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Sunday, August 24, 2014

How Can We Accept What We Don't Like About Ourselves?

revised August 21, 2021

The rest of us were amazed when we found out my niece could wiggle her ears.

“How do you do that?!”

“It’s easy,” she said.  “You just move your ear muscles.”

There was a lot of discussion about this, mostly variations on “We have ear muscles?!”

Then one of my cousins said, “You mean, like this?” and the two of them started flapping back and forth at each other across the table. 

Ear wiggling turns out to be a very useful skill for multi-generational family entertainment.

But not particularly useful in most other contexts.

My inflexible ears are a limitation I can easily accept.  My general lack of physical coordination, on the other hand, is something I find really frustrating.  

When I’m tired, I tend to bump into things like furniture and doorways. I’ve also spilled entire beverages on myself while lunching with friends.  (For the record, that only happened once, but it was pretty dramatic.)

Extreme Strolling is a challenging workout for me; I am never going to master the latest Kickboxing-Bellydance Fusion routine. 

That doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t exercise.  I just need to be careful in the types of exercise I choose to do: Step aerobics?  Sure.  High-speed choreography jumping on, off, or over the step?  Surely not.

By accepting this limitation, I still achieve my goal of staying reasonably healthy and fit.  If I denied it, I’d risk frustration and even injury.

But there are other parts of myself that are even harder to accept.  

I can be quite moody, and this means I’m not always the easiest person to live with. 

Learning to accept this has been quite challenging.  

But I want to be very clear.  I don’t mean that it’s acceptable to snap at my husband when I’m stressed.  

What I need to accept is the fact that I snap at my husband when I’m stressed… even though this goes against my image of myself as a “nice person” who would never do such a thing. 

 As Nikolaj and Didde Flor Rotne explain in Inner Peace and Contagious Happiness

Acceptance is a middle position between denial on the one hand and acting out on the other hand.  We accept the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that are there. We try to accept ourselves and other people as the people we are, but we don’t accept the inappropriate behavior of ourselves or others... We can practice setting limits in a way that doesn’t invalidate the person but just focuses on what actions are appropriate or inappropriate. 

If "acceptance" is a difficult word to work with, try substituting “acknowledgment.”  

We can acknowledge our imperfections, and we can acknowledge that a situation is challenging.  We don’t have to like it, but by recognizing it for what it is, we have a much better chance to come up with a solution.

It can make a big difference to say something to your spouse like “I’m exhausted and frustrated and trying not to take it out on you.  I need to be by myself for a few minutes.” 

In a work context, it might not to appropriate to say that.  But you could excuse yourself by saying you need to use the restroom.  After all, it’s true.  You need to rest. 

 Then, when you’re feeling calmer, you can figure out what’s going on:

  • Maybe you’re feeling irritable because you haven’t eaten anything all day. 

  • Maybe you don’t see eye-to-eye with one of your colleagues.

  • Maybe you’re overwhelmed by responsibilities at work and at home, and you’re not sure how to get help.

There are all kinds of reasons for feeling exhausted and frustrated, and they require very different responses. What doesn’t help is trying to deny there’s a problem.  

By accepting things as they are, and by accepting myself as I am, I can calmly take a step in the right direction… without tripping over my own feet.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash 

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)