“Self-Acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself.” -Nathaniel Brandon
Toxic shame comes from growing up in an environment where we are taught that there are parts of us that are so ugly, so despicable, so abnormal and so grotesque that they must by hidden and tucked away and never discussed, acknowledged or brought to light – ever.
So, we learn to bury these parts of us deep inside. We learn how to hide them and cut ourselves off from them, so that we can pretend they don’t exist, but they are always there, lurking and ever-present. They keep us from letting people get too close. Relationships that are arms-length are where we feel the most comfortable.
Self-acceptance is about bringing those parts of us to light. It’s about owning every part of us, even the parts that we feel we cannot let others see and that we cannot accept. Self-acceptance does not mean that we are okay with, content with, or even comfortable with, all aspects of ourselves. Self-acceptance means that we bring these parts of us to our conscious awareness, we look at them lovingly, with compassion, we understand where those feelings come from, we release the toxic shame associated with them and then we can have a starting point from which we can begin to improve, heal, grow and thrive.
Bring it to the Surface
One of the biggest goals of psychotherapy is to make the unconscious conscious. In the quest for self-esteem we have to stop being afraid of who we are. We have to get comfortable letting people get close enough to see those parts of us that we are most ashamed of. We have to let go of the fear and understand that this belief, that we are so imperfect and so defective, was not ours. The fear belonged to the person that gave it to us.
“You can’t love yourself and despise what you see in the mirror.” – Nathaniel Branden
When we are young everything seems so much bigger and important than it really is. This past Friday, I drove down the street where I grew up and everything seemed to be so much smaller. The huge front lawn we had, with the stone porch and the massive tree with the white flowers, seemed so small and insignificant to how I remembered it. The same perceptions are made about our flaws when we are children. Bring them to the light of day now and see if they pass muster.
Here’s an example: My mother taught me that there was something wrong with my metabolism. That a part of me was broken and that being overweight was the gravest of sins, that I should hide and be ashamed of. At nine years old, she told me that diets don’t work, that I needed a lifestyle change.
A lifestyle change at 9? Who tells a child that she is internally and irrevocably broken – unless she finds this magical lifestyle change? Wasn’t she responsible for my lifestyle at 9? And of course, she never told me what this magical lifestyle change was.
When I bring that to light now I can see just how flawed her thinking was and she passed it down to naïve, little, me. Perhaps if she didn’t feed me so much dessert, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and sugar, there might have been a different outcome. If she had introduced me to any form of physical exercise, perhaps there would have been a different result. Instead of being something that was easy to fix, she ingrained in me, the believe that it was impossible to change my body and that there was something inside of me that just didn’t work right. Because of her belief, I spent much of my life hiding and being afraid to be me.
Be Your Own Best-Friend
When you are compassionate with yourself, you’re able to be understanding and forgiving of things you may have said or done in the past. When you can give your actions context, it helps to alleviate the shame that often follows.
Here’s an example: A client of mine kept finding herself being intimate with many different men. This was something she felt very embarrassed about and something she kept from her friends and family. She called her behavior whorey and admitted it didn’t make her feel good. When we got down to the how’s and why’s of why she was being so promiscuous, we found that she was seeking love from people who had no intention or ability to give it to her. All she wanted was love, but her behavior was counterproductive to achieving her goal. She admitted that she never felt loved as a child by her parents, or from anyone.
When we put her behavior in context with what she believed and what she was trying to accomplish, she was able to let go of the shame she was feeling and instead, she was able to give herself the compassion that she deserved.
Now that she understood why she did what she did and how it kept her from getting what she needed, the behavior stopped. The why’s of why we do things are important. They teach us where we need heal and they allow us to release the shame of our behavior and give ourselves the understanding that we so easily give to others.
There is something very empowering about embracing something that you were taught to be ashamed of, or when you realize that you actually can do something you were told you could not. A big part of self-acceptance is being your own champion and celebrating those individual quirks and qualities that make you – you.
Stop hiding your flaws – celebrate them – show them to the world. You’ll find that the more you put yourself out there, the more comfortable you get just being yourself. You’ll also see that the criticism you feared just isn’t there. No one will stand in judgement of you and anyone that does – you’ll know exactly what to do with them.
As you get further along your path, it gets easier and easier to exercise that middle finger and give it to anyone who tries to treat you like you have something to be ashamed of.
A great exercise is to stand naked in the mirror and look at every part of you and channel your inner Louise Hay and say, “I love and accept every part of myself.”
Whether it is the pain in your eyes, or that roll of back fat, keep looking at it and say to yourself – “You know what kid? You’re okay.” Do it daily and soon you will find that the shame you once felt is no longer there.
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This sounds way too much like a therapist who always uses the parents ways of upbringing, as a reason for why you do something wrong in your life, i take resposibility for my own, and my parents were the harder than u could possibly imagine, yet ive always been there for them and they for me, i think that parents are just as naive as us even at that age, im sure its because of thier upbringing as well.
And thats just the same old blame game.
What about breaking that chain as well? We are so quick to blame someone else when we can just fix it from the start and realize we THINK too much about it and we want to know why????
When the answer is always in you……
Getting over it and moving on is the strongest u can be, just as plain as black and white.
Colors come along when you are conscious of the act itself….
The best way to answer you Brooke is with a quote from Karl Jung – “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
As a Survivor of all kinds of Abuse, Emotional, Verbal, Neglect as well as Physical, it is so important to forgive yourself, yes Savannah, to be compassionate with yourself. Your Article is spot on, just keep moving in the positive direction, nurturing yourself, telling yourself that you are a good person, and that what had happened WAS NOT your fault. It is difficult because the manifestation of the abuse for me is clinical depression, so it is kind of like a double whammy, The key is to let go of the past, concentrate on the present and do everything in the present to build a happy future. Thank You Savannah
Thank you for sharing, I have been following you for some time now. I can relate to this in so many ways. I divorced my Narcissistic husband of 12+ years about two years ago, we had two children. I have really worked on myself, and feel that I have made some progress. Yet to this date, I feel shame, in saying I’m divorced, with two kids. I know this comes from the shame and judgment my parents instill in me. I just hope to get past this shame. Again thanks all that you share.
I don’t “talk” much about my family in detail , but the food issue hit home. My mother would do the same guilt about food with me (& later my daughter.) When we were as young as 18 months old. My daughter has been raised to be strong by me. I never want her to be an emotional dormat for anyone. She tells her grandmother off. I have learned to walk out of the room. Yet, I degress. At the ripe old age of 10 my parents found out I was border line hypoglycemic and mother took that as her cue to fill the house with unhealthy food, and yell every time I went in the kitchen.
I learned codependent by the time I was two in order to survive. I’m in my late forties,and everyday is a practice in not getting trampled on. To those of you who have mentioned a parent, it does not get easier as they get older. They will try to find new ways to make you look the villain. Especially as other safe older relatives die off, but I encourage you to push forward, shrug, and don’t call them on it. They will succeed at making you the bad guy if you try. ….
Thriving, you are on the right track, from my experience tuning into your gut feelings is the most productive and satisisfying of feelings in progress.
I still read these articles as a gut check, am I still doing well by me? Am I keeping my boundaries?
I had a guy tell me after 2 weeks of dating that I was his soul mate, huge red flag, broke it off immediately!
Love, love, love this article Savannah, I decided while healing if I can’t be me around anyone, friends, family, potential partners then they had no place in my life. It was not always easy, but the feelings of doing right by me made up for that tremendously! Huge thanks to your articles and the sound advice you share.
Side note, therapy, group therapy and reading everything I could get my hands on, everyone is different, everyone’s time is different, take care of you!!!!
How long does it heal a wounded soul? Long! I have been reading Savannah for quite a few years now and I am still having the eureka moments reading her new posts.
I look forward to your writing every Monday. It starts my week on an empowering and honest note. I felt such a breakthrough this weekend. I have been in counseling since the end of July and, indeed, the unconscious is coming to light. It is a slow patient process and has involved lots of journaling, long walks and saying no to people. I am learning to weed out people BEFORE they take over my little inner garden of slowly strengthening happy plants. About a month ago I went to dinner with a new female friend and left the evening with every button pushed. She is so much like my dad. What another recovering co-dependent calls a “blow-bit-blow” person. She’d say something bitey and mean and then blow on the bite to soothe it “there, there, isn’t that better?” I went home and journaled over the weekend, had a friend bounce my feeling back and then saw my counselor on Monday. By Tuesday I knew I’d never spend time furthering our friendship. The learning curve for me is that it only took about six months of befriending for me to figure out that my FIRST IMPRESSION was right on.
This weekend a man I was tentatively texting (he moved away after we’d had about two dates, neither sexual) texted me while drunk and told me he was in love with me (Third tme he’s done the drunken text thing.) This was such a huge red flag that I decided not to text back. I will run it past my therapist tonight but I suspect he will be another learning buddy — someone I learned from but do not need in my life. I am learning to say no way earlier and I am less in conflict with myself.
I loved the quote by Nathanial Brandon, “Self-Acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself.” This has become my new area of focus. I am finding that if I am in conflict about someone it is almost always my people-pleaser belief system. I was shamed and punished for having a self, any self at all, except the one that served my role as oldest of 8. So, I feel such crippling shame when I stand up for myself. Even within myself! Another great column, Savannah. Thank you.
Thankyou Thriving…that was a really powerful observation re. Punished and shamed for exhibiting any sense of self…made me feel quite strange!! But yes very much the root…have never thought of it quite in that way but absolutally spot on…..
And thank you Savannah i, like many probably owe my sanity to you, your amazing perception and gift for making us understand.