Have we all fallen for a lie when it comes to personal growth? We get taught from a very young age and society almost demands that we continuously strive to become the best version of ourselves. We need to be more productive, successful, resilient, beautiful, compassionate, healthier, fitter, wealthier… Companies – first and foremost through advertisement and the media – make us believe that there’s something inherently flawed or wrong within us and that they have just the right product or service to fix that for us. It is no surprise that most of us run our lives on the false assumption that true personal growth can only be achieved through obsessive self-improvement where we berate and criticise ourselves from one milestone to the next while we keep changing the goalpost whenever we hit a target. It’s a never ending cycle of being not quite good enough because there is always room for improvement. How often do we stop to re-evaluate what “succeeding at life” means to us and if we want to give self-improvement priority over simply enjoying being alive?
We have been hardwired to notice our flaws and deficiencies first and oftentimes torture ourselves with unrealistic expectations. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to become a better human being. It honours us that we want to grow and are willing to change, but neither growth nor change will make us more worthy of love or whole because what we are missing is that we already are – flaws, shortcomings, imperfections and all included.
This blog post explains why radical self-acceptance is the foundation for sustainable personal growth rather than an excuse for complacency. We will go into what self-acceptance actually means before we look at the paradox of why accepting yourself completely will actually promote change and is the most fertile basis for personal growth.
What is Radical Self-Acceptance?
It was therapist Dr. Marsha Linehan who first coined the term ‘radical acceptance’. She explains it as follows: “Radical acceptance rests on letting go of the illusion of control and a willingness to notice and accept things as they are right now, without judging.” Linehan, who used radical acceptance to help – among many thousand others – people with borderline personality disorder, also specified: “Acceptance can transform but if you accept in order to transform, it is not acceptance. It is like loving. Love seeks no reward but when given freely comes back a hundredfold. He who loses his life finds it. He who accepts, changes.”
Buddhist psychologist Dr. Tara Brach (“Radical Acceptance”), who found herself caught in a “trance of unworthiness” for years, and teacher Jeff Foster (“The Deepest Acceptance”), who struggled with severe depression for many years, have further explored the curious paradox of how accepting reality and what is and embracing it wholeheartedly leads to healing, transformation and change.
According to Brach, self-acceptance refers to a “willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.” Not only is it the first step towards, the cornerstone of true change but it is also as liberating as it is incredibly empowering to accept reality just as it is. Facing and accepting what is allows us to let go and move on rather than getting caught up in things or us not being what we had hoped/wished for/wanted. We are no longer judging where we are at as a person and in our lives nor are we avoiding the hard facts of reality. When we accept ourselves wholeheartedly we stop running away. Acceptance of what is in its totality gives us the clarity and detachment that we need to improve our situation. It also means accepting failures and setbacks as they are part of life and we are imperfect humans. When we are learning to walk we aim for walking, not for falling down – yet it is inevitably part of the process of learning how to walk. Failing is key to learning.
When we speak of self-acceptance we speak of cultivating a different relationship with ourselves. One in which we embrace ourselves with kindness, compassion, understanding, patience and, yes, acceptance. We become more present with and less critical of ourselves. We stop declaring war on our imperfections of body and mind and become calmer, more at peace with who we are.
How you are holding yourself back by not accepting who you are
We may be aware of the nagging fear somewhere inside of us that if we accept ourselves just as we are, imperfections and all, we admit defeat and become passive and complacent.
“If beating ourselves up worked, we would all be thin, rich, and happy, wouldn’t we?”– Cheryl Richardson
What we usually don’t consider is the damage we are doing to and how much we are holding ourselves back by judging ourselves harshly and being our own worst critic. Not only does it negatively affect our confidence and emotional resilience, it can also cause major stress, anxiety and anger. When we can’t accept ourselves as we are, we are constantly trying to repress or hide parts of ourselves; we censor and basically fight who we are – all of which is exhausting. A part of us craves forgiveness and another part needs to forgive but may find itself unable to. Self-acceptance can bridge that split inside of us and allow us to forgive ourselves our imperfections, the attributes and actions we judge as negative or undesirable, everything that makes us human and let go of that heavy weight of not yet being who we wanted/wished/hoped we’d be. Failing to do so will stall our progress, keep us stuck in the rut of beating ourselves up and only lead to more frustration. Judging and berating ourselves actually causes more emotional pain than we are experiencing in the first place and doesn’t necessarily lead to change. If it does, we might throw the towel again at the first setback.
Why Self-Acceptance is beneficial to sustainable Personal Growth?
We only have limited time and energy in this life. To use both wisely, accept who you are and where you are at which in turn allows you to decide and empowers you to put your effort where it truly matters to you. We know, it is so much easier said than done. We all have goals, dreams and visions of ourselves and the lives we want to lead. Again, accepting and embracing ourselves fully doesn’t mean to reject any of those. It will help us, though, to create a more compassionate, balanced and positive view of ourselves. Criticism, judging ourselves or self-loathing don’t necessarily inspire us to improve, change and grow. However, love, gratitude, compassion, generosity, respect and beauty can and will if we allow it. There is nothing wrong with being imperfect. We all are. Some simply hide it better than others. When you choose to and work towards accepting and loving yourself – let’s celebrate baby steps on this journey! – you are not only committing a radical act of defiance, you also stop defining yourself by your shortcomings and limitations.
Your Personal Growth Journey at New Life Portugal
If you are ready to embark on a journey of sustainable wellbeing and are looking for a supportive, nurturing environment to acquire new tools and learn about mindfulness practices or a looking for a place that simply allows you to slow down, breathe and will help you feel rejuvenated, New Life Portugal might be exactly what you’ve been looking for. We are a wellness retreat and mindfulness centre nestled in the stunning mountains of the Serra Da Estrela, Portugal. Our program offers three different paths – with focus on Resilience, Wellness, Rest & Rejuvenate – and a rare combination of meditation, yoga, counselling, coaching, fitness, nature, and mindful community life. Our team of experts will support and guide you every step of the way and can customise our program to your individual needs and goals – no matter if you struggle with anxiety, depression, stress, burnout, are coping with grief or simply wish to work on personal development and your mental or physical wellbeing. If you would like to enquire about a stay with us or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.