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Why Self-Acceptance and Forgiveness Matter

September 23, 2018

Most of us don’t like to admit when we make mistakes. It reminds us that we’re not perfect, but also that we probably hurt someone. 

 

It might be in a small way, like not using your turn signal and annoying the drivers around you with an unexpected turn. Or it could be much more serious, like saying something hurtful to a loved one in a moment of anger.

 

And yet, hard as it can be to acknowledge those kinds of mistakes, it can be even harder to face the things you’ve done that hurt yourself.

 

Things like eating in a way that causes you physical discomfort or even pain. Or believing the little voice in your head that tells you you’re lazy… unlovable… ugly… not good enough.

 

I think this is sometimes why it’s so difficult to change our patterns. Because doing so first requires us to own up to the way we’ve hurt ourselves. And that can make us feel stupid and ashamed.

 

That’s where the self-acceptance and forgiveness come in. If you can acknowledge and accept where you’re at, with enough compassion to forgive yourself, then you’re freed of the burden of that shame. And you can start to move forward.

 

Not that this is easy. But it can be easier if you consider how you’d respond to a loved one in a similar situation. 

 

It also helps to recognize the reason behind your actions. And to validate where you’re coming from, because what you did probably makes sense when you understand what’s really going on.

 

To give you some examples, and perhaps a dose of courage, here are a few things I had to deal with for myself.

 

1 – Rebellious eating and weight gain 

In retrospect, it’s not particularly rational to eat more sweets in response to someone telling you they’re worried about your health because of your food choices and high weight.

 

But still, that’s exactly what I did.

 

I didn’t want to admit it because I knew it was stupid. After all, it didn’t in any way address my pain from their comments, or get back at them – it just negatively impacted me.

 

Once I acknowledged it, though, I could look deeper and understand why. Because it wasn’t pure rebellion, like I had initially thought.

 

It was a desire to be accepted as I was, not have acceptance only for a mythical, thin version of me. It’s like in Bridget Jones’s Diary – I completely get why Bridget was so enthralled when Darcy told her that he liked her, just as she was.

 

I, too, was desperate for others to love me, even with my 100+ extra pounds, but the comments about my weight made me feel like that wasn’t going to happen.

 

Wanting acceptance and love, especially from your family and people close to you, is very natural. No wonder I reacted badly when I didn’t feel like I had that. And my gaining even more weight was my ineffective way of pushing the issue. 

 

My actions finally made more sense – but as a strategy, it didn’t work. The only thing that did work was to stop looking for external validation that might never come, and to instead accept myself.

 

After that, if someone commented on my weight or food choices, I was able to shrug it off (mostly) and not eat reactively.

 

2 – Not feeling good enough

By most objective measures, I was very successful as a teen and young adult. Here are some of my achievements. But remember, this isn’t to boast, just to give you a sense of what I actually did have going for me:

  • I was high school valedictorian and got a full academic scholarship to Northeastern University, where I graduated summa cum laude.

  • I was a fairly accomplished flute player – my senior year of high school, I gave a flute recital and got into All State.

  • I was a good writer, contributing often to the school paper and collecting rejection slips from real publications – but some of them were pretty encouraging.

  • I was active in my church, participating in lay-led services and attending a United Nations Disarmament conference as the youth representative from my district.

  • I could also sing and draw reasonably well, do some sewing and cross stitch, and I excelled at braiding.

  • And I did everything I could to be the best friend, and person, I knew how to be.

Me at my flute recital

 

And yet, when it came down to it, none of that mattered. Because I was fat.

 

I believed the inner voice that said I was worthless as I was. Nothing I ever did would be good enough.

 

Again, this also relates to those external messages. Society didn’t help, but if people in my family were so fixated on my weight despite everything else, then surely that was the one thing that mattered most. 

 

It took a long time, but I forgave my parents.

 

I also had to forgive myself. To tell that inner part of me that was still the wounded teen that it makes sense for her to have believed that. It’s okay. 

 

And it’s also okay to let it go because it’s not true. I’m so much more than my body size or weight. And so are you.

 

3 – Being angry at Mom

You might have noticed that these are all interconnected. Then again, that happens in life.

 

One of the hardest pieces of all this was dealing with how angry I was at Mom. Even after she died.

 

I suppose anger is part of grief, but to be clear, I wasn’t angry at her for dying. I knew she would have stayed if she could. 

 

I was angry about other things, which is so hard, because it feels like we’re only supposed to remember the good things about those we’ve lost. Except that doesn’t work when you have unresolved issues with the person who’s gone.

 

Here are some of the things I was mad at Mom about. Making me go to Weight Watchers and a therapist. Buying me sugar-free candy but my brother the real thing. Making me feel ashamed of what I looked like. Passing along her own fixation on food and weight to me. Making me feel like some level of her acceptance was conditional. 

 

And I was angry that she didn’t admit she was dying, because I kept wanting to believe her. Until it was too late.

 

In the end, I had to acknowledge that she, like me, was an imperfect person. Someone who needed acceptance and forgiveness herself, even if it was after the fact.

 

And I acknowledge that mother-daughter relationships aren’t always easy. That you can love someone and still be legitimately angry with them, alive or dead. And that even though you had reason to be angry, it’s so important to let go. Especially if the other person is gone, because that’s the only way you can move forward.

 

Moving on

I learned something else in this process. You don’t have to bury yourself in all this. Take your time. Approach it in pieces. And be gentle with yourself. 

 

Personally, after that much introspection, I find it helpful to go for a walk, or listen to some good music. In this case, “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen is an option, but whatever works for you. Just do something to pick up your spirits and get out some of those emotions. 

 

If you need help with this, feel free to reach out. Or if you have any insights while thinking about it, I’d love to hear them. 

 

But whatever the case, remember that you’re worthy of acceptance, and forgiveness, and love. Just as you are.  

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