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How I’m Finding Peace After Discovering the Power of Self-Acceptance

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Five years ago, I was sitting in my New York City apartment with my roommate when she asked me to write a list of things I loved about myself. I guess in true Des fashion, I was being super self-deprecating, which is probably why she asked me to take on this task. So I did and did so seemingly confidently.

But when it came time to share with her all of the “self-love” I thought I had, something mind shifting happened that forever changed the way I looked at myself and changed the course of my life. I realize now my roommate had been so attuned with me because she was in tune with herself. I wasn’t even aware I wasn’t OK until I was reading the list out loud to her, which she somehow intuitively knew would help.

Something happened as I was reading it. I found myself pausing and saying, “Wait a minute, these things aren’t true. These are things I want to be true and who I wish I was — but they aren’t actually things I currently love about myself.” And it shook me to my core.

It was as if a switch in my brain went off. But at the time, I wasn’t aware of what happened. And now, I am well aware that what occurred back then was the first time I had experienced mindfulness. It was the first time I was able to look at myself from outside of myself and question a thought. That “things I loved about myself” list took me down the rabbit hole of self-discovery, spirituality and ultimately led me to the world of psychology/mental health. Most importantly, it led me to healing.

I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but I guess I always had this “ideal” version of myself I was always trying to become — this “perfect” person I’d be once I obtained the ideal weight, body image, job/career, partner, location, life — you fill in the blank. But it wasn’t until this moment that the “perfect” person I wanted to be and the false/faux self I had become as a result of my wounds and insecurities met each other by way of my observing mind.

Now I know this sounds abstract and may be confusing if you don’t struggle with being fragmented, compartmentalized or dissociated, but I am no longer ashamed to admit I am not yet a whole person. And thanks to many insights and therapy sessions, I am on my way to being more integrated and whole. Fast forward to two weeks ago when I was in disbelief that the lesson of “self-love” from my New York City days was rearing it’s beautifully ugly head again in my life. Only this time, it was in a therapy session.

After my session, I found myself utilizing the mindfulness tool I once had no clue was even a thing until a couple years later (from the first time it rattled me). I was on my way to work, processing what was discussed between my therapist and I, and found myself saying, “Maybe it is me.”

Now before you start thinking I’m going to blame myself for my shortcomings, this isn’t that. This turned out to be one of one of the biggest epiphanies I’ve ever had in my life, which I felt compelled to share with you because I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this issue — the issue of lacking self-acceptance.

I thought if I attended therapy, ate healthier, got outside, got my body moving, stopped drinking or smoking and practiced self-care, I was well on my way to being self-loving. However, I realized without self-acceptance, self-love is just a shallow goal.

Up until my recent published post on needing to cut off my family, I had been rejecting the parts of me I don’t like, that I deem bad, and I had become my own abuser as a result of the abuse I’ve endured (familial, relational and self-abuse). It conditioned me to believe I was inherently so. However, it was my therapist who pointed out to me I can’t just accept the good parts of me; I have to accept the bad too. And this was exactly what my roommate tried to get through to me half a decade ago.

As Pema Chodron has said, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” For me, this has proven to be true.

Until now, I felt like accepting the bad parts of me was impossible to do — especially with all the shame, guilt, unworthiness and lack of self- forgiveness I carry. That’s what’s been causing me all this angst. I don’t just do it to myself, I do it with other people, things, situations, you name it. If it’s not “good,” I reject it. This is something that’s so ingrained in me, it seemed as though I was unable to fix it.

If I, other people or life wasn’t meeting my impossibly high expectations, I wanted nothing to do with it and that’s why I was suffering. You know the clichés, “Expectations lead to disappointments” and “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional?” Well those became true too and my inability to tolerate anything bad was what was causing me immense grief, confusion, pain, etc. Now, I finally get what my grad school professor meant when she had told me I needed to “tolerate the distress.”

It all really comes down to acceptance, learning how to do that and what that means for you. I can’t begin to know where to start because my mom rejected the bad parts of me so completely, those parts of me were completely shunned away. But I want to integrate all parts of myself, even though the separation feels so complete sometimes I know I can’t become whole on my own. This isn’t me saying I need another person to complete me, this is me admitting that integrating all parts of me is a journey to be done with the help of a trained professional. A good place to start is learning how to fully accept the self in all its glory — the good and the bad. Just because you may not have had a healthy development growing up, doesn’t mean you can’t develop into a healthier human being now.

I think the reason I felt the need to cut my mother off before and couldn’t seem to let go of any of what she did or has done to me psychologically is because, up until now, feeling compassion for her felt like invalidating myself. That was what was keeping me angry at her (grieving). The amount of invalidation and dismissing my mom has done to me, unbeknownst to her, has been so profound it makes accepting her, myself and my upbringing seemingly impossible to accept.

The part of me that wants to forgive her is completely at odds with the part of me that resents her because she has taught me how to reject myself. But the observing part of me knows she too is suffering, traumatized, fragmented and did the best she could with what she knew. So if there’s to be any forgiveness, I’m learning it starts with accepting my mom in her entirety — the good and the bad. Because she already rejects the bad parts of herself too, so why solidify that further?

I know that taking accountability can make feelings of unworthiness worse when you have a narcissistic core wound, but it is necessary for acceptance. And worthiness comes with learning how to fully do this.

Everyone has different parts of themselves. This is “normal.” But what needs attention and care is when you are feeling fragmented, compartmentalized or dissociated. That may not be the healthiest way to show up in the world albeit adaptive. Terms such as narcissistic splitting, false self, observing self, mindfulness, true/authentic self, inner child, wounded child, id, ego and super-ego are all helpful in better understanding this confusing concept.

Take it from me though, it is possible to feel whole again. But it’s a process and it isn’t easy. When the acceptance does come however, I’ve noticed that for me, the agonizing mental health symptoms and painful stories I tell myself seem to go away and are replaced instead with peace.

Getty Images: Popmarleo

Originally published: November 15, 2019
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