Writing Contribution by Laura Brassie
We need to talk about self-acceptance. There’s a lot of talk out there about body positivity, positive affirmations, and building our self-esteem. And those are all good things. But I also think they can lead to an attempt to coat every aspect of our lives in Polyanna-ish positivity, regardless of the situation. They lack depth. Underneath the surface-y “self-love” of positivity is something deeper: self-acceptance. It’s understanding ourselves for who we really are. It is affirming and encouraging ourselves, but it’s also owning up to our mistakes, realistically reflecting on our choices, accepting accountability, and intentionally seeking growth.
I believe that self-acceptance is essential to having a solid identity. And having a identity is essential to being a well-developed human being. We need to know where our identity is founded. If it’s in the opinions of other people, if it’s in our current career, our talents, our physical beauty, our relationships, we could lose it. Those things can change, like it or not. Self-acceptance and identity have to go deeper. We have to understand ourselves as individuals on core emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual levels. And we have to accept the realities of that, good and bad.
The problem is that we often can’t even get to positivity, let alone self-acceptance, because of how we process emotionally tough circumstances. What do I mean? Well… an emotionally tough circumstance (let’s call it an ETC) is anything that triggers your personal insecurities. The circumstance could be a legitimate hurt or insult, or it might not. We often perceive situations inaccurately because our emotional brains take over and don’t properly assess the situation. And when we don’t process the situation correctly, we end up leaving our minds vulnerable to all kinds of assaults against our self-acceptance. Let’s talk about how that happens and how we can change it.
When we encounter an ETC, our brains start working overtime. Let’s use a simple example that can end up unraveling me at times. Sometimes I’m shopping and grab a pair of pants in the size I usually wear and try them on, only to find that they are too small. This immediately starts triggering the body image part of my own identity. My brain starts working in two ways: rational mind and emotional mind.
Rational mind represents the facts. Right now, while I’m trying on these too-small pants, my rational mind is telling me well guess you’re too big for those, get another size and move on. Seems simple enough, but rational mind doesn’t take one really big thing into account: my heart.
That’s where emotional mind comes in. It’s the part of us that comes from feelings, and it’s essentially the lens we use to view the facts. These lenses generally come from our past experiences and our insecurities. During this same scenario, my emotional mind is going crazy. How have you gotten so fat? You’ll never fit into the clothes you like. You’ll never look the way you want. You’re not attractive. No one will want you now. Time to shop in the maternity section permanently, you fat whale. I bet half the stuff at home doesn’t fit now either. You’re a failure and you’re unloveable.
When written out like that, these statements probably sound a bit ludicrous. But we seriously say stuff like this to ourselves. Emotional mind is the part of us that really feels, but it can quickly get out of control and out of proportion.
When we let Rational Mind rule our perspective, we tend to cut out our feelings altogether. We don’t really reach a point of self-acceptance, because we never let ourselves get that deep. When we let Emotional Mind take over, we tend to blow things out of proportion, make incorrect assumptions, and condemn ourselves. What we need is a way to blend these two to reach a perspective that is both forgiving and realistic.
When we successfully blend Emotional Mind and Rational Mind, we get Wise Mind. Wise Mind allows us to process our emotions, while running them through the lens of logic. To practice Wise Mind, take each Emotional Mind thought and ask yourself, is this true and is this relevant? Does a pair of pants really have anything to do with whether or not I can be perceived as attractive? Nope. Is it fair or realistic to make “always” and “never” statements when one little situation pops up? No! It is even remotely realistic to take a pair of pants and let them define whether or not I will ever be loved or wanted? Heck no! Getting into your Wise Mind can help you slow down and process what’s really going on when you’re having such a strong emotional reaction.
Ask yourself… what is the deeper issue here? What is going on in me that I need to address? What is truly important in this situation? Will this matter in 5 years? Am I viewing this situation with a balanced and realistic perspective?
Wise Mind is not about wearing rose colored glasses, but it does allow for realistic positivity and self-acceptance.
Practicing Wise Mind has helped me in so many ways. It helps me speak truth to myself when it comes to my body image, and pursue true health. It helps me avoid blowing conflicts with my S.O. out of proportion. It helps me view my performance at work realistically, and pursue progress over perfection. Most importantly, Wise Mind helps me understand and live by an identity that is not built on the shaky foundation of opinions and expectations. It helps me remember that I am still me, despite that change in job or relationship status. It has definitely helped me think through what really matters to me and base my life around things that last. In the midst of solidifying my identity, I’ve been able to experience self acceptance.
Self acceptance goes so much deeper than having self-esteem or telling yourself nice things. Self acceptance… the kind that is real, raw, genuine, and enduring… is a huge part of having a solid identity. Utilizing Wise Mind to process ETC’s is one simple but effective therapeutic technique that I use all the time to help keep my emotions in check and maintain a positive perspective. Keeping my emotions in check, maintaining and positive perspective, and developing a more realistic, enduring sense of self (rather than the negative, shaky me that used to reign supreme) has helped my self-acceptance. I hope that you’re able to incorporate Wise Mind into your own life and ETC’s that you encounter, and I hope it leads you to true self-acceptance.
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Laura is a professional mental health therapist and founder of Ivory & Pine, a blog about all things intentional living, particularly self-care and mental health. She is passionate about helping people maximize their potential, embrace their identity, and clarify their purpose. She loves French press coffee with a little too much creamer, hiking through the Rocky Mountains, her Midwest roots, and dabbling on the ukulele. She currently lives in Colorado.
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