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Why Self-Acceptance Make Us Nicer to Others

Sometimes kind words fall on deaf ears.

“You’re too hard on yourself,” my friends would often tell me, and I never knew how to respond. In fact, it was strangely validating. I felt that I had to be hard on myself, to push for an extra measure of excellence that might ward off criticism or rejection. If I could pinpoint and eradicate faults before others identified them, I could spare myself pain.

I believed in this process, I put my faith in my ability to protect myself with vigilance and attention to detail. I never expected anyone to accept me as I was; I simply wasn’t good enough.

Where I got this idea, how these messages were instilled, when the mighty inner critic was born I cannot say. My best guess is around age 7 or 8, when self-awareness begins. I believe I have elementary school report cards on which teachers took note of my exacting habits, using words like “driven” and “ambitious” in ways I felt were affirming. What began as an effort to “be good” swelled to monster proportions as the years went by.

I quit drinking in order to fix the only perceptible imperfection in my otherwise great life. If I could just tweek that, all would be well. Nothing else need change. Thank God, it wasn’t that simple. In order to stay sober, I had to unearth the reason I drank and with that I had to reconsider the effectiveness of constant self-condemnation.

Even as I became more aware of my habits and their negative impact, I faltered to replace them. I had to imagine what it might feel like to be accepted as I am. In wide-eyed wonder, I’d consider “What if it didn’t matter if I said something dumb or wrong? What if i just made a mistake and it happened and I moved on?” I tried it. I went to the grocery store without makeup. I admitted it when I didn’t know how to do something. I stopped overscheduling myself, overcommitting, and overdoing in general.

Little by little, it came to me: I don’t have to earn my place in this world. It was mine to claim on the day I arrived in my mother’s arms. I already felt that way about my own children, and I believed it was true for everyone else. Then I stumbled upon the work of Brene Brown who gave such wonderful language and perspective to these ideas I struggled to understand. Her phrase “hustling for our worthiness” made it all so clear.

And then came another bonus of recovery. Just as I did not expect that healing from addiction would also mean undoing my entire concept of self-worth(lessness), neither did I realize that learning to value myself would change my appreciation for others.

You see, the belief that I was an unworthy person implied an inherent truth that human life can be valued in varying degrees. No one’s life is worth more than anyone else’s. There is no such scale. It doesn’t exist. It isn’t true.

I was always working to avoid being hurt by others, and this caused me to constantly judge and assess other people. Who might hurt me? Who might be critical? Who to avoid, to befriend, to please? The harder I was on myself, the harder I was on those around me. I learned that being a people pleaser is a form of manipulation. Manipulation?! Yes, and that one really turned me around.

It is all starting to sink in, and I see the difference in how I relate to myself and others. Last week I attended a She Recovers retreat (fabulous, and wonderfully described here by Anne of “A in Sobriety”) and nervously entered into a sharing circle with 28 other women. In the old days, I’d have been trying to figure out my place in a group like that; sizing up each person and preparing how to handle them. Thanks to the work of recovery, I looked at each new face and wondered what we could learn from one another. 28 new friends! It never even occurred to me to brace myself for rejection or to prove myself worthy. I’m sad that I ever thought I had to live that old way, and grateful that I can see things differently now.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Wayne Dyer speak earlier this year, and something he said resonated with me. He explained that when an orange is squeezed, orange juice comes out for one simple reason: because that’s what is inside. Likewise, he went on, we can also expect that what comes out of us when we are under pressure is an indication of what we hold inside.

If we fill our hearts with anger, we lash out under pressure. If we are full of hatred, out it sprays when the chips are down. And if we fill ourselves with love, positivity, grace, and acceptance, that is what we spread to others even in the worst of times.

That is the dot on the horizon I want to get to, the one I want to be: a woman who responds kindly in all circumstances.

Perfection

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About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on August 20, 2015, in Insights and Lessons, Long Term Recovery, Reflections on Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I see myself so much in this post. I am also a perfectionist, and a people pleaser, and someone who tries so hard to avoid making mistakes and being hurt. But why? I’m now 18 days sober, so I hope getting back control over my life will help me figure out what I’m so afraid of. Thank you for sharing this.

    Like

    • Hi QQ, there is so much to learn and unravel about ourselves as we move forward – that’s the “recovery” part of sobriety. It’s awesome and freeing and a little bit scary sometimes. But there’s no need to rush it – someone once said to me “wishing you a slow and enlightened recovery” – isn’t that lovely? With that in mind, poke around the Internet and see what you can learn about people pleasing, codependency, perfectionism. I was terrified of letting go of perfectionism because well, then I wouldn’t be perfect! But the trick was figuring out why I believed it was necessary in the first place. Ahhhhhh.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an awesome post. Know exactly what you mean … I expect so much of myself that it’s definitely crossed the line into all the things you wrote about here! In the name of pursuing success / greatness ….

    Seems like such a fine line between self condemnation and lack of ambition. One of MANY fine lines in life , I guess !!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loving these comments, but TRULY asking for some help with this because I am slowly dying from this…I am a very independent, self-sufficient woman, but I struggle with this daily and am NOT used to asking for help or reaching out…I am feeling now if I don’t I could very well lose my life at a young age, which will truly hurt those who love me…any suggestions for help? Thank you

    Like

    • Hi CMFL, the answer is simple (stop drinking) but easier said than done, right? Without any doubt, the biggest boost to anyone’s recovery efforts is connecting with people who GET it: sober people who have been in your shoes. Go to a meeting – even if you aren’t sure about a particular program just walk in, listen, and ask for help. If that’s too scary, start with an online meeting (aa, smart recovery, and more under the resources ink on my page). You will feel the burden start to lift the moment you make that connection and know you’re no longer alone in this. Does that sound like something you might be willing to do? Big strong hug. You can get through this. I promise you have it in you.

      >

      Like

  4. Exactly. You project positivity onto other, not only do you receive it back from them but it spreads. http://www.greatoaksrecovery.com.

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  5. “People-pleasing is a gorm of manipulation”. That just gave me a “wow!” moment. I’m definitely a people-pleaset, and need to reflect on that.

    I am 8 days sober. 9 days ago I read a free book on Amazon called ‘How to stop or control your drinking habit in 30 minutes’ and it’s had a bit of an impact on me.

    Got through last Friday – the first Friday I’ve been sober for months!

    Like

  6. Hi, Jean, great blog. I recently discovered The Bubble Hour podcast and listen to it every day (there’s quite a back catalog to catch up on). I’m glad to have this resource, too. Hope you’re well.

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  7. Beautiful words. I’m sitting in MacDonald’s while my babes play, and I almost started sobbing. Wow. And thank you.*

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  8. Great post, just found your blog and will follow.

    Like

  9. My approval of myself cannot come from pandering to any external source or bowing to any external authority. My self-acceptance can only come from me, and I am free to choose it at any time.

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  10. Thanks for the insight!

    Today is day 5 of my newly found friend called sobriety. Reading on this and other blogs has led me to learn more about pretenses I have.

    For example, why do I try to pretend to be perfect? I don’t expect that of anyone else, but I hold myself to ridiculous standards; then when I fail, and I do fail, I beat myself up.

    I am trying to be gentler with myself, though. Like the saying goes “Cinch by the Inch, Hard by the Yard.”

    Like

  11. Wow, this post touches on several things that have been right at the surface for me. I have been working to understand (with a substance abuse therapist) why I drink – what “benefit” is it still giving me? And by benefit, I’ve discovered that the nightly wine continues to serve the purpose of softening the edges – insecurity, self doubt, daily irritations, and the anxiety that the big secret that I’m actually unloveable will finally be revealed. It serves to soften those emotions, allows me to just be myself without that chatter. Of course, I am also not fully present in my life, not receiving the gifts that those tough emotions bring when you work through them, not fully experiencing the joy. And yet! I haven’t fully let go, though I’m getting closer. Why am I so afraid of being with myself for an extended amount of time without the buffer of a wine buzz? What do I think I am going to find that holds me back?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you are doing some great work and gearing up for important changes. This is not easy, but either is living with the burden of alcohol dependence. I promise you, there are better way to tolerate yourself that by numbing out. In time, you will even come to enjoy your wonderful self!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully. I have been thinking much of your words and I really appreciate them. I’m looking forward to spending time with myself this evening – unpickled and possibly uncomfortable, but present and willing.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Day 34 for me never felt better thanks to the support of this and many other blogs. Had my first night out this past Friday and surprisingly had a blast.

    Like

  13. Untipsyteacher

    Dear Jean,
    It’s so cool you and Anne are sober friends!
    I agree that I the harder I was on myself, the harder I was on other people!
    I am learning so much in my new life!
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Lovely to read as I start this beautiful day. While you girls where retreating together I had the opportunity to see Bruce Lipton (Biology of Belief) speak. Filled my soul to over-flowing. Where did all these “messages about life” come from? “Who cares?” It’s what I do today that matters. I need to change my today. Whatever it takes to change me in this moment. This is what I am called to do. There is enough Love for everyone to be who they are. Time to stop chasing answers and start living my beautiful life. Recovery has so been the journey of learning to love me. I wouldn’t trade a single day.

    Like

  15. Hi there! I’ve been in recovery for 8 awesome months now. I’ve done it without any group thing but I’ve drawn on various resources available via blogsites, etc.

    I’ve found not drinking very easy but I’ve found learning about why I drank a very emotional thing to go through, and I’m growing and changing daily.

    Often I’ve felt really lucky to have stumbled upon what various people have to say on the Internet. It’s often been a case of ‘far out, I’m really glad I was led, somehow, to this, that or the other’.

    I discovered your blogsite within the first couple of weeks of my new sober life and I’ve listened to your Bubble Hour podcasts at times that I’ve needed a bit of guidance. At hearing your various blog comments/recommendations, I’ve been inspired to read Brene Brown and I’ve also recently finished Rob Lowe’s book. They’ve all been really helpful.

    But NOTHING has resonated with me like this blog post has. It’s pressed the fast forward button on some major aspects of my healing process. It’s a ‘me too’ moment. Thanks.

    Like

  16. Lots for me to think about here. Thank you for your wisdom. I am on Day 7 today, which sounds little I know, but I am still thrilled! I haven’t got to Day 7 for many months. You give me strength. Annie x

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Did you and Anne from AInSobriety end up at the exact same retreat?

    Like

  18. Beautiful and inspiring as always Jean. However we started that intense drive for perfection, the shield we hoped it provided was only an illusion.
    I see you. You see me. And that is where the joy resides.
    Namaste

    Anne

    Liked by 1 person

  19. As always, thank you for your time, concern and honesty. I could seriously relate to this post. Like they say, quitting the booze is the easy part and recovery takes lots of self-assessment, self-acceptance and understanding. The more we learn to like and accept our imperfect selves, the more we can like and accept others. Warts and all.

    Liked by 3 people

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