The path to change

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” ~Carl Rogers

Self-acceptance. That doesn’t come easily for me. I have spent years so aware of all of the ways I don’t measure up, of my many faults, of my many weaknesses. To me, full self-acceptance has always seemed like a way to resign myself to never improving. After all, if I accept that this is just how I am, what would inspire me to growth? And so, I’ve put great effort into changing myself into someone “better” with little positive result to show for it.

This quote would indicate that I’ve been coming at the whole question the wrong way. Could self-acceptance actually be the ticket to change rather than a means for avoiding change?

Martha Beck makes an even stronger statement. She argues for love rather than just acceptance.

“Hating anything about yourself gives it more power over you. To change a flaw you must love it.” ~Martha Beck

Even though this flies against the way I’ve always understood life, the more I’ve pondered these two quotes, the more they make sense to me. If I think about the way I react to other people’s treatment of me, this fits exactly. When someone approaches me with hatred, anger, harsh criticism, disgust, or any other form of a lack of acceptance, I react defensively. I dig in my heels in resistance and fight any attempt they may make to change me. The stronger the hatred, the more defensive and unwilling to change I am likely to become.

On the other hand, when someone approaches me in love and full acceptance, I open up to them. I feel safe and am therefore more likely to consider making changes that would improve my relationship with that person or would benefit them in some other way. Change is risky, and the sense of safety and support is what gives me the courage and the motivation to change.

It makes reasonable sense that I would react to myself in the same way that I react to others. All of my attempts to force change through self-hatred, self-criticism, self-loathing or other forms of beating myself up create the same kind of internal defensive reaction that I experience when I encounter criticism from others. The internal battle just wears me out and leaves me discouraged with no sign of the desired change on the horizon.

If I can find a way to attain the kind of radical self-acceptance and self-love that would enable me to love even my faults, perhaps that the only thing that will provide enough safety for me lower my defenses enough to have the courage to risk change. I suspect, though, that when I reach that place of self-love and self-acceptance, my faults may cease to appear to be faults to me. They will simply become habits or patterns that I no longer find useful, and so I will learn to let them go rather fighting through all the stuck places that come from the defensiveness those parts of me currently feel when labeled as “faults.”

That whole concept is filled with such a sense of ease. It then simply becomes a replacing of one habit or pattern that has outlived its usefulness with a new habit or pattern that is more useful. No internal warfare. No beating myself up. Just choosing to try something new. Because I think it may be helpful to the life I want to live. Because I want to, not because I “should,” or I “have to.”

Deep within I hear a sigh of great relief. I think I’m on the right track.