Tag Archives: self-acceptance

The Makeup of Self-Image

My friend and I are getting ready to go out. I am without a mirror as I sweep a mascara wand through my lashes. My hand slips and I know that I probably have black smudges on my cheek and eyelid.

I get up, about to rush to a mirror so I can correct the damage. My friend stops me and dares me not to change anything. “For how long,” I ask, a note of panic in my voice. “Ten minutes,” she decides.

As I sit there, I am amazed at the feelings and judgements that surface. Words like silly, stupid, ugly, imperfect and weird flash menacingly into my mind. I haven’t even left the house or come into contact with anyone besides this one friend. And it’s only makeup. I’m like my very own classroom bully.

My friend watches me with interest as a range of emotions pass through me.  I look her right in the eye and sigh, “I’m going to need more than ten minutes.”

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Eat Pray Love?

I am hesitant about spending three days on my own in a mostly closed-down seaside village in March but I know I want to get away and I also know that I have to do it alone.

I have had a bit of a rough time of it in the last while and I need respite from the storm. As I drive from east to west Ireland, I head straight from a metaphorical storm into a real one.

I expect to feel lonely but I am quite content in my own company. Upon my arrival, I go out to the beach. I walk against high winds and watch the crashing waves. In the evening, I take my laptop to a hotel and peek out at the ocean as I sip on a glass of Guinness. That night, I nibble on chocolate as I watch a movie from beneath a mound of blankets. And I have the most wonderful sleep.

On the second day, I complete a college assignment and jog down a quiet country road. I make a “chillax” playlist, light incense and candles, and get drunk in the bath on a glass of red wine as I delightedly tuck into Elizabeth Gilbert’s endearing memoir Eat Pray Love.

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That night, the wind shakes the rafters and the rain pelts down. And it isn’t the kind of rain that appears on many a relaxation CD; it’s the kind that makes you worry for the house (and for yourself).

On the third day, the loneliness descends. I feel too depressed to make food or leave the house so I give myself permission to close the curtains, put on a movie and eat chocolate. The sun shines annoyingly from behind the blinds. I feel guilty.

Earlier in the day, I had finished Eat Pray Love. Elizabeth Gilbert had found pleasure, peace, God and love, and I am happy for her, but now I really am alone. Even the nice, fun self who got drunk with me in the bath has left and been replaced with a demanding, insatiable self who reprimands me with all the fervour and righteousness of a school-teaching nun. I haven’t signed up for this. I’m on holidays. I can do what I want.

Halfway through the movie, I decide that I’d actually quite like to spend some time in the company of the sun and the ocean so I drag myself out of bed and embark upon a cliff walk.

The wind whips me in several directions. The ocean is beautiful but frightening as its waves roar and rise higher and higher, its spray landing on my face. I wonder if it’s safe to walk so high up, to be so close to such fierce unpredictability. There is nobody around. Am I alone in my insanity?

At one point, the wind grows so strong that I have to hold on to a railing. Then, there is no more railing. I could turn back but I’ve come so far. I just have to get to the peak and turn the corner. I’m stubborn in my insanity too.

Suddenly, a stone hits me in the face. I march to the top and turn the corner. Only then do I raise my hand to my cheek. I quite enjoy the sting of it. Tears spring to my eyes. Am I a masochist? Do I think I deserve to be hurt? No. It is simply because I can understand physical pain. Physical pain allows me to lift a gentle hand to my cheek to check if I’m okay.

As I move onto safer terrain, I ask myself why I’d been scared. In case I died? With a jolt, I realise that it isn’t death I’m afraid of; it’s more suffering. If you’re so afraid of suffering, a voice from within asks, why do you keep creating more and more of it? Why not put an end to all the guilt, the shoulds and shouldn’t haves, the only ifs and whens? Why not stop the exhausting drive for perfection?

If I’m serious about ending the needless suffering, I need to peel off the “good” and “bad” labels I put on everything. I have to stop the judgements. I also have to stop being so dependent on outside events, on other people and their opinions, and on my own thoughts and feelings.

I’ve been so dependent on a variety of people, things and invisible forces that I’m like a small child perched on one end of a see-saw, always waiting to see who’ll sit on the other side, before I can know how high or low they’ll take me.

How I long to connect with that inner stillness I’ve been reading so much about. That pure, perfect, beautiful, unconditional love that’s apparently a part of me. If only I could know, really know, that the essence of who I am is like the clear blue sky, then I wouldn’t be so disturbed and even altered by the lightning and the storm clouds.

All I have to do is accept myself exactly as I am. And accept others for who they are. And accept situations and feelings just as they are too. All I have to do is accept graciously and love unconditionally. But how do I get there?

I guess the first step of all this acceptance stuff is to accept that I don’t have all the answers and that I’m just not there yet.

And so I start to run. The wind settles, the sun beams down from a clear blue sky, and, I shit you not, I run right underneath a rainbow.

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Being Negative For A Change

All day, I’ve had an anxious feeling in my chest. I haven’t been able to take deep, satisfying breaths. I had a busy day so I just pushed on through, hoping it would pass.

Tonight, I was about to watch television and simply ignore how I was feeling. I realised that I didn’t want to do that. I’m an advocate of sitting with your emotions and listening to what they have to tell you. So I sat. I slumped into the armchair, feeling down, frustrated, angry and fearful all at once.

Then, like the good writer and avid list-maker that I am, I reached for a notepad and pen. I decided, rather than run from the things that were annoying me, I’d write them all down. I don’t usually give so much energy to the negatives but, this time, I felt it would be therapeutic to have a look at what had been festering.

As synchronicity would have it, I came across this quote by Jill Bolte Taylor today: “Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.”

And so I moaned and doubted, raged and self-victimised all over two sides of an A4 sheet. I tore out the page and turned to a new one. Here, I wrote how all of my grievances were making me feel. Let’s just say that I don’t know if many other negative emotions even exist because I was feeling all of them.

Although I don’t believe in focussing on the negatives in life (and who’s to say what’s “negative” anyway?), it became clear to me that this was a really beneficial exercise.

I had been feeling this way for no apparent reason. However, when I asked myself what had been upsetting me, I was able to fill two entire pages with reasons.

I also realised that some of the things that were irritating me were things that don’t usually annoy me when I’m feeling good and energised. All of the small stuff was mounting up and creating a massive lump in my chest. It was robbing me of my peace. Or rather, I was allowing it to. But how was I to know what I was allowing when I hadn’t even given any of it my attention?

As I worked my way down the list of feelings that had arisen from all of my perceived problems, I recognised that there was one thing that would set me free. Acceptance.

I could accept the situation. I could accept other people as they are. I could accept what they had done and hadn’t done. I could accept that the past is the past (even if it only happened yesterday, it’s still old news). I could accept how I’m feeling right now. And most importantly, I could accept myself exactly as I am.

Acceptance melts resistance. Acceptance and struggle cannot coexist. Neither can acceptance and anger. Or acceptance and judgement.

When you accept something, you let go of the desire for things to be different. And with that, you become truly present. With that, you can breathe again…

freedom

Blossoming

It occurred to me this morning that so much of what we do is done out of fear rather than joy. We spend a lot of our time protecting, defending, hiding, banishing and preventing.

This is evident in so many of our actions. We try to prevent illness, protect our energy, delay ageing, cover up blemishes, shy away from challenges, defend our egos, and bolt from pain (both physical and emotional).

We stock up on multivitamins, sip on Echinacea, and get jabbed with flu vaccines. We visualise ourselves in protective bubbles, confess our sins, and make appointments with Shamanic healers. We join the gym, dye our hair, pay for our faces to be chemically peeled, and inject ourselves with Botox. We cover ourselves with makeup and fake tan, whiten our teeth, and shimmy into girdles.

We judge and criticise others so we don’t have to look at ourselves. We work longer and harder so we can be defined by our job titles. We yearn for prestige and approval so we can love and accept ourselves. And we’re terrified to slow down, to stop, in case someone takes it all away while we’re sleeping.

Fear prevents us from going on that flight or that date or initiating that career move. We don’t put ourselves out there so we can’t get hurt. We close our hearts because we think we’ll save them from breaking.

But how often do we do things for more positive reasons? For the sheer fun and enjoyment? We’ve forgotten how to live, really live, and experience all the world has to offer, which is a lot!

We could be singing in the rain, zip lining through a cloud forest, or swaying in a hammock on a Caribbean island. We could be melting into a full body massage, swimming with dolphins, or scuba diving with exotic coloured fish. We could be playing with our children, embracing our older and bolder selves, or writing our first fantasy novel.

And above all else, we could be opening our hearts to love, to possibility, to life. Because the heart can never really break, it just opens that bit wider to allow the light shine through.

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Just Breathe

I didn’t sleep much last night and, today, I mustered up the courage to bring up a difficult conversation with a loved one. My chest is heavy and I feel like I need more air. That or a good cry. A 12-hour uninterrupted snoozefest wouldn’t go astray either.

I have a Pilates class in 30 minutes. I crawl into bed and set the alarm. But I feel terrible and I can’t relax. Then it dawns on me. I have choices. I ask myself what I’d really like to do.

Yes, I’ve paid for this course and I may miss some new moves. But tonight, I’m allowing my own voice to rise above the roar of the shoulds and the musts and the expectations.

With my decision made, I snuggle deeper into my freshly made bed. I leave the curtains open and gaze out at a single shimmering star in the October sky. I listen to the sound of dogs barking at the ubiquitous pre-Hallowe’en bangers and I smile.

Soon, I shall ease myself into a steaming bubble bath, my favourite music on the stereo. And later, I’ll curl up behind the pages of an Ethan Hawke novel.

My body is grateful. I can breathe again.

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Demanding Perfection

Last night, I had a revelation. I still want to be perfect. I am still trying to control how I look, how I appear to others. I want everything I do to be perfect.

Because I want to be liked and respected. Because I want to feel good. And because, more to the point, I don’t want to feel bad.

Last night, I was experiencing that bad feeling. For the first time, instead of ignoring it by doing or eating or watching TV, I decided to sit with the feeling. I actually listened to myself.

Later, as I opened up to my aunt, I began to cry. “It’s exhausting trying to be so perfect all the time,” I sobbed. “But I don’t know how to change.” The thought of being anything less than perfect filled me with anxiety. I honestly didn’t know how to let go.

My aunt held my hand and assured me that simply being aware and wanting change was enough. It would just start to happen. I didn’t have to figure it all out right now.

As I climbed into bed, confused yet willing to finally surrender, I made a list. Part of me was still interested, curious to uncover something deeper. I wrote down five things I wanted or wanted to be. I then asked “Why?” and listed the reasons. I underlined all the key words and totted up the ones that came up most frequently.

Certain wishes kept repeating themselves, like: I want to be respected. I want people to want to be with me. I want to be admired. I want to feel good about myself. I want to be confident. I want to be loved.

I then asked myself if I could give myself any of those things right now, today. If I could love, respect and admire myself, I would feel good about myself and I would be confident. It would be easy and pleasurable to be with myself.

If I could give myself all of these things, I wouldn’t have to try so hard, work so hard, beat myself up so much, worry, stress or doubt myself. I could skip the difficult, exhausting steps that stood between me and what I really want.

What affirmation can I tell myself whenever I feel scared or disgusted with myself, when I push myself too hard or give out to myself for not doing enough?

I love you, Sharon.” Even though I felt ridiculous, I looked myself in the eyes and spoke through the tears: “I love you, Sharon.”

This morning, I pull out pen and paper and start to write. I huff with annoyance because it isn’t perfect. I get out of bed and appraise myself in the full-length mirror. I feel angry because my belly protrudes over too-short pyjama bottoms. Then it hits me.

Would I ever give out to another human being because their pyjamas had shrunk in the wash? No. I feel sorry for this lost little girl who’s grown up believing that she has to be perfect in order to be approved of and loved.

I remember an article I read recently by Brynn Andre. Brynn had freed herself from her food addiction and lost lots of weight. She finally felt good about herself. Until she started to focus on one of her teeth. Her “snaggletooth” was a tooth that was slightly crooked. She fussed over it, stopped smiling, and considered paying out lots of money to fix it.

One day, Brynn visits her poor, sick grandmother who is still so beautiful and dignified. Her grandmother smiles as Brynn enters the room. And then she sees it. Her beautiful grandmother has a snaggletooth too. And she is perfect. Brynn feels foolish. She asks herself if she would ever speak to her grandmother in such an awful, critical manner? The answer was definitely not.

What way are you speaking to yourself? Are your standards ridiculously high? Are you withholding self-love because of your expectations and demands for perfection? Would you ever speak to a child or grandparent that way? Give your inner child some unconditional love. And honour and respect your Higher Self. And the next time you feel angry or dissatisfied with yourself, repeat this mantra: “I love myself completely now.” You deserve your love and gentleness today.

For more articles on perfection, read the following:

Permission to be Imperfect by Dr Lissa Rankin

Perfection is a Disease by Sharon Vogiatzi