Fully embracing who we are is a challenge at the best of times. When we are on shaky ground it’s even more of a challenge. We are such multi-faceted beings and we have such a deep sense of “self,” moreso than any other animal, that we complicate our existence. To do our best in the world, we have to understand our purpose. Beginning to embrace who we are is about knowing who you are in the moment, beyond the physical sense—it’s getting to the core. What do you enjoy? What gives you meaning? Where do you stand on issues of the world? It’s owning your weirdness and doing the things that make you happy. Embracing who we are also means reconciling our past and accepting it. If you’re like me, you feel tense at the idea of your past and you cringe at the memory of all of your mistakes. A resounding, “I was such an idiot” or “I can’t believe I did that” usually follows and that leads us down the slippery slope of negative self-talk about things that happened long ago.
As a first step, I’m learning that I can’t change the past but I can befriend it and make it a part of me and I can lovingly let it go. This is more than the old adage of accepting it and learning lessons. This is the application of understanding it has no further impact on you now. That when we rehash the past, we are bringing forward the same feelings we felt in the moment it happened. Our mind doesn’t know the difference between what is happening and what has happened because we are bringing it to the forefront of our minds again. So when the reaction is emotional or painful, learn to make peace with it. Learn to express that you were operating with what you knew at the time—and that isn’t who you are now. Forgive yourself as much as you need to.
When you’re raised with guilt as a driving force, you become critical of everything and take it all to heart. You find fault in nearly everything you do. That takes a lot of retraining and focused effort to keep yourself off that path. It takes a lot of convincing to understand that being imperfect isn’t a crime and that most people don’t live mired in guilt. But it’s doable. Living with guilt is like living with a 20 ton weight chained to your neck. When you start chipping at that weight, the release can feel equally as uncomfortable because you’re learning a new reality. So forgive everything, including the guilt.
We will learn quickly that it is much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get precious time back again. Use your time well, and use it as you see fit.
In general, self-acceptance is about understanding that you were raised by people of a different era and what held true for them doesn’t have to hold true for you—we’re all a little screwed up. Furthermore, they didn’t know what they were doing 90% of the time either so don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out—we’re all just winging it because no one knows the answer of how to live. The point is we do better when we know better. So forgive yourself for not knowing better when it happened because you CAN’T change that anyway. You can change what happens going forward so focus on that. Self-acceptance is also about letting go of blame whether it’s your parents or siblings or whoever else may have impacted you.
Don’t worry about what happened and that becomes easier as we develop an appreciation and acceptance for what is. It’s easier to work with the tangible, what is in front of us than it is the hypothetical and the what-ifs. Deal with what is actually happening in the moment. Understand that you don’t have to be what other people think you should be or some version of yourself that isn’t you for the sake of anybody. Approaching life from that vantage point allows for a more authentic experience and that is all we can ask for.
So, the short version is understand where you’re at by connecting with what is innate to you. Let go of the pieces of the past that no longer serve. Let go of the past as they are things we can’t change. Make peace with it and forgive, and forgive again. Let go of anyone else’s expectation of who you are supposed to be. No one can tell you that. Take the time to connect with yourself and go from there. We get one life—live it to your expectation, no one else’s.