Mary thinks she’d be happy if she could just change her weight, her looks and her job. Sean believes that he’s an okay person except for certain personality traits, such as anxiety, impatience and his quick temper. Yolanda’s shelves are bulging with self-improvement books; she’s read them all, and she still hates herself.
Who among us doesn’t believe that with a little tweaking, we could be just right—self-realized, self-actualized and self-helped to “just” short of perfection? But, the problem for many is that all the books, self-improvement tips and positive affirmations don’t seem to make us any happier. Worst of all, the minute we “fix” one ugly piece of ourselves, another nasty monster rears its head and starts screaming for attention.
When does self-help become self-hell? What would happen if we started realizing how wonderful we are already?
As the pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers once wrote, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
“Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,” writes Tara Brach, in her book, Radical Acceptance. “The more we anxiously tell ourselves stories about how we might fail or what is wrong with us or with others, the more we deepen the grooves—the neural pathways—that generate feelings of deficiency.” She lists common ways people try to manage this pain of inadequacy:
Accepting yourself does not mean self-indulgence or being passive. Rather it means turning off the shameful, negative, self-loathing tapes within you and just relax.
The blaring voices of our culture certainly don’t help, with promises that buying something, owning something, achieving something will make us better people, that success is measured by looks, wealth or possessions. A healthier life finds deeper meaning and greater satisfaction in self-love, compassion, intuition, taking responsibility and forgiveness (particularly of oneself).
Sometimes it is our so-called faults that can actually lead us to a healthier life. Pioneering psychologist Carl Jung called it our “shadow side,” that part in all of us we are ashamed of and that we often reject. Understanding and accepting that shadow side can lead to enormous freedom and self-acceptance.
Science and research has revealed much about what we can and cannot change about ourselves, according to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author and Director of Clinical Training in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Some of what does change is under your control, and some is not,” he writes in his book, What You Can Change and What You Can’t: The Complete Guide to Self-Improvement.
Seligman lists some characteristics that are easier to change, such as everyday anxiety, specific phobias, panic, anger and certain beliefs about life. He advises people to discard the notion of changing that which hurts the most (for example, your extra weight) and instead concentrating on those parts of yourself that will respond most successfully to your efforts to change them (for example, your shyness or impatience with your spouse).
In the end, all the energy we put out to change ourselves may just take us back to where we started—to ourselves. And if we can truly accept ourselves as we are, that’s the best place to be.
Five Ways to Love Yourself
1. Stop criticizing yourself. When you criticize yourself, your changes are negative. When you approve of yourself, your changes are positive.
2. Be gentle with yourself. Praise yourself and support yourself. Have compassion for yourself.
3. Love your negatives. Acknowledge that they fulfilled a need and now you don’t need them anymore.
4. Take care of yourself. Take care of your body in ways that please you.
5. Do it now. Don’t wait until you get well, or get sick, or lose the weight or get the new job or the new relationship. Begin now. And do the best you can.
—from Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
Yellow Brick Road Coaching, LLC used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
What could be riskier than diving out of an airplane or climbing a glacier-covered peak or accelerating a race car into a curve at the Indy 500?
For one person it might be quitting a secure, well-paying job to go back to school. For another, it could be deciding to leave a marriage after 20 years or reporting that the company they work for is endangering the environment or people’s lives.
Though it may not appear so at first glance, psychological risks that summon us to put our personal values and beliefs on the line may ultimately feel more dangerous than those of physical derring-do. Yet, these are the challenges we are asked to face time and again if we are to continue to grow as individuals. Each time we take a risk that contributes to our personal growth or enhances our self-esteem or enriches our lives, we make the choice to stretch ourselves, knowing there are no guarantees and chancing possible failure.
Growth-producing risks generally fall into three categories.
These are the risks you take when you want to get ahead, learn something new or make a distant dream a reality. You take on the venture with hopes of enriching your life. Maybe you want to change careers, or take singing lessons, or learn to speak French. On one side of the risk is the person you are and, on the other, the person you want to become.
All commitment risks have emotional stakes whether you pledge yourself to a person or a relationship or to a cause, a career, or a value. According to Joseph Ilardo, author of Risk-Taking for Personal Growth, if you avoid making emotional commitments, you all but guarantee that your emotional growth will be stunted.
Communication risks fall into the category of self-disclosure. Anytime you tell someone how you really feel you’re taking the chance of self-disclosure. When you open up to others and reveal who you really are, how you feel and what you want and need, you make yourself vulnerable. It is impossible to be assertive without doing so.
All risks carry with them the possibility of failure. Often significant sacrifices must be made before any real benefits are realized. Routines may have to change; the familiar may have to be released. You may be rejected or humiliated. In the case of commitment to a value, personal safety may be in danger. Consider those who stand up for what they believe in or put their own health and well-being on the line in the name of a cause. Challenging yourself is often the key to personal growth and development.
Are you a risk-taker? Ask yourself the following questions:
Consider this: to fulfill your potential, to discover your real self and live an authentic life, you must take risks. And while security may appear to be the absence of change, the only genuine security lies in taking risks.
Authentic. It’s a word we hear a lot – yet, it’s a concept that many of us struggle to exemplify.
To state it plainly: authenticity means being true to yourself. And, sometimes that’s easier said than done.
We’ve all had moments of inauthenticity. Maybe you had to compromise a personal belief in order to keep your job because it’s easier to nod our heads in agreement, so we feel as though we fit in.
Being authentic means being vulnerable. It means loving yourself, regardless of whether someone likes what you’re wearing or what you have to say…or you. Being authentic means believing you are worthy of love, kindness, and acceptance, just as you are.
Like a magnet, authenticity attracts. Authentic people have a way of making others feel relaxed, happy and safe. Here are five tools to help you be your most authentic self, even under the most stressful circumstances:
Remember, at the heart of authenticity, is the courage to be you.
How are you being authentic with yourself?
Terri O'Donnell is a certified Life Coach. She is an honest, straight shooter who is dedicated to using her training and experience to help people live the life they desire.