"I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!"
Years ago the now Senator Al Franken played a character on Saturday Night Live named Stuart Smalley. The skits were a spoof on the self-help movement and 12 Step types of programs. If I recall correctly it would feature Stuart looking into a mirror and uttering the above phrase as an affirmation to his self-worth. So I call the following exercise The Stuart Smalley Experience.
But first, a few words on self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is being able to accept yourself despite and including your shortcomings. It is accepting your weaknesses as well as your strengths. In short, it is unconditional love for yourself. It is when your are able to put away those critical voices and just be OK with yourself in the moment.
It is difficult to make changes in yourself without self-acceptance. Without self-acceptance it becomes only too easy to think you are not worth the effort to do what is good and healthy for you. Self-acceptance does not preclude the pursuit of self-growth. Just because you accept yourself in the moment does not mean that you cannot take a true self-inventory and choose to improve yourself. This does present a bit of a paradox, i.e. accepting who you are at the moment does not contradict making changes in your life. But accepting yourself does put you in a position to support what is healthy and nuturing for your life. So if you accept yourself, then you will be more in a position to do those things you need to do to take better care of yourself.
Our attitudes toward self-acceptance have their roots in childhood. How our parents expressed acceptance or rejection of our childhood selves often gets carried into our adult selves. If you had parents who were overly critical or overly authoritarian then that message becomes instilled in who you become. Without conscious deliberation you can internalize those messages of rejection or criticality and carry them for the rest of your life. Likewise, parents who are too permissive or never critical can create an adult persona that is self-involved, insecure and without self-discipline. There needs to be a balance between acceptance and rejection of childhood behavior by parents - in other words - a balance between positive and negative messages regarding a child's behavior. Hopefuly the ratio of positive messages is a good deal more than negative messages, but it should be clear that children do need an idea of boundaries and there are limits and consequences to undesireable behaviors.
There is a difference between self-esteem and self-acceptance, though they inter-relate to each other. Self-esteem has to do with how we evaluate ourselves in terms of our own worth. Self-esteem can be positive, negative or somewhere inbetween. It can be overly inflated or overly negative. Self-esteem can derive from external gauges such as achievements or possessions. Our self-acceptance can be influenced by our sense of self-esteem, but self-acceptance has more to do with accepting who we are because we are.
Then there are the things that happen to us outside the home. Neighbors, teachers, relatives, friends and strangers all have a part in shaping who we become. That old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," is only too true. Sometimes bad things happen which affect us for the rest of our lives. Sometimes those things can seem inconsequential. I was once presenting a program on personal and professional boundaries to staff at a psychiatric hospital and had the participants do an art exercise. In a discussion after the exercise one of the woman participants suddenly began crying. She had produced an artwork that I considered quite sensitive and expressive. But it triggered a memory in her about a remark from an insensitive art teacher in middle school who told her that she had no talent for art. That poor woman had internalized and carried that callous message her whole life and in middle-age it got released in the moment. I mention this only to illustrate how even brief experiences can affect us for the rest of our lives.
(As an side I will just mention that making art involves skills just like any other aspect of life. We learn by doing, and artmaking is no different. The more you make art, the better artist you become. That is why artists go to school - to learn and develop the skills to become an artist. I believe everyone can make art of one sort or another if they choose to develop the skills.)
The Stuart Smalley Experience
This exercise might seem a bit goofy at first glance; but I think it is hard to deny the power of looking yourself in the eyes and affirming acceptance of yourself. Ideally you would do this first thing in the morning as you get ready to brush your teeth and again at night as you wash your face before going to sleep. It only takes a minute or so. It is a good start toward self-acceptance. If you are reading this then you have the power of the internet at your fingertips. Feel free to search for more tips that may work for you. As I said no two people are exactly alike, so something else might work better for you. However, this will get you going in the right direction.
To get started, go to a bathroom, or some other place where you can look at yourself in a mirror in private. Take a moment to gather yourself. Take three deep breaths. Breath in deeply through your nose and release the breath slowly through your mouth, while your mouth is in the shape of an "O". This will initiate a relaxation response. Then calmly look at your face in the mirror. Focus on your eyes. Yes, stare into your own eyes. With a feeling of openess, calmness and compassion say something like the following to yourself, "I accept who you are right now. " It is important to try to feel compassion for yourself. Continue to gaze into your own eyes and say, " I love you and starting right now I will do better to take care of myself. Today and everyday I make the commitment, when I eat, I eat to nourish my body and not to feed my emotions."
Try to do this every day. Try to feel that compassion for yourself grow over time.
Some links on self-acceptance (note: links do not indicate an association with or promotion of the authors, their websites or programs. I just found some information in the articles of value and hope you do too.)