Career : Overcoming Negative Thinking Through Self-Acceptance
The process of self-acceptance is dynamic. You will always be renewing your contract to accept yourself.
Joan Pastor has worked with both private and public organizations as a consultant, conference speaker and trainer. Her in-depth knowledge reflects over nineteen years of experience in implementation of quality improvement programs, building high performing teams, developing the "customer" orientation within and outside the organization, change management and conflict resolution skills.
There are choices in life that can be exercised when it comes to the company you keep, who your mate and friends are, the number of children you will raise, your job setting and the associations that you will join. However, your options narrow when it comes to yourself. There is only one you. The question is, will you accept who you are ?
Throughout our lives we all, at one time or another, are at odds with ourselves. When we experience this kind of disenchantment, we tend to disown the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. The woman who refuses to look in the mirror because she is aging, the man who doesn’t recognize the anger that brings him to abuse his wife and children, and the corporate executive who won’t address his fear of public speaking are all examples of people who haven’t, for various reasons, fully accepted themselves.
Disowned aspects of ourselves are generally not well hidden, although we may think they are. They show their ugly faces constantly – in job performance, in relationships, in our energy levels and in our general happiness. Until we accept the whole package, we cannot live well with ourselves.
In the words of Lucille Dawson, a licensed clinical social worker based in Encino, California, “People are like trees. When a person isn’t rooted, the winds of life can be devastating. But if one’s roots are deep, they supply nourishment and strength allowing the tree to grow proud and tall”.
The well-rooted person doesn’t obsess on the wrong doings of her life. She perseveres on the bumpy roads, learning valuable lessons along the way. She accepts her mistakes and her own imperfection and is able to live happily. The off-balance person, however, is enslaved by past mistakes, by an unhappy childhood and by his own imperfection. He can’t seem to get past his flawed record and so is typically unhappy and held back from being his best.
Recognizing that you are “only human”
Remember that comforting phrase that Grandma used to say when you messed up ? “You are only human.” What she was really saying was – “Give yourself a break !” This is always a terrific piece of advice. Inherent in the definition of “human” is weakness, emotion and struggle. Humans are not perfect – maintaining this perspective will help you to be self-compassionate as you focus on accepting yourself.
Accept your limitations with honesty
Your first assignment on the road to self-acceptance is examining your flaws under a microscope. It is necessary to identify your flaws, search for the reasons behind them, and then determine which ones are changeable. Take the example of my client “Sue” whose father died when she was two years old. Her mother consequently became promiscuous with men out of loneliness. Because my client’s mother “Ann” was quite a pretty woman, Sue came to associate beauty with indiscriminate sexual behavior. In order to avoid the pitfalls of being attractive, at puberty Sue began to overeat.
The goal of Sue’s self-acceptance process is to face her future without being daunted by her mother’s experiences. She is learning to accept herself as a unique individual separate from her mother. Losing weight gives her confidence in her ability to take control of her life. She now knows that being attractive doesn’t have to lead to promiscuity and unhappy relationships. Sue’s story illustrates that self-acceptance is, in part, about seeing your flaws for what they are and then overcoming them.
Self-honesty is highly important on the road to self-acceptance. I know a man in a corporate executive position who had repeatedly refused to speak in front of his peers. As a result, he wasn’t making the career advances that he deserved, given his other talents. In the past, he strongly denied his speaking fear, continually making the excuse that he didn’t have time to prepare speeches. When he realized that his career was suffering because he wasn’t accepting speaking opportunities, he decided to be honest with himself. Self-honesty allowed him to seek help and join a Toastmasters club, and presently he is on the right track to resolving a long-standing problem.
Sorrow often comes when facing limitations
It is common to experience some sorrow when you admit weaknesses to yourself, especially if they have been very well hidden. You may feel as though you have let yourself down. But hang in there. Your sadness will pass as you accept your limitations and as you begin to focus on developing your strengths. However, in the beginning, it is a good idea to give in a little bit to your sadness.
I have a client who used to be too involved with her self-pity. I devised a schedule wherein the first five minutes of our sessions were set aside for the airing of “Jill’s” self-pity. For five minutes, Jill whined about everything that affected her self-esteem. Afterwards, I instructed her to stand up and throw her “pity” into a ceramic jar that we called the “pity pot.” She then threw the imaginary contents of the jar out the window. After this, Jill wasn’t allowed to indulge her sorrow and we were then able to work on areas in her life that took her past her feelings of failure. Eventually Jill didn’t need the five minutes of pity time.
Work on your self-image
After you have ta ken inventory on the disowned aspects of your being, the next step is to restructure these qualities into actions that will allow you to feel good about yourself. In other words, turn your weaknesses into strengths. The executive who used his fears as motivation for enrolling in a speaking club is a great example of this process. In order to be self-accepting you need to be involved in enhancing your self-image. And the way to acquire a positive self-image is to do positive things.
Let’s get started
Make a list of 15 activities arranged in order from easiest to most difficult for you to accomplish; things that you are capable of doing but don't do, such as making a wonderful dinner for your family, reading a good book, volunteering your time for a worthy cause, paying someone a compliment, exercising and any other easy-to-do activities that you think about but never get around to doing. Set a goal of completing an item from the list each week. The idea is to become immersed in goal-oriented behaviors that will lead to success. The resulting good feelings will amaze you ! Be forewarned to set realistic goals so that this exercise will bring you feelings of success.
Confront your negative messages
Often our negative feelings and thoughts manifest as voices inside our heads. “I’m going to mess up” is a common inner voice. Lucille Dawson tells her therapy clients to focus on the voices in order to pursue what the original purpose might have been. Often, listening to our inner voices helps to uncover what is getting in the way of the things that are really important to us. You may find that the nagging voices in your head aren’t your own.
A carpenter friend of mine was constantly dissatisfied with his job. One of his voices constantly said to him “Why can’t you be a doctor like your father?” At close examination, he identified the critical voice as his mother’s. “Bob” came to realize that he was doing exactly what he wanted to in his life. He was very happy being a carpenter and had no regrets. The voice of his mother had him believing otherwise.
To rid yourself of critical, non-accepting voices, try jotting down some of the critical voices and messages that play in your head for one week. Every time you identify sentences that play in your head like a tape cassette, jot them down – jot down everything the voices say. Then, rewrite the original message as a supportive one. For example: If your critical voice reprimands you at work for not having completed a task, replace the message with words of praise for the efforts that you did make.
Numerous psychological and managerial studies tell us that performance is enhanced and stimulated by positive encouragement and supportive direction. Restructuring the negative messages to positive ones will affect your energy and attitude positively. You will also come to recognize when negative messages come through the airwaves and put a stop to them.
Keep in mind that negative messages are stubborn; it will take practice and effort to erase and replace them. In some cases, it’s not possible to rid yourself of negative voices entirely, but it is always possible to turn the volume down.
When you come to identify traits and messages in your head that aren’t working for you, you need to let them out of your life. And, although remnants of the bad stuff are left in your head, simply don’t give them airplay. Make a list of some positive thoughts and experiences that bring happiness to you. Fantasy is fine here but your list items shouldn’t be too far-fetched as to be unbelievable. Write down thoughts of playing tennis with Jimmy Conners, petting a puppy, licking an ice-cream cone, walking on a Hawaiian beach or anything else that brings a smile to your face. Whenever a negative thought enters your mind, say the word “stop!” If you’re alone, yell “STOP !” Then replace the negative thought with one of the positive thoughts from your list. With practice you will find that as new positive messages replace negative ones, positive actions will replace self-defeating behaviors.
The process of self-acceptance is dynamic. You will always be renewing your contract to accept yourself. But at times of renewal you will simply repeat the process of identifying your disowned parts and replacing parts that aren’t serving you well. The choice to accept yourself will bring you inner peace. Perfection is traded for balance and an integrated, happier you emerges.
View Joan's web site at www.jpa-international.com