Things I've learned
It's all well and good pronouncing that self-acceptance and self-love are the answers to everything, but how can we break it down so that we can actually do it?
Moving from Theory to Practice
I can comfortably say that the application of self-love is the most useful skill I've learned to date. I think it's even more fundamental than other biggies like walking, talking, reading and writing. It's so fundamental because it affects just about everything else I experience. But I'm certainly no expert at it yet, so I can only give suggestions based on what I've learned and what's worked for me so far. My path to self-acceptance went like this:
Feeding the Inner Critic
There are a million ways that we convince ourselves that we're not good enough. The internal monologue is ongoing:
"I'm crap at this…"
"I'm always the same..."
"I could never be a… "
"I can't do this right…"
"I'm so sick of my…"
"I'm always doing this…"
"This is never going to happen for me..."
… whatever it is. And often it's not in words, it's in underlying feelings or assumptions about not being good enough. But this conviction isn't just harsh words and feelings. The inner critic isn't mean just for the fun of it. It's a self-protection mechanism, that we typically learned to apply when we were children, to prevent ourselves getting hurt in one way or another. A mistaken self-belief of not-good-enoughness, that seemed like a reasonable conclusion or solution before, and is not relevant now, but we keep applying it by default.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt. Or Compassion.
These self-beliefs are so old and so ingrained that most of the time we don't even know they're there. We're so used to them that we don't see anything wrong with them. Catching the inner critic at work can be a slippery business, so self-awareness training is key here.
I still can't get over how relentless the inner critic is. So relentless, in fact, that I've come to the conclusion that the only way to have any success with it is to treat it like a small child. It just doesn’t know any better. How would you treat a small child who is constantly criticising themselves and putting themselves down? You wouldn't agree or encourage them. You'd want to help them to learn to stop that damaging attitude, to go for whatever they want, you'd let them know that they're great just as they are, and that life's way too short to worry about it anyway. Etc, etc!
Calling a Truce
If people put as much effort into having chats like this with their inner critics as they put into exercise and trying to look good, we'd live in a completely different world.
The Inside-Outside Mirror
A relative recently asked me if all of this work on the self was too self-absorbed, maybe at the cost of external interactions with people, and if it could lead to too much introversion. It's a good question. But I have found that the opposite is true. If we can improve our relationship with ourselves, the external relationships just magically improve as a result. The outside mirrors the inside.
This is why I recommend starting or at least moving towards some form of regular self-study. The 6-month course I'm starting next week is a great way to get going. Have a think about it.
A Little Exercise For You
Over the next week, see if you can catch your inner critic at work, and if you do, have a little chat with it. If you feel silly or kind of uncomfortable while you're self-soothing, then you're most likely doing it right! At first it feels a bit strange. And there's no need to fake it 'til you make it with your self-chat, because that probably won't work.
Experiment 'til you make it.
Be yourself 'til you make it.
Find out what works.
There's plenty of work to do.
Make life easier.
Feed your inner critic with new and better food.
Have little chats with yourself.
Good luck and Godspeed.