by Jim Kelly
The following is an excerpt on the significance of self-acceptance drawn from the book, How to Be the Adult in the Room, authored by one of our therapists, Jim Kelly. You can purchase this book through Amazon. This book is also available for purchase in our office.
In the privacy of my office, even highly successful people regularly admit deep insecurities, which rob them of peace and happiness. In fact, in many cases their achievements are driven by the desire to prove themselves. Yet, their achievements never satisfy the deeper need to feel whole for just being who they are.
When I work on the issue of self-acceptance with clients, I help them identify and validate aspects of who they are in the following areas:
Inherent personality traits
True values and principles
Honest thoughts and feelings
Direction and purpose
Deborah was in her late twenties and struggled with chronic anxiety and anorexia—a very complex issue. In my experience, anorexia is usually symptomatic of a few predicable themes—perfectionism, achievement, and control, though what I typically find at the heart of the problem is an undeveloped sense of self. This young woman, who was a nurse, exhibited these patterns. Her compliant personality oriented her as a child to take her cues from other people and to try to please them. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she lost close contact with her father. She grew up longing to feel closer and more loved by her father, which undermined her self-worth.
Deborah’s personality also predisposed her to strive to be in control. As she grew up, these factors coalesced to work against her. Along the way, she became deeply insecure, and her maladaptive response was to try to be perfect to win outside approval and validation. She always made straight A-s in school and graduated at the top of her nursing class. Yet, she never felt good enough. She was an excellent nurse, but constantly compared herself to peers and would look for evidence to find herself lacking. On the outside, she appeared to have it all together. On the inside, she was a train wreck. This is where anorexia came in. Like many women in our culture who feel insecure with themselves and out of control internally, she focused on controlling and perfecting her body to gain a sense of self-worth and control. The psychological reward gained by achieving this essentially unhealthy thinness is, of course, fleeting, illusory, and never satisfying.
The only real solution was for Deborah to decide that who she was had little to do with her body, her achievements, and the approval of others. While she was gaining an awareness of the elements of who she was, she had to learn how to accept, listen to, validate, be guided by , and trust her true self—not a simple process. She had to completely re-orient herself from taking cues from others to finding and trusting her own center. As she developed a more authentic sense of her own identity and learned to trust and accept herself, she began to feel more secure internally. This internal sense of control allowed her to start shedding, little by little, the need to be perfect. She began to accept her own flawed, limited, imperfect human nature, including her body. Her anxiety began to resolve as she was able to validate her own competency, stop comparing herself to the other nurses, and enjoy her work. Deborah must continue to practice this higher consciousness, but she’s clearly on the path.