When you boil down to oneness and acceptance, what better place to begin than with the self? This is where we start and end, literally. It’s our birth and our stickiness. Where we get stuck and where the suffering begins. And the place we most like to roll around in the muck, dancing in the glass, playing with the same mess and continually beating ourselves up along the way.
A large part of our desire for enlightenment, clarity or knowledge, is based on the idea that this current version of me is not good enough. We are constantly striving for “Me, version 2.0.” This desire to be better, more, and different is a tacit rejection of who we are and where we are on our journey. This isn’t good enough, I’m not good enough, I must find something else or be something more to be complete.
Abraham Maslow lists in his hierarchy of needs — which I consider the most profound of the various psychological developmental theories — that after we have taken care of our basic survival needs of sustenance and security, the next strongest and most basic need is belonging. The need (emphasis added because we aren’t talking about a desire or a want, but an actual psychological requirement for well-being and health) for social belonging stems from the basic fact that humans are social creatures. We simply are not human without other humans.
This has been tragically vetted out with the discovery and study of feral children, or those brought up in extreme isolation. Without language and “the village” we do not socialize into fully realized human beings and are closer to being wild animals than human beings. There is a saying among Cultural Anthropologists that “People are not people without other people.” Scientifically this is shown via basic biology as our very brain structure does not develop completely without social interaction and the learning of language is not possible. What’s more, the learning of language, an achievement impossible without social interaction, actually causes brain development. In other words, the brain grows in certain ways and areas because we are social, are socialized and learn language.
I outline this to highlight the power approval can play in our lives. As humans seeking connection and belonging, being held within the group (not ostracized) not only feels good, but is a survival mechanism. We need to be in, not out of the group. This begins with the mother, the family, and then peer group. At a certain point, we stop caring about what is best for us, and soon move towards “what can I do to be accepted and belong?” Giving in to peer pressure is an example of this. There are powerful reinforcing agents at work imprinting these attitudes and behaviors upon us. And how we experienced the love and acceptance of our parents, siblings, extended family and first peer groups can determine how strong this need to belong will act upon us later in life. This awareness alone can support us. We can step out of the fray and look at why we may be drawn to conform, or be liked and accepted. By a friend, a lover, workmates, church members, etcetera. But there is a component that serves as the true fulcrum of belonging: Self-Acceptance.
To accept is to receive. I accept a book. I accept your apology. I receive and take in what is offered. To accept the self is to receive the self. It is not, “I’ll take that part, but you keep that portion. I don’t really like that part of myself, you keep it!” No, I am talking about BIG acceptance. All the parts. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We don’t get to cherry pick what we want to love about ourselves. It’s either accepted as we are, or there is a gap, a separation, something not received.
We frequently have problems even accepting “nice” parts of ourselves. This is usually due to an internal conflict. For instance, I may be getting over a breakup and have come to the realization that my former lover was not really the right person for me anyway. I could really identify with this part of myself that has found clarity in this insight and now I immediately become attached to that perspective and the feeling it gives me (peace, acceptance of what is, a sense of rationality). But the next day I wake up and feel very lonely when I find an old letter from my lover. Instead of allowing this loneliness I push it away. “But I know this person was not right for me!”
This is a rejection of the part of me that is not at peace with has occurred. I will also reject the feelings that come with it, even though they are my feelings. Radical Self-Acceptance means accepting experiences of ourselves we may not like, feelings we don’t want to have, thoughts we push away. All of these represents aspects of our full selves. To reject one component is to not be in self-acceptance to have internal conflict.
Thus, we are frequently having internal conflict. To be free this inner conflict is to be constantly uncovering the parts of ourselves we are not accepting. To look in the shadows and bring awareness to those aspects that we hide, pretend are there and ignore. By becoming familiar and “making friends” with those, we can then learn to be with them and accept them. Perhaps even embrace them and allow them some free reign or give them a voice. Frequently the rejected parts of ourselves have something important to contribute.
And frequently those are the parts of us we believe (mostly unconsciously) others will not approve. So, by being in relationship with, we can also overcome the need for all of ourselves to need to gain approval. The only approval these hidden aspect need is from ourselves. Through this, freedom and full expression of our humanity become more and more accessible.