Like many others, through my teen years and my early twenties I struggled with figuring out who I was. I knew what I liked, I kind of knew the type of person I wanted to be. But I constantly questioned whether other people liked me. There were so many things wrong with me – I was a bit nerdy, a bit weird, too loud and at the same time too introverted, I cared too much about some things and not enough about others. I was hyper-conscious of being judged. Over time, I tried shaping myself around the people I thought I should be more like. It was like being on stage and I was acting a part – day in and day out. But the more I tried to change myself, the more I disliked who I was becoming.
Eventually, completely exhausted, I said ‘F**k It’. I couldn’t keep up the act any more so I stopped trying.
The thing about self-acceptance, is it is absolutely necessary for happiness. There is no external factor or material thing in the world that can make you happy if you can’t accept yourself. This means being at peace with your faults and flaws. Without self-acceptance, every time we make a mistake or slip up our ‘inner critic’ is quick with the harsh judgement. ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I’m so weak/useless/ugly/stupid’. With this kind of internal dialogue we become convinced that we will never achieve anything and that we are not worthy of happiness. Our inner critic is an arsehole who needs silencing.
Once I stopped trying to change, something pretty awesome happened. I started to accept myself. I realised that I am ok, just the way I am. Once I accepted myself, I actually started to like the person I was – flaws and all. I no longer cared about what others thought of me and I was happier. So I began to build on another self – self-esteem.
Self-acceptance brings another benefit. You begin to trust yourself, your judgement, and become more in tune with your mind and your body. This is important because it can completely change your attitude towards food and your body for the better. If you have spent a lot of time following weight loss diets, you are probably used to feeling hungry and restricting what you eat. You may have relied on a food plan to tell you what foods to eat and when. But, when you trust your body, you can tune into the natural signals it sends telling us what to eat, how frequently, and when to stop. Trusting these natural mechanisms can also bring about a new respect and appreciation for our bodies, and most of us could do with more of that.
Here are my top 4 tips for learning to accept yourself.
Learn From Yourself
Rather than beating yourself up for your ‘failings’ or mistakes, use them as an opportunity to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Whatever the experience, even the darker ones we’d prefer to forget, we gain something from them. Perhaps in more difficult times, we eventually gained strength or resilience. In day to day experiences we learn little things about how we interact with the world and what makes us tick. You can tell your kids over and over again not to go near the stove when you’re cooking, but they’ll only stop when they’ve burned their hand! Living from experience is learning through experience. Take those valuable lessons and grow with them.
We tend to be deal with negative feelings about ourselves in two ways. We either quickly shove them to the back of our mind, or we wallow in them spending too much time in the emotion. It’s a good idea to try to aim for something in the middle of these. When you start to have negative thoughts about yourself, pause and breathe. Pay attention to your breath, close your eyes if you’re not too self-conscious! Let the thoughts and emotions come and go naturally. They are only thoughts, and like all thoughts they will pass. Trying to push away them away will only cause more pain. It’s a thought, not a decree. You’re ok.
Let yourself off the hook
You know those niggling thoughts that keep you up at night, the memories and regrets that creep in during your quiet moments? It’s time to let go of them and get a good night’s sleep. We are very good at passing harsh judgement on ourselves. Traits we would easily forgive in others, in ourselves only perpetuate the thoughts that we are not good enough, not worthy of good things. We are human, and by our very nature fallible. Rather than berating yourself, let it go. Forgive yourself. There’s plenty more life to live and many more mistakes to be made. Far too many to dwell on.
Try to make a habit of reminding yourself every day of the things you have to be grateful for. Include things about yourself. Yeh yeh, it’s a cliche, I know. But actually it’s a really useful exercise for slowly shifting our way of thinking towards one that’s more positive. Interestingly, you will probably find that the things about yourself you are most grateful for, are those that are a result of learning from mistakes. Or, you know, being imperfect.