How to Practice Self-Acceptance
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means: Cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; Exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough. - Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
For many years of my life, shame has been an unwelcome house guest. You know, the kind that lingers too long when dinner is over, or the kind of guest that does not clean up after themselves, or the kind that overstays their welcome, or the kind that takes advantage of your hospitality. Yeh, shame is like that.
I haven't always shown much compassion to myself, or grace for that matter. I can accept the kindness and grace of God, but giving it to myself has been, well, a challenge.
Recently I began working through Dan Allender's To Be Told Workbook, and I realized that shame has been present since I was young. In fact, some of my earlier memories are associated with something I did that I should not have, someone making fun of me, or getting in trouble for something. In Kindergarten I cut my hair in class, and I lied to my teacher when she asked if I did it. She knew I lied and taped my hair to a piece of paper, made me walk to my mom's class (a first grade teacher there) who then walked me to the principal's office. Talk about embarrassing. That same year one of the memories that stands out the most is when I was made to wear this big, colorful tail clipped to the back of my pants all day because I was being a "tattle tail." I felt awful all day, like everyone was staring at me. And one of my only memories from sixth grade was when a girl kept calling me "Rocky Mountain Forehead" (because acne, hello) in front of everyone who was cool. I felt really ugly.
These are only a few. The stories kept flooding in. The more I worked through the workbook, the more I saw how these kind of thoughts have taken up residence in my head for most of life:
I am ugly.
I am bad.
No one likes me.
I am not worthy of someone's love.
I am not good enough.
No one cares about me.
I really believe that my high school and early college plethora of unhealthy relationships with males who showed me attention was rooted in these thoughts. If they made me feel wanted or beautiful, I was in, even if I was completely unattracted to them. If they made me feel loved, I was in, even if I did not love them in return. If they spent time with me and on me, I was in, even if I did not think to reciprocate. I just wanted to be seen, to be known, to be loved. Don't we all?
God has done some major healing in my life over the last few years, but I still have a ways to go. I am learning to be myself, even if I fear what others will think sometimes. I am learning to accept myself, and I have learned that it is OK if I am not everyone's cup of tea. Though it is often hard for me to walk into a room, I am still stepping through the door. I can rest in the knowledge that I am loved. But I have had to implement some practices on a daily basis in order to believe these new things. I want to teach you some of what I have learned here so that shame can finally leave for you, and so grace can flood in.
As we discuss the term acceptance, I will remind you of where we are in this blog series. I believe that living a life of authenticity, knowing and being known by self, God, and others, has five major pieces: awareness, acceptance, acknowledgment, admittance, and admiration. The introduction to the series was an overview of all five, and you can read it here. The last blog was on awareness, and you can read it here.
Today we are talking about acceptance, what this means for us, and how to implement it.
Many who teach the practice of mindfulness will tell you to take a non-judgmental stance toward your thoughts, your feelings, your experiences, and etc. What I want to teach you is a more radical position. It is the cultivation of a deep-rooted belief that you are seen, you are loved, you are known, and you are valued. It is not simply a self-tolerance, the kind of attitude that says "I am who I am, and I guess I will have to live with it." And it is not an acceptance that turns a blind eye to one's faults and areas of weakness and sin. I asked my friends about the importance of acceptance in their lives, and it would be worth your time to see how they responded.
We can practice self-acceptance in three main ways:
Self-examination: Ruth Haley Barton teaches what this looks like in chapter 6 of her book, Sacred Rhythms, through the lens of Psalm 139.
Awaken to the presence of God. She says,"self-examination is a practice that facilitates spiritual awakening- an awakening to the presence of God as God really is and an awakening to ourselves as we really are." If you take a close look at your life, you will be able to see where God was present in your life. You will see a trail of trust He has left behind, but you can even practice this on a daily basis by reflecting on the day and how you noticed Him being present in little ways throughout your day. At an even more personal level, it is a realization that God already knows you. He already knows your thoughts, your sin, your feelings, the core of who you are. It is crucial to know this, and know that even though he sees it all, he still loves you. Knowing you are unconditionally and forever loved by God is foundational in acceptance of self. (see Psalm 139:1-4, 7, 12)
Awaken to the gift of your created self. To this she says, "self-examination includes receiving and celebrating the goodness of who we are as created beings. A balanced approach to spiritual transformation involves joyful acceptance of who we are as one of God's greatest gifts to ourselves and to others." Again, it is not simply tolerance. It is a celebration of who God made you to be. This is incredibly difficult sometimes, but vital, nonetheless. Can we choose to be ourselves and let God use that? Personality, gifts, history, appearance, strengths and all. (see vs. 13-18)
Awaken to the darkness within. We cannot neglect our areas of weakness, struggle, and sin. That would not be acceptance, though some may say these things: "I am who I am, so deal with it." Or "This is my sin, and I am forgiven and loved [but I will still choose to sin]." They portray this as self-acceptance, but really it is a form of denial. Allowing ourselves to know the depths of self and inviting God and safe others into that space requires us to see that we have struggle, too. Ruth Haley Barton says it this way: "When we have come to a place of certainty in the steadfastness of God's love and are anchored by a sense of the basic goodness of our created self, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain in inviting God to search us and know us to our very depths. Even the darkness is not dark to you." (see Psalm 19-24) A major piece of this is being willing to confess before God, another if you have wronged them, and the body of Christ when appropriate. Acceptance does not mean continuing to do unhealthy or wrong things, either. It is a simple realization that we are not all good, that we need a savior to make us good.
Compassion: This is simply choosing to show yourself the kind of compassion that God shows you. You are not perfect. You have, are, and will make mistakes. Yes, confession is vital, but approach yourself with compassion. This is an active stance against shame. Shame says, "I screwed up. I am not worthy of love." Compassion says, "I screwed up, but I know I am loved by God." Shame says, "My personality is not what others are drawn to. I must not be good enough." Compassion says, "My personality is unique. I am not everyone's cup of tea, but I was made on purpose, and God can use me." Shame says, "I should not be angry. I have too much to be thankful for. Anger is bad, therefore, I am bad." Compassion says, "It's OK that I feel angry. It does not mean that I am bad."
"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love." -Psalm 103:8
Grace: You know, it even goes beyond a compassion for yourself. It is choosing to give yourself grace. It is choosing to accept the grace and mercy of Jesus, and it choosing to give the same to yourself. It could be that you need to forgive yourself for something you continue to hold against yourself. Here is a resource to help you with this. It could be that you need to remember that you are not perfect, that you will have days when your emotions get the best of you, when your thoughts run out of control, when you give into temptation. There will be days your strengths shine, and there will days your weaknesses choke out that light. There will be days you can accomplish your goals, and there will be days you can barely get out of bed. There will be days when you are sweet to your kids, and there will be days you will be short. We can choose grace.
When we can look at ourselves with grace and compassion and choose to forgive ourselves as our God has forgiven us, we are able to walk into a room without shame. We are able to live authentically, to allow ourselves to be fully known by others. We are able to live in freedom and truth and healing. We take off the masks and know that we are loved. We are seen. We are known.
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. " Colossians 3: 12-14
If you are struggling to forgive yourself, check out this guide of the path to self-forgiveness. I trust that it will be helpful and healing.
When I see myself,
I don't see what you see.
I see my feelings and think they should not be there.
I see my thoughts and think I must be crazy.
I see my personality and think it is not enough.
I see my weaknesses and think I am not worthy of love.
I don't see what you see.
Will you help me see what you see?
A child of God.
Fearfully and wonderfully made.
Will you help me remember that I am
Known by You.
And lead me in the way everlasting.
In Jesus' Name,
Here are the books I referenced earlier!
Sacred Rhythms: A faith-based resource that will help you practically implement what we learn here. It is a necessary companion. Ruth Haley Barton's words will move you and challenge you and hit you in the most deep and beautiful ways.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Though spirituality is discussed throughout Brene Brown's works, it is not considered a faith-based resource. However, it is one of the best books on the topic of acceptance.
To Be Told: Recommended to walk through with a counselor, spiritual advisor, mentor, or close friend. This is a tough one to work through, but essential in our growth and healing.
I highly recommend these reads, and I wanted to make them easy for you to order. Just click on the book image, and it will take you to where you need to go.
**As an Amazon Affiliate, I do receive a small portion of the sale.**