sadness, grief, hurt), and some not so complimentary of who we would like to be (e.g., jealousy, rage).
How do we embrace our whole selves, how do we offer ourselves whole-hearted acceptance, in the context of this human conundrum?
I would like to offer a few suggestions.
- It can be helpful to see ourselves through another’s eyes, and think about what someone else loves and appreciates about us. Sometimes it is easier to first see this through another’s eyes, before being able to see it through our own, as often others can see things in us that we tend to dismiss or overlook. Think about a friend, family member, coworker, child, or even a pet and call up a feeling of care or appreciation that this other person feels for you. Allow yourself to take in and fully experience that feeling in your body as a felt sense. Linger there for at least 30 seconds or more so as to internalize this feeling.
- Accepting ourselves — the pleasant, pleasing parts and the unpleasant, difficult parts alike — does not mean that we have to approve of behaviors we are not proud of. Approval is different than acceptance. We might disapprove of a child’s behavior, and yet deeply love and accept this child, seeing the wholeness of who they are. We can take an honest look at our mistakes or poor choices and choose to work on making better ones, while at the same time recognizing that life is always a work in progress, not a finished result. This is part of our human condition. When we offer ourselves self-acceptance in the context of this self-honesty, rather than self-hatred or self-criticism, we create an inner environment in which it is easier to choose future behaviors that align with who we want to be.
- Practicing mindfulness is a very helpful way to learn how to hold a space for all parts of ourselves, for all emotions, thoughts and sensations that arise. When we learn to be present for ourselves in this way, we offer ourselves an unconditional attention where we can feel seen and heard by ourselves. One of the important ingredients in mindfulness is non-judgment. When we can watch whatever arises without pushing it away or needing to change it, we cultivate an experience of acceptance, and an ability to tolerate discomfort. I notice that when I am able to sit with uncomfortable emotions, I have a greater capacity to handle them, and am less likely to act out in unhelpful ways.
- Self-compassion and loving-kindness practices can be immensely helpful to learn how to grow acceptance. You might try out this variation: Putting your hand on your heart, say: “May I feel safe and whole. May I find ease and wisdom within difficult situations. May I experience inner peace.” Repeat this several times out loud. Now repeat this as you think of people in your life whom you are close to, and send these thoughts out to them, saying “May you feel safe and whole. May you find ease and wisdom within difficult situations. May you experience inner peace.” Finally, send these thoughts out to people in the wider world, again repeating these phrases out load several times.
Finally, I want to offer you a poem from my book Gifts of the Rain Puddle: Poems, Meditations and Reflections for the Mindful Soul (reprinted with permission from WellBridge Books). Poetry sometimes has the ability to evoke strong emotions or send powerful messages. I hope this one helps you to find that place of acceptance within.
Welcome to this space.
Come, have a seat
on this couch where humanity sits
that hold the weight
of a thousand heart breaks.
Come bring your sadness
of the loss you cannot bear,
the anger that consumes you
like a fire gone wild.
Come bring your anxiety —
the one that keeps you awake at night
and acts like a barricade
between you and your life that awaits.
You are welcome here —
the part that holds deep shame
hidden even from your eyes,
the part that was wounded as a young child,
the dark thoughts,
the parts disowned,
There is no part of you
not welcome in these walls —
No part not honored
in this room of human suffering
and great strength.
For you are not alone —
You never were.
Did they tell you that?
You were never alone,
In this quiet space,
this sanctuary of human emotion
to the self that awaits.