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self acceptance

Self-compassion gets tested daily

Testing one, two, testing….did you take the test, the self-compassion test yet?  There is a link to it in the last blog.  It’s true there is an actual test, 26 questions to determine if you are low, moderate or high in compassion for yourself.  The reason to know is that there are health implications.  Folks that score high are more optimistic and happier with less anxiety and depression.  And they make healthier lifestyle choices about food consumption and issues of weight loss.

This makes perfect sense to me although it may be contrary to popular pundit opinion.  Why? Self acceptance is the beginning of change.  Accepting the actual reality of our common humanity means letting go of perfectionism to appreciate the wonder of our common beauty as we are.  Sure, maybe you do need to lose some weight.  But you don’t have to beat yourself up about it to lose it.  In fact, beating yourself up may have just the opposite effect.  The belittling self talk only makes you feel bad about yourself and more likely to then use food as a medicative behavior for those bad feelings.

Dr. Kristin Neff, who came up with the test, makes the point clearly.  She said that the reason many folks aren’t scoring higher is cultural.  ”Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

I had a patient who was overweight who came in to see me and I noted that she looked great.  It was clear she had lost weight.  I asked her how and she said something that fits in this discussion.  She told me about standing naked in front of a mirror and looking for long periods at her image.  Her goal was to love and accept the person looking back at her in the mirror.  The better she got at doing that, the more she made healthier choices and the more weight she lost.

Here’s Dr. Neff, “if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

The NY Times article, 3/1/11, says a much shorter test can get at some of what we are talking about here relative to self-compassion.  It’s just one question.  Do you treat yourself as well as you treat folks you care about, your friends and family?  If you do, great.  If not, start.  You’re worth it.  And you’ll lead a healthier life while infecting friends and family by example.

Compassion for others and….

I always enjoy reading the Science Times section of the NY Times on Tuesdays.  In today’s WELL article, by Tara Parker-Pope, on the HEALTH page one finds this headline:  Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges.

So I recognize this as another synchronous event and pay attention.  The article makes the point that I have been making here.  That being, part of normal not being healthy is how hard we are on ourselves. We get acculturated to believe that hard work is the secret to success at the same time we learn something else. If you care about doing a good job, shouldn’t you be hard on yourself?  Of course!

And you hear it all the time.  ”Yep, I’m my own worst enemy.”

Remember, our best kept secret is that each of us has feelings of inadequacy that we don’t want other folks to know about.  That part of us I call the scared one.  He/she learns to be focused on meeting the needs of others while being neglectful of his/her own needs.  After all, to be that concerned with getting your own needs met is to be what?  SELFISH!  And how can you be selfish and still be seen as a good person.

So we busy ourselves trying to be good people, ones that are accepting, caring and compassionate of others.  At the same time we withhold those same warm emotions from ourselves.  Have compassion for others not for self.  In fact, there is a self-compassion test you can take and those that score low are busy “berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.”

Get this, it turns out “that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health.”  For readers of this blog, both of you, familiar? ….take it, I did.

Give yourself a break today

We have been talking about the scared one and how stressful it is to be constantly vigilant.  Being always on guard against looking bad or doing/saying something wrong isn’t just a psychological state.  It’s also physiological. Science has long shown us the connection between psyche and soma, mind and body.  The body is a slave to the brain and what we do between our ears drives activity at a distance in the body. For example, your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, different ones depending upon the acute or chronic nature of your stress.

Chronic stress causes them to produce corticosterioid hormones.  These steroid hormones are like predisone which is used to surpress that itchy inflammatory response when you get a bad case of poison ivy.  In other words, they surpress your immune response.  This means that you are more likely to get sick when you feel you have to always be on your toes.

You know the slogan, “you deserve a break today?”  Running around all day long living our McNormal lives, dressed for success while putting our best foot forward, don’t we deserve a break today?! I think we do.  I just don’t think it’s a Big Mac.

Maybe the break is to notice the scared one running your life.  Then punch out on the trying-to-impress-others clock and do something else with your time and attention.  After all, concern for how others are thinking of you may be misplaced.  In fact, they probably aren’t thinking of you. Their scared one is probably doing with you what you had been doing with them.  :O)



From Perfection to Acceptance


We are a paradox, both tiger and goat.  We have a ‘scared one’ inside us driven by the fear that at any moment we could be exposed as inadequate, our goat self.  Since our ‘scared one’ fears that at any given moment our secret may be revealed, he/she has to be constantly vigilant.  Therefore, “safety and security at all costs” is the motto for the ‘scared one.’

One way to stay safe is to do things well, or better yet, perfectly.  That demonstrates to the outside world how great we are.  In school some of us got all “A”s and as adults still seek that grade from others.  We seek the “A” for adequate, to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy.

Our perfectionistic tendencies are also affirmed and admired by others.  We can be proud, are even told that we should be proud, of our accomplishments.  The car, the house, the yard, the kids, the school, the clothes–everything we do becomes an opportunity to show the world how great we are.  How perfect we are!

But, what happens when we fall short of the mark?  What is your self talk like when you don’t meet your high expectations, when you fail?  When you screw-up, what do you say to yourself?

I asked this question once to a group of women at a conference.  Most of those present shouted out self-deprecating statements like:

“That was a dumb thing to do!”

“I can’t believe I did that!”

“What an idiot!”

And, one of my personal favorites:

“I should’ve known better.  What’s wrong with me?!”

But one woman said, “Oh.”

I said “Oh?”

“That’s right, Oh! O-H Only Human.”

I said, “That’s suspiciously healthy.  I should report you to the thought police.  Now stand in the corner and straighten yourself out!”

When I inquired as to whether she had always been so accepting of her humanness, she said,  “Oh, no.  I used to be a relentless perfectionist.  Then I had years of therapy which taught me to say O-H.”

Folks, save yourself some money!  Don’t use your failures or mistakes as an opportunity to reinforce your feelings of inadequacy.  Who benefits?  No one!  You certainly don’t.  Do others benefit when you belittle yourself?  No way!

So, give yourself a break today.  After all, don’t your highest values support you doing so?  I mean, is God waiting for the new improved you?  Or just as you are, flaws and all, are you loved and accepted by a mystery that exceeds your understanding?  If that is part of your belief system, use it to support your new learning.

Our culture is so caught up in self improvement.  When you go to the self help section of the book store you have to take a number and get in line.  And after you make some improvement, are you now perfect?  Nope.

So what is required?  More improvement.  Done.  Are you now perfect?  Nope.

And on it goes.  When do you get to perfect?  Never.

So when do you get to your good feelings?  Never!

What is much more useful from my perspective is self acceptance, not self improvement.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m very interested in learning, in getting better at everything I do.  My bias is that everyone is an underachiever.  No matter how well we do anything, we can get better.

But I don’t want to wait to feel better until I get better at what I do.

So, what about those feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that never go away?  How are you supposed to feel better when they are always present?  Very good questions.

The answer is connected back to the paradox of our humanness.  Think of it this way.  Acceptance of myself, with all my imperfections, creates a psychological space to create something new.

Why?  Self acceptance is the beginning of change.  For instance, having overcome my denial about some character flaw, accepting the actual reality of its existence, I can pay attention and deal with that flaw.

Energy follows attention.  I only have energy for that to which I attend.  Said with poor English, what I pay attention to, I have energy for.

Creation requires energy.  In order for me to create something new, energy is required.

But, what if I’m tapped out energetically?  If you’re bereft of the energy required, go to the source of energy.  Rumi has a poem with the lines…

“Move within, but not the way fear

makes you move.

Go to the well.

Move as the earth and moon move

circling what they love.

Whatever circles comes from the center.”

What is at the core, the center of your being?  Look past the mask you’ve been conditioned to wear to your essential self.  The real you made in the image of, what?  Some say a Devine Parent.  Coming back to your belief system, are you on your own, or can you get help?  What was it?  “Ask and you shall receive.”

You see, if we place our psychological development within a spiritual space in the psyche, we feel safe and secure.  And our developmental process will be infused with the energy required for change.

The ‘scared one’ doesn’t believe any of this because he/she feels unworthy of help.  But, our ‘sacred self’ understands the secret.  At the center, the ‘sacred one’ watches with an inward-turned eye.  Turning within, “but not the way fear makes you move,” the ‘sacred one’ opens to the loving embrace of the Mystery of God.

Rumi says and the ‘scared one’ agrees:

“I am so small.  I can barely be seen.

How can this Great Love be inside me?”

Then he answers from the mouth of his own ‘sacred one’:

“The eye is small

yet it holds enormous things.”

The paradox of the ‘scared one’ / ‘sacred one’ is only known by the latter.  My ego doesn’t know my soul.  But my essential self, my soul center understands the ego as a loving parent understands a child.  It’s energetic source is the Ecstatic Love of its Creative Parent.

The dual nature of our ‘isness’ requires two sets of parents.  One set provides 23 chromosomes each, to build a body and then the environment to nourish development.

The other set made the ‘sacred one’ and implanted this essential self into the body to live through it into Realization.  The Realization of its true nature, it’s true Tiger nature.  And although the ‘scared one’ and our egocentric concerns don’t permanently dissolve as long as we’re breathing, they don’t have to drive the engine of the psyche.

We can disengage from those small obsessions of the ego by changing what we attend to.  Energy follows attention.  Change what you pay attention to and you change the energetic equation.

It isn’t by adding to what you have inside, that gives you value.  It isn’t a matter of improvement.

It is by recognizing what is already present, as a Present, a Gift, from a Divine Source.  Reconnecting with this gift happens when we remember.  And remembering often happens when life forces us to change that to which we attend.

Newly awakened, we see the familiar with Tiger eyes. Those eyes that pierce the blackest night of the soul and see clearly that which supports us, feeds us, energizes us.

Rumi says,

“Ecstatic Love is the ocean

on which the Milky Way floats,

like a flake of foam on the sea.”

Tiger food is the abundant love that flows from that source whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is no where.

“Whatever circles

comes from the center.”