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Accepting Who You Are

by Vivienne Silver-Leigh(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 92 - September 2003

The fairies had endowed Janine at birth with super intelligence. She was also pretty and, to top it all, she was extremely pleasant to everyone. At 16, Janine was head of her form, head of her year, captain of several sports teams and regularly got top grades in all subjects. I was in awe of her, lacking all these attributes.

People like Janine seem to be lucky, although who knows what happened to her in later years. The point is that, at that time, I was comparing myself unfavourably to her in every way. I watched Janine collect prizes and, for me, she represented a painfully unattainable level of success, where everything she did was right. I wonder now if always being so perfect was stressful, and how this affected her later life.

Miranda, a client of mine, is a pretty woman, aged 42, who suffers from feelings of inferiority and jealousy of her friends. They seem to her to be prettier, luckier and wealthier. She is very unhappy and tends not to see herself as the attractive and intelligent person that she is. We talk about her life and it sounds as if she has many friends, a materially pleasant life and a loving family. But Miranda always compares herself to others unfavourably. It is hard to change the thought patterns that have been around for many years, that started in childhood.

Acceptance of ourselves as we are is more difficult if we have grown up in a family with high expectations. A girl may pick up that her parents consider another sibling to be the pretty one, while perhaps she is considered to be the clever one, and jealousy develops.

Sometimes parents set high standards, because that is the family norm, but their children may not have the same values. Philip took physics and maths at university, in order to please his father, a mathematician. He decided to switch to psychology, which he prefers, but he feels that he has somehow disappointed his parents. He has not turned out to be an academic, as they expected, because he realized that he wanted to work with people, not numbers.

Want to be rich and famous, and admire those who make it? I watched interviews with Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson, and all I could feel was enormous sadness that they had each suffered so much. It sounds exciting to become a pop idol at five years old, and to accumulate millions, but consider the pressure to keep on doing so. You need a firm grip on reality, as Donny Osmond seems to have, and preferably a loving family and a personal belief system to help you to handle the ups and downs of it all.

Everyone wants to feel valued and accepted. If you think you did not experience much of this when you were young, then you may feel stuck in low self-esteem, or that you're not good enough.

Loving ourselves and respecting our abilities takes conscious practice. There will always be someone who we think is cleverer, whose children are more successful, or who has a more exciting job. The question then arises – how can we become more content with who we are, and start giving ourselves some unconditional acceptance, while still making efforts to achieve our own vision of life?

You do have to start somewhere – by changing your own attitude to yourself. This is not a quick fix, but a slow drip drip process of remembering what you personally value about yourself each day. It may help to write a list of your good qualities and to remind yourself regularly that you do have them. I rather admire my ability to search out information on the internet. I no longer have to ask people, or go to libraries, and I can find out almost anything I want to know.

We give others appreciation for how they look or what they have done. Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, called this giving 'strokes'. Babies flourish when they are touched, smiled at and talked to. They feel appreciated, or 'stroked' by their carers. As adults, we all feel better when we get recognition of ourselves or our efforts. Hugs are 'strokes', but so are words. " I really enjoyed the class you taught today" helps the teacher feel worthwhile. I notice that the checkout girls in the supermarket look for eye contact with every customer, as they too need to be seen and accepted as human beings, not automatons. Smile at them, and they usually smile back, glad to feel valued.

We all need to collect 'strokes' – these pieces of recognition by others, which help us to appreciate ourselves. We gain them through our relationships, from friends and others in our lives, as well as from ourselves. I get 'strokes' every time I look at my small garden, because I put in most of the plants myself, and they are flourishing well. I imagine approval from my greenfingered grandfather and my mother, which makes me appreciate what I have achieved.

I have talked here about personal self appreciation, but not yet about spiritual self value. This is the deeper dimension which is so easy to forget about in living busy lives. Miranda, who I mentioned earlier, is not always jealous and needy. When she shuts her eyes, and breathes consciously, as I ask her to do in our sessions, she becomes aware that she has a deeper inner self. It is this awareness that starts the healing process going. From there, she can look at her jealousy and neediness, and see that it is not her entire self, only a part of her that looms too large in her life. She finally opens her eyes and smiles, the hurt part has begun to fade, and she feels stronger and more appreciative of herself.

We can develop this ability to deal with our pain. First we need to be aware that we feel inadequate, or that we want to be something different. As Eckhart Tolle describes so readably in the Power of Now, we need to stop what we are doing for a while, and listen to what is going on inside ourselves. Shutting your eyes and consciously watching your breath, allows a new perspective on you, your life and your relationships. Many spiritual traditions advocate meditation as a way to understand and accept your true nature or being. The breath is the link to our deeper appreciation of ourselves. You are not only a teacher, therapist, IT consultant, journalist, student or a PR officer. Beyond these temporary roles is the unchanging reality inside – of the spirit in your body.

Resources

Harris A and T. Staying OK. Pan Books Ltd. 1985.
Tolle E. The Power of Now – A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Hodder & Stoughton. 1999, 2001.
Whitton E. What is Transactional Analysis? Gale Publications. 1997.

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About Vivienne Silver-Leigh

Vivienne Silver-Leigh had a career first as a speech therapist, and then became a lecturer in English and counselling. She trained counsellors for five years, and now has a private practice, working as a psychotherapist, from a humanistic/integrative perspective. Following a strong interest in spirituality, she learned yoga and various forms of breathwork and meditation. She can be contacted on e-mail: VSilverl@aol.com

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