From time to time, our clients bring in articles, books, essays, or other materials that they have found especially helpful in work we are doing. Since one of the most valuable reviews is from someone who has been there, we’d like to share the helpfulness with others who may need it!
Be loving to yourself and to others: Mental illness deserves as much care as any other illness or injury. It’s not “laziness” or being “weak” or flawed in character. Practice acceptance and support instead of criticism.
Don’t push grief down or deflect it. We don’t get a choice about feelings arising, just about what we do with them. Pushing feelings aside does not get rid of them; it only makes them come out “sideways.”
Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) expresses acceptance of self and others with a beautiful metaphor:
“…when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
Remember, emotional and cognitive skills take practice just as physical skills do. Many of us have years or decades of practice in thinking destructively and judgmentally! So practice a little self-acceptance today, and then again tomorrow, and the next day…
Many people have been making New Year’s resolutions, and some are even sticking to them! For most people, however, they won’t last very long.
It’s completely valid to want to make changes to yourself and to your life, but pay attention to what you are telling yourself in the process. You may be telling yourself that you will finally be acceptable if you can meet your goals. The “if” lets us know that if we don’t meet our goals, we are not acceptable. We often believe (consciously or not) that there are only two choices: exceptionally fantastic, or…crap. (To state it plainly.)
Guess what? You are already acceptable! You are wonderful and miraculous! Yes, even on your bad days.
The idea that you aren’t good enough unless you are the best of the best is an expression of perfectionism, and perfectionism is a life-killer, a progress-killer, a killer of the good. We seek progress, not perfection.
Instead of telling yourself that you “must improve,” try the dialectical approach:
“I am already acceptable as I am, AND I would like to try doing this a different way to see if I like that better.” (No “buts” allowed!)
This makes it clear that it is a choice you are undertaking, rather than a “should.” Also, it is a way of making a choice to try change but without browbeating, judging, and criticizing yourself–all things that, ironically, make change much more difficult.
If you accept yourself as already okay, then you are free to try changing things all year around, as the opportunities present themselves. But–this is key–you don’t have to “improve” yourself in order to be acceptable.
While we’re here talking about accepting yourself, here is a great article about expressing your vulnerabilities:
People can be healthy at just about any weight, but there is no weight level that is healthy with an eating disorder. Furthermore, fat-shaming is a very unhealthy thing to put someone through, and does not help anyone deal with weight or body issues.
While there are many aspects of mental illness or injury that we can usefully learn to manage and to cope with, we may still have feelings, reactions, thoughts, and behaviors we would rather not have. We may have internalized harsh or destructive judgments about those symptoms.
It is useful to cultivate an attitude of compassionate acceptance not only for the struggles of others, but also for our own struggles. When we first realize just how many aspects of life have been affected by mental illness, it can be overwhelming. It is also a chance to forgive ourselves and remember that we do not have to do everything “right” to have value as a human being.
This very useful post describes some of the unexpected ways mental illness may show up in everyday life, in things that we often criticize in ourselves or others: