“If we cannot accept what is, where will we find the motivation to improve? If I deny and disown what is, how will I be inspired to grow?” – Nathanial Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
I’ve been monitoring my moods very closely since starting to take anti-anxiety medications. I fill out a mood chart daily… the result being that I’m hyper aware of my thought patterns, my emotional state, my sleep patterns, and what triggers me.
I check in with Dr. Zzzz about once every 6-8 weeks to report any side effects or progress. During my most recent visit, I report that I’m noticing that my most difficult emotional “charges” happen primarily with one aspect of my life: relationships. In other aspects of my life, the emotions that I have are manageable. I am confident in my ability to do my job, in my ability to accomplish my goals, and in my general ability to move around in the world. But when I have trouble in a relationship, my mind begins to spin and things can quickly spiral out of control. I tell Dr. Zzzz that when the emotional swirl begins to happen, I notice it, pay attention to it, sit with it, and write my experience down. I tell her that I know it stems from not feeling good enough. I then tell her, proudly, that when these moments of spiraling happen, I focus on doing activities that help me feel good or better (exercise, making and/or working on goals, de-cluttering).
Dr. Zzzz then asks me “If you were going to describe to a friend how to focus on loving themselves more, what would you say to them?” I responded that I would tell my friend to do things that increased confidence in themselves. She then asked “What about trying on the idea that you are lovable even if you don’t accomplish any goals or exercise or keep things cluttered?”
And that’s when it hit me… I’m moving in the right direction by working on “confidence boosting activities”, but I am missing the entire point of self acceptance in that I am OK… whole… and lovable all the time. I’ve been handling my emotions by conquering them… what would happen if I stopped fighting so hard and accepted their existence?
“An attitude of basic self-acceptance [...] can inspire an individual to face whatever he or she most needs to encounter within without collapsing into self-hatred, repudiating the value of his or her person, or relinquishing the will to live. It entails the declaration: I choose to value myself, to treat myself with respect, to stand up for my right to exist. This primary act of self-affirmation is the base on which self-esteem develops.”
“It is the voice of the life force. It is “selfishness,” in the noblest meaning of that word. If it goes silent, self-esteem is the first casualty.” – Nathanial Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
Dr. Zzzz recommended a book called Radical Acceptance, which I immediately ordered and am looking forward to working through. I know there are many exercises one can do to cultivate self-acceptance. One of my favorites (and most difficult for me to do) is the Mirror Exercise.
The Mirror Exercise – Nathanial Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
Stand in front of a full-length mirror and look at your face and body. Notice your feelings as you do so. Focus on YOU. Notice if this is difficult or makes you uncomfortable. It is good to do this exercise naked.
You will probably like some parts of what you see more than others. If you are like most people, you will find some parts difficult to look at for long because they agitate or displease you. In your eyes there may be a pain you do not want to confront. Perhaps you are too fat or too thin. Perhaps there is some aspect of your body you so dislike that you can hardly bear to keep looking at it. Perhaps you see signs of age and cannot bear to stay connected with the thoughts and emotions these signs evoke. So the impulse is to escape, to flee from awareness, to reject, deny , disown aspects of your self.
Still, as an experiment, I ask you to stay focused on your image in the mirror a few moments longer, and say to yourself, “Whatever my defects or imperfections, I accept myself unreservedly and completely.” Stay focused, breathe deeply, and say this over and over again for a minute or two without rushing the process. Allow yourself to experience fully the meaning of your words”
When clients commit to do this exercise for two minutes every morning and again every night for two weeks, they soon begin to experience the relationship between self-acceptance and self-esteem: a mind that honors sight honors itself. But more than that: How can self-esteem not suffer if we are in a rejecting relationship to our own physical being? Is it realistic to imagine we can love ourselves while despising what we see in the mirror?
They make another important discovery. Not only do they enter a more harmonious relationship with themselves, not only do they begin to grow in self-efficacy and self-respect, but if aspects of the self they do not like are within their power to change, they are more motivated to make the changes once they have accepted the facts as they are now.
We are not moved to change those things whose reality we deny.
And for those things we cannot change, when we accept them we grow stronger and more centered; when we curse and protest them, we disempower ourselves.
“It is our willingness to experience rather than to disown whatever may be the facts of our being at a particular moment – to think our thoughts, own our feelings, be present to the reality of our behavior.” – Nathanial Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
It’s exciting to work and see the progress within myself as I grow stronger, more empowered, and happier over time. I love the idea of rewriting our inner code… growing to dialogue with ourselves in an honest, caring way and approaching our days with joy and gratitude.
“We can run not only from our dark side but also from our bright side – from anything that threatens to make us stand out or stand alone, or that calls for the awakening of the hero within us, or that asks that we break through to a higher level of consciousness and reach a higher ground of integrity. The greatest crime we commit against ourselves is not that we may deny and disown our shortcomings but that we deny and disown our greatness – because it frightens us.” – Nathanial Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem