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Self care and self acceptance

Self-acceptance and care are much easier to talk about than to practice.  It’s so easy to push our basic physical and emotional needs to the side because most of us grew up being told it is important to put others first; that pride in self and self-confidence is somehow sinful.  Yet self-negation, self-pity and viewing oneself as inferior and unlovable is not just giving in to our dark side, but it is an insult to God who created us.  You know the old sayings, “God don’t make no junk,” and “Be gentle with yourself.  God’s not finished with you yet.”

In the end, self-hatred is simply a backhanded way of putting ourselves front and center.  Selfishness grows out of a sense of being inadequate and lacking, not fulfillment.  It grows out of buying into old messages we heard as kids, messages such as “you’re so stupid.  You never do anything right.  You’re fat, ” “I wish you’d never been born.”  Consequently, we grow up believing that we don’t measure up.   

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Much as I’ve longed for lovely spiritual experiences to reassure me that I’m among the saved, to use church language, the only clear messages I’ve ever received from my Higher Power are various forms of  “get over yourself”  which I then interpreted as my needing to work harder to please God and others…instead of letting go of the unrealistic expectations I apply to myself and others.   I saw acceptance and humility as denying what made me happy since others’ needs were always more important.  Then along comes my husband’s terminal illness, and Hospice and self-care takes on an entirely different meaning…valuing and caring for myself, so I could be there for him. 

Jesus often referred to the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” as well as the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”  neither of which tells us to see ourselves as being less than but seeing ourselves as equally important as everyone else.  In fact, both are clear statements about the importance of balance and equality in human relationships.  They point out and reaffirm the fact that we are incapable of truly loving God or others until we can love and accept ourselves, warts and all.  

As I age, my ‘get up and go gets up and goes’ much earlier each day.  I tend to view my lagging energy as an inherent flaw, a personal failure rather than being perfectly normal for a woman of 86.  Not only have I been kidding myself about my ability to do more than I am able, “Get over yourself”  has taken on a whole new meaning.  Even if I once functioned well with 3 to 4 hours of sleep each night and still had inexhaustible energy, that’s no longer true…which brings me back to my new understanding of self-care; getting over my unrealistic expectations and having the humility to say  “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  I need help. I don’t know. I’m OK. You’re OK  just the way we are.”  

Our eldest sent me a picture of a woman at a rally holding up a sign reading:” I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept.”  When I got done laughing, I realized the power of that message lies in self-acceptance. Unless I can accept myself as I am, I will continue to set myself up for disappointment and experiences that make me feel bad about myself.

Last night I dreamed about self-care and going for a massage. My brother-in-law was recently discharged from the hospital with a warning that he needed to make several radical lifestyle changes; a humbling and difficult message for him, I’m sure. I find it hard to accept my limitations because limitations make me doubt myself.  Yet radical change is a normal aspect of life, not a sign we are somehow less than we were if we need to change in some way.  In fact, dramatic events and radical change often open the way to greater contentment and happiness precisely because it allows us to stop demanding as much from ourselves and those around us.  Life gets easier once we can accept that it is our unrealistic expectations that tend to get in our way.

     I have begun looking at self-care as the permission I’ve needed to accept the things I cannot change and change the things I can.  Self-care invites me to accept hardship as the pathway to peace rather than a sign of failure.  Taking this world as it is, not as I would have it, allows me to stop beating myself up when I or others don’t conform to my wishes.  Looking back over this past year, I  realize that much of my stress, grief, and anxiety was related to blaming myself for not somehow helping my husband live longer while also denying my own aging and mortality.  Given this is the only life I will ever live, I am grateful that in my waning years, I have come to know myself as loved and valued, not because I have been successful or whatever, but simply because I am a beloved child of God…just like you.  In the end, what more could we ever want?

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