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Radical Self-acceptance

Recently, Jim Dethmer, the author of 15 Commitments of Conscious Leaders, in speaking to a group of health coaches stated, “All sustainable transformation begins with radical self-acceptance.” As a doctor, I have been called to support healing and transformation, but both in my patients and in myself, I find transformation to be an arduous process, and I’m often impatient and want to control the outcome and make it happen on my timeline.  So this concept of self-acceptance being integral to sustainable transformation bothered me because there was a notable paradox in this perspective.  The shift from judgement and control to acceptance and ease seems too good to be valid, or at least seems like a challenge for me and for most people.

We learn early to measure ourselves.  We are not born thinking this way, but very quickly our experiences of correction and comparison, or praise and affirmation reinforce a self-evaluation that becomes our learned state.  We are taught to be nice, or unselfish, and to ignore our own needs so that society can run smoothly. We learn to judge ourselves harshly and naturally focus on what is “wrong” with us or what needs to be “fixed.” The problem comes as we attach our own self-worth to these external evaluations. 

So the dichotomy in the self-acceptance statement was a realization of how opposite this is to our typical mode. The discomfort of self judgement and our own negative self-talk leads us to do everything we can to avoid being alone with our thoughts.  We overwork, we overplay, we overeat, we overshop, we overimbibe, to avoid what we are feeling or experiencing. And the source of what we are feeling and experiencing is ourselves. 

So the assertion Dethmer proposed is that for true transformation to occur, we have to learn to love ourselves. This requires honest evaluation, as well as time and vulnerability.  This work is not easy or natural but is foundational to developing self-worth and liking ourselves. Self-compassion and developing a deep respect and liking of self is truly the work of a lifetime. This work is supported by creative expression, meditation, and practices that increase our mindfulness in the present moment. I’m certainly not saying this is easy, but it is possible and seems worthwhile!

As author Tara Brach says, “Radical acceptance reverses our habit of living at war with experiences that are unfamiliar, frightening or intense.  It is the necessary antidote to years of neglecting ourselves, years of judging and treating ourselves harshly, years of rejecting this moment’s experience. Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom.   When we practice radical acceptance, we begin with the fears and wounds of our own life and discover that our heart of compassion widens endlessly. In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world.”

I went back to Dethmer’s book and noticed with a smile Commitment No. 8: “I commit to expressing my full magnificence, and to supporting and inspiring others to fully express their creativity and live in their zone of genius.”  Of course, this fits perfectly with self-acceptance.  And since I’m committed to sustainable transformation…this is the work!!!

Dr. Brossfield practices functional medicine for men and women at her practice, XO Health, in Rancho Mirage and can be reached at (760) 573.2761.

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