Why is it so hard to love oneself?
To take ourselves off the hook and gradually evolve to a state of unconditional self-acceptance, it’s crucial that we adopt an attitude of “self-pardon” for our transgressions (whether actual or perceived). In the end, we may even come to realize that there’s nothing to forgive. For regardless of what we may have concluded earlier, we were, in a sense,always innocent–doing the best we could, given (1) what was innate (or hard-wired) in us, (2) how compelling our needs (and feelings) were at the time, and (3) what, back then, we believed about ourselves.
That which, finally, determines most problematic behavior is linked to common psychological defenses. And it almost borders on the cruel for us to blame ourselves–or hold ourselves in contempt–for acting in ways that at the time we thought we had to in order to protect ourselves from anxiety, shame, or emotional distress generally.
As a kind of P.S. to the above, self-acceptance also involves our willingness to recognize and make peace with parts of the self that till now may have been denied, shunned, or repudiated. I’m referring here to our illicit or anti-social impulses–our shadow self, which may have spooked or sabotaged us in the past. Still, it represents an essential part of our nature and must be functionally integrated if we are to become whole. As long as we refuse to accept–or in some way accommodate–split-off segments of self, full and unconditional self-acceptance will remain forever out of reach.When we’re able to sympathetically understand the origin of these darker, recessive fragments in us, any self-evaluation rooted in them begins to feel not only uncharitable but unjust as well. The fact is that virtually everybody harbors forbidden (and quite possibly, outrageous) impulses and fantasies–whether they entail brutally injuring someone we find obnoxious, exercising unbridled power over others, or (indeed!) running naked in the streets. And when we’re able to recognize this, we’re also well on the way to accepting ourselves without conditions. Appreciating that, however bizarre or egregious, most of our “evilimaginings,” are probably little more than fantasized compensations for indignities, hurts, or deprivations we experienced in the past, we can now reconceive our “aberrations” as, well, rather normal.
Further, even as we come to accept our shadow side we can still maintain voluntary control over how these parts of us are expressed–that is, in ways that can ensure safety both to ourselves and others. For as long as we’ve been able to re-connect to our deepest, truest self, we’ll be coming from a place of love and caring. As such, it really isn’t in us to do anything that would violate our natural tendencies toward compassion and identification with all humanity. Owning and integrating our various facets is a transcendent experience. And when we–or really, our egos–no longer feel separate from others, any sinister motive to do them harm literally disappears.
Self-Acceptance vs. Self-Improvement
It should be apparent at this point that self-acceptance has nothing to do with self-improvement as such. For it really isn’t about “fixing” anything in ourselves.With self-acceptance we’re just–non-judgmentally–affirmingwho we are, with whatever strengths–and weaknesses–we possess in the moment.
The problem with any focus on self-improvement is that such an orientation inevitably makes self-acceptance conditional. After all, we can’t ever feel totally secure or good enough so long as our self-regard depends on constantly bettering ourselves. Self-acceptance is here-and-now oriented–not future oriented, as in: “I’ll be okay when . . .” or “As soon as I accomplish . . . I’ll be okay.” Self-acceptance is about alreadybeing okay, with no qualifications–period. It’s not that we ignore or deny our faults or frailties, just that we view them as irrelevant to our basic acceptability.
Finally, it’s we–and we alone–that set the standards for our self-acceptance. And once we decide to stop grading ourselves, or “keeping score with” ourselves, we can adopt an attitude of non-evaluative forgiveness. In fact, once we refrain from our lifelong habit of assessing, and reassessing, ourselves–striving rather to compassionatelyunderstand our past behaviors–we’ll find that there’s really nothing to forgive (remember, “Tout comprendre. . .” ). Certainly, we can vow to do better in the future, but we can nonetheless accept ourselves precisely as we are today, regardless of our shortcomings.
And here I can’t emphasize enough that it’s possible to accept and love ourselves and still be committed to a lifetime of personal growth. Accepting ourselves as we are today doesn’t mean we’ll be without themotivation to make changes or improvements that will make us more effective, or that will enrich our (and likely others’) lives. It’s simply that this self-acceptance is in no way tied to such alterations. We don’t have to actually do anything to secure our self-acceptance: we have only to change the way we look at ourselves. So changing our behaviors becomes solely a matter of personal preference–not a prerequisite for greater self-regard.
It’s really about coming from a radically different place. If self-acceptance is to be “earned,” a result of working hard on ourselves, then it’s conditional–always at risk. The ongoing “job” of accepting ourselves can never be completed. Even scoring an A+ in whatever endeavor we’re using to rate ourselves can offer us only temporary respite from our strivings. For the message we’re giving ourselves is that we’re only as worthwhile as our latest achievement. We can never finally “arrive” at a position of self-acceptance because we’ve inadvertently defined our quest for such acceptance as everlasting.
In holding ourselves to such perfectionistic standards, however, we may inadvertently be validating how our own conditionally-loving parents dealt with us. But we’re certainly not validating ourselves–or treating ourselves with the kindness and consideration our parents failed adequately to provide for us.
To conclude, only when we’re able to give ourselves unqualified approval–by developing greater self-compassion and focusing much more on our positives than negatives–can we at last forgive ourselves for our faults, as well as relinquish our need for others’ approval. No doubt we’ve made mistakes. But then, so has everybody else. And in any case our identity is hardly equal to our mistakes (for such a linkage would represent a bad case of “mistaken identity”!)Finally, there’s no reason we can’t decide right now to transform our fundamental sense of who we are. And we may need to remind ourselves that our various weaknesses are part of what makes us human. If all our faults and failings were suddenly to disappear, my pet theory is that we’d instantly turn into white light and disappear from the face of this planet. So in the pursuit of unconditional self-acceptance, we might even want to take a certain pride in our imperfections. After all, were we beyond criticism in the first place, we’d never have the opportunity to rise to this uniquely human challenge.
from Psychology Today