Moments of genuine self-awareness rarely emerge spontaneously from the void. It is only through our interactions with others that we can ever see ourselves, however obscurely.
This is one reason why therapy is so effective. Over time, the opportunity for change is created as a therapist helps her client become aware of a dysfunctional habit or pattern of thought that may not otherwise be self-evident. This awareness is important because awareness precedes change.
However, there is a crucial, if subtle, half step that must occur for a person to move from just being aware of her annoying habit of say, apologizing every time someone else bumps into her, to her cessation of said useless habit. First she must accept that she does it.
Acceptance is the key to real change.
My partner/therapist/best friend might all agree that I have the tendency to assume people who are laughing as I enter a room are laughing at me. They might all point this habit out in different ways and at different times. I might even be inclined to agree, certainly after the second or third member of this trusted council shares this insight that, yes, I have been known to make this assumption. But until I spend the effort to truly bring this habit into my awareness – actually catch myself time and time again in the act of feeling humiliated or angry that people are laughing at me – and deeply accept that this is the truth, I will be unable to touch this habit or make any change.
This is why most resolutions to change don’t work. Remember whatever you decided to change about yourself back in January? How’s that going? If you haven’t been able to successfully pull off your resolution, consider for a moment that the reason for your failure is not a lack of awareness of what you’d like to change. It’s not even a lack of genuine heartfelt desire or sincere effort. What has failed for most of us is that we tried to skip the acceptance phase. We failed to move from awareness that we want to change X to genuine acceptance of X and tried to skip right to change.
So what is the difference between awareness and acceptance? Awareness is factual – it is the recognition of the problem. Acceptance, at least what I mean when I talk about it, is a feeling. Acceptance is a deeply felt softening to the awareness that you have brought to a problem. Acceptance happens when you are not only aware of the problem but you invite it in and allow it to sit in your favorite chair[i].
Once you have welcomed your problem and recognized it as your own, you become empowered to consider change. If change turns out to be what you want.
Allow me to suggest that not every “problem” needs a solution[ii]. Whatever illusion we all might share that there is a flawless version of ourselves just itching to burst forth, if given the chance, may actually be the problem. Acceptance can help here, too. Acceptance can help us to see our problems, soften to our problems, and just maybe let them hang around.
Once emotions like guilt and denial are removed from the equation and you begin to accept yourself just as you are, you may find that some of these “problems” over time disappear on their own. The gap between self-acceptance and self-estrangement might have been the issue all along.
[ii] Of course I am not referring to serious problems such as substance abuse or thoughts of harming yourself or someone else. I’m talking about minor personal quirks or sloppy habits we wish were different.
Cynthia Ransley, MA, TLLP is Social Media Copywriter for MSP.