Be careful to balance self-acceptance with self-improvement
A man can stand a lot as Long as he can stand himself (Axel Munthe, 1857~1949)
Frank is a 23-year-old European. He has graduated the university and started his studies for teaching credentials. Yet, rather than feeling joyful because of his achievements and a fairly comfortable life, Frank is troubled.
“Why can’t I be as confident as others? Why am I so sensitive? What can I do to become accepted and admired by others? Why do I feel so weak? Why do I fumble through relationships rather than feel comfortable in the presence of others? Why do I look down on myself?” These are examples of the types of questions running through Frank’s mind, which frankly is causing him much pain.
Frank needs to learn how to live with himself and become his own best friend. For as Axel Munthe (1857~1949) wrote, “A man can stand a lot as long as he can stand himself.” But before he can do that he needs to understand a few things.
1. No matter where we are in life, there are and always will be people who are more confident, more successful, and more powerful, so we have to accept that. Once we do, our burden grows lighter.
2. APPEARANCES ARE DECEIVING. Some of the people Frank compares himself with feel just as inadequate and insecure as him. It is not that they are bastions of confidence, but that they are good at hiding their feelings. It is important to understand this and realize that Frank is not alone and is troubled by an affliction as common as the common cold. And like the common cold, it will pass.
3. LIFE IS DYNAMIC. That is, life is always changing. We mustn’t confuse what we are and how we feel today with what we will be and how we will feel tomorrow. That would be like comparing caterpillars with butterflies.
4. Imagine trying to convince a 13-year-old that her life isn’t destroyed simply because she has pimples all over her face or because her boyfriend dumped her. She will find it difficult to believe that all her present ‘problems’ will pass and later be something to laugh about. This is the position Frank is in. He’s just 23, and most men don’t mature until they’re 26~30, so he has a long way to go and some patience is called for.
5. BE KIND TO YOURSELF. After all, “If one is cruel to himself, how can we expect him to be compassionate with others?” (Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, born about 915, died 970 or 990)
6. Be careful to balance self-acceptance with self-improvement, for as James A. Pike (1913~1969) wrote, “A man needs self- acceptance or he can’t live with himself; he needs self-criticism or others can’t live with him.”
7. “It doesn’t matter what we do until we accept ourselves. Once we accept ourselves, it doesn’t matter what we do.” (Charly Heavenrich, http://www.charlyheavenrich.com/about.html).
GAINING CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES
Although Frank may need to be patient, there are things he can do. It will, however, take more than a few words to explain, so bear with me.
What holds us back, more than anything else, is a conflict between what we WANT to do versus what we FEEL LIKE doing. For example, students may WANT to do well in school, but FEEL LIKE partying with their friends. If it’s a choice between studying and partying, which do you think most students will choose?
That’s right, the answer is partying. But that’s self-defeating behavior. It is in conflict with their goal to succeed. And once they neglect their studies, they will have to work twice as hard trying to catch up. This creates stress, making them feel bad. Since they feel bad, they will try to numb the pain by seeking pleasure, such as more partying! So, you see how easy it is to dig oneself into a hole so deep there’s almost no escape.
Given that self-defeating behavior is so harmful, when faced with a choice between what we WANT and what we FEEL LIKE, why do we usually follow our feelings instead of following our dreams? Well, what we WANT to do flows from our rational (or conscious) mind, and what we FEEL LIKE doing is emotional, flowing from our subconscious. Our rational mind has the WILL, but our subconscious has the POWER; it can stop us from doing what we want.
How does it do this? It does so by creating RESISTANCE. For example, let’s say that a student looks at the calendar and sees that an important test is approaching. He tells himself that he had better study tonight. But as soon as he has this thought, fear is triggered in the subconscious because it associates studying hard with pain. The subconscious abhors pain. So to protect itself, it prevents the conscious mind from acting by erecting the barrier of RESISTANCE, which is nothing more than the subconscious balking or digging in its feet and saying, “NO!”
The trick, then, is, how do we defeat this pernicious RESISTANCE, which destroys so many of our dreams? The secret to overcoming resistance is to start on whatever needs to be done by taking a baby step, a step so small that the subconscious doesn’t detect a threat; it’s a matter of flying under the radar, so to speak.
Okay, it’s time to look at an example. Let’s stick to the case of a student that needs to study for an exam. We’re going to assume he knows how the subconscious works, so he will start by taking innocuous baby steps, such as the following:
1. Check the calendar and count the number of days before the test.
2. Quickly review his notes to count the number of points that he has to master.
3. Estimate how much time he will need to study each point.
Note that up to this point he hasn’t actually started studying, so his subconscious doesn’t feel threatened and it isn’t creating any resistance. Yet, these simple steps have primed the pump; that is, prepared him for study. So now that there isn’t any resistance, he immediately begins. And once he starts, some remarkable things happen:
1. Since we cannot think of two things at the same time, once we immerse ourselves in a task, that’s all we can think about. All thoughts about whether it is pleasant or not fade from our consciousness. And as we get involved in the task, it grows increasingly interesting. So, the ‘pain’ associated with doing something we don’t want to do is short-lived.
2. We discover that the task was not as hard nor did it take as long to do as we had imagined. Remembering this will make it easier to start the next task.
3. We learn that we have the power to do what we don’t feel like doing. Understanding this unleashes the power of our potential, for the key to success is self-discipline. But knowing what we do about the subconscious and its fear of pain, we shouldn’t use the word “self-DISCIPLINE” because it is apt to trigger resistance. Instead, we should call it what it really is, SELF-LEADERSHIP, which is nothing less than the freedom to create the lives we wish to have.
4. After finishing an important task that we didn’t feel like doing, there is a feeling of exhilaration. We feel proud of our accomplishment and are delighted to learn we have the self- leadership to take charge of our life. Therefore, what we thought would be painful turns out to be highly pleasurable.
5. What’s more, as we experience this truth, we come to embrace discomfort because of the pleasure and power conquering it will bring. And as we experience victory after victory, we will grow in confidence, feel exuberant, and know what it truly means to be free.
6. To avoid missing out on success, we mustn’t be tricked into running from responsibility to indulge in some fleeting pleasure. After all, if we were to do so, we would find the ‘pleasure’ (such as watching TV) is pleasure in name only. For as we waste valuable time, we will be racked with guilt, greatly diminishing our ‘pleasure.’ And whatever momentary pleasure we were to experience, it would later be followed by stress and regret.
7. When we consider these facts, we will discover that what we usually interpret as pleasure ends up being painful, and what we first interpret as painful, turns out to be pleasurable. The lesson, then, is we have to think before we act, for the price of living irresponsibly and neglecting our duties is loss of happiness. On the other hand, the result of mastering self- leadership and living up to our responsibilities is a life of accomplishments and joy.
Frank writes, “I would like to feel more significant in my own circles, but I tend to go with the flow, keep the peace, and avoid confrontation. I am cheating myself out of the growth I need and the respect that would go with it.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to be aggressive or even assertive to be significant. The weak seek power while the strong seek to do good by serving others. Your goal should not be to FEEL more significant, but to BE more significant; that is, to matter. When you spread cheer, give encouragement, and offer kindness whenever you go, you matter. You will then be significant, for you will be contributing to a world that is in desperate need of people like you.
Also, please understand you already are significant. After all, you are unique. There is only one of you in the world, and you cannot be replaced. Yet, if you follow the above advice, you can make yourself even more significant.
You are also concerned about others who belittle you and wish to have the ‘strength’ to defend yourself. Here’s something to keep in mind. When someone puts you down, say, “When you say that, it reveals more about you than it does about me.”
And when they ask what you mean, say, “Well, when we put down others, we are screaming to the world, ‘I am insecure and unhappy. I don’t feel good about myself, so I put down others to feel better.'”
BUT SAY THIS IN YOUR MIND, NOT ALOUD. For if you were to say this aloud, even though it is true, you would be guilty of doing the same thing! That is, you would be putting them down to feel better!
So, what should you do? Accept them, forgive them, be compassionate, for like you, they are imperfect. One of your other friends may come to your defense and chide someone for putting you down. Should that happen, DEFEND THE PERSON WHO WAS PUTTING YOU DOWN, by saying something like, “Oh don’t be so hard on him; he didn’t mean to say anything nasty. Besides, no one is perfect. Even among the best of friends, some friction is bound to occasionally arise, so let’s just accept it and move on.”
In other words, don’t make defending yourself your goal. Rather make defending others your goal. That is the path of the hero, the warrior. When you live in this way, you make the world a better place, and your constant companion is peace, not discord. Also, when you see the good you do, you will feel significant for good reason.
When someone belittles us, we are apt to REACT. That is, act without thinking, act emotionally. This is the poorest way to act because we will lose friends. Rather than reacting, we could stand up for ourselves by acting assertively. This is the path that Frank wishes to follow. You can learn more about ASSERTIVE behavior here: http://www.personal-development.com/chuck/manipulation.htm.
But there is a third way to act, and that is to act SPIRITUALLY, or in accord with our higher self. This is our most powerful option, and it is what brings us and the world the most benefits. This is the path I am suggesting for Frank, the path of the hero and warrior; for I believe Frank is destined to play a very important role in the lives of others. Spiritual people are completely at home with themselves and immune to the attack of others. If someone were to claim that I have blue eyes when I know they are brown, or that I am a woman when I know I am a man, or that I am stupid when I know that I am otherwise, if they were to say such things, how could I be harmed? So, those who are comfortable with themselves have no need to defend themselves. Since they don’t feel a need to be assertive, they are free to be accepting, understanding, and compassionate. And because of their strength of character they are especially suited to helping others.
Frank writes, “I’m eager to grow myself into someone who is worthy of having loving and supportive friends. But in order to do that, I know I have to work on myself becoming better and more positive.”
You’re mistaken, Frank; you don’t have to grow yourself or work on making yourself worthy. That makes as much sense as saying that you want to work on becoming a man. You are already a man. And you are worthy of respect by the fact that you exist. Does a cat or dog have to earn love or are they deserving of it merely by the fact they exist? You are no different. But in your dealings with others, be sure to remember that the same applies to them. That is, everyone you deal with is worthy of respect.
Don’t worry about how to help yourself; focus on helping others. The truth is, there is no better way to help you than by helping others. But never allow the benefits of helping others become your motive for doing so. Let your only reason for helping others be, they need it. This, by the way, is the path of love. It is impossible to be in love and be unhappy at the same time, so love is synonymous with happiness.
You are lucky to be going through the pain of self-doubt, inadequacy, and insecurity because it is revealing how many, if not most, of your future students will feel. Use your pain to feel theirs, and make it your role, not only to fill them with knowledge, but to fill them with confidence. Give them the acceptance you long for, inspire them, encourage them and watch yourself become the person you never dared dream of becoming.
Frank, life is very easy, all we have to do is give away what we wish to receive. Here’s something else to consider, “‘Tis better to be known as a good man than a great one, for greatness is an assessment of mortals; goodness a gift of God.” (Spark Masayuki Matsunaga, 1916~1990). If you wish to aspire to becoming a good man, make this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (1181~1226) your personal code:
Lord, make me an
instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred,
let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
and Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that I may not
so much Seek to be consoled
as to console;
To be understood
as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving
that we receive;
It is in pardoning
that we are pardoned;
and It is in dying
that we are born to
Frank and his girlfriend recently broke up. This contributes to his feelings of inadequacy. But the broken relationship would be less painful if Frank realized that at his young age, he should be looking for experience, not love. If he were looking for love and lost it, he would feel like a failure, but if he were looking for experience, he got it, so he is successful. And I suggest he get as much experience as possible, for each relationship will better prepare him for an eventual marriage.
The REACTIVE approach is to jump into a relationship with the first person that expresses interest in us. The RATIONAL approach is to be more thoughtful and seek someone who would make a wonderful spouse. The SPIRITUAL approach would be to make ourselves a wonderful person for our future mate. So, Frank, rather than worrying about whether your girlfriend is right for you, you should be concerned about whether you are right for her.
Remember, we get what we give away. So, if you’re just concerned about what’s best for YOU, you are selfish, and that will be detected by others and drive them away. But when your concern is what is best for others, you attract them to you. The more people you attract, the better off you will be, for you need people to learn from. No experience can be called bad because we can learn from each one.
And if you suffer a broken heart or two along the way, so what? You see, we experience life through our feelings, and broken hearts, disappointments, and tragedies add poignancy to life. Pathos is part of the beauty of life and is an essential ingredient to a rich and fulfilling one. The more pain we experience, the greater our capacity to experience joy.
The appreciation of poignancy varies from culture to culture. In Japan, it is called MONO NO AWARE and is held in high regard. Here is an example. Imagine sitting alone in a park. Suddenly a beautiful Mayfly flitters by. At the moment you see it, you are overwhelmed by its magical beauty. “Ahh. How beautiful.” Yet, almost at the same time, you are overcome by another feeling. “Ahh. This beautiful creature will be dead by tomorrow.”
Poignancy encapsulates life. “Ahh. Life is beautiful!” “Ahh. Life is short.” It is the brevity of life that gives it its value. And it is pathos that enriches our lives, so don’t run from pain, but embrace it. To get the most from life, it helps to cultivate poignancy, awe, surprise, pathos, or the ahh-ness of life.
Returning full circle to relationships, Frank, the message is the more rough spots you encounter, the greater your joy will be when you find your life partner, so don’t let broken relationships get you down; they are just steps on the path to your perfect one.
If you need more help, Frank, here are a couple of good books you can read for free on the Internet:
Well, Frank, imagine how excited adventurers must feel when they conquer a treacherous mountain peak. Conquering oneself is equally exciting, so embrace your ‘problems’ and be thankful for the adventure you are experiencing. Mountaineers don’t grovel when they have to hunker down in a raging storm, neither should you, brace yourself and look forward to the victory that awaits you.
I’ll give the final word to Charles C West, “We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to learn it is God who is shaking them.”