I believe this is true: that until we can accept ourselves (both our good and not so good aspects), it’s hard to understand and embrace the differences in others.
It’s relatively easy to identify stuff we dislike about other people but can be harder to identify the things we dislike in ourselves. Harder still, to admit to them.
For the best part of the last week I’ve been unwell and have had a lot of time to think about my life. I’ve finally realised what some may have known about me for a long time – that sometimes I have an anger issue. As a child I was not allowed to get angry – I was allowed to be sad or upset but not to be angry. I was taught that to get angry was wrong. As an adult I realise that what my parents were trying to convey is that it’s not the anger itself which is wrong (per se) but what I choose to do with that anger which may be unwise or unhelpful or hurtful to someone else. As an adult I see that, but as a child I simply understood that to be angry was a bad emotion and in my house it was a sin. As a child my experience of other people’s anger (predominantly my father’s) was normally some sort of violent outburst, often directed at one of his children. I was afraid of my father when he was angry, and as I was not allowed to appropriately express anger – I grew up finding any form of angry expression very difficult. Sometimes even now if I’m angry I will cry – and I have a sense that I’m crying for two reasons – one, as a form of releasing some frustration, and the other because tears were an acceptable childhood expression where angry words wasn’t.
I have learnt to come to terms with some of this – I can see what my parents were trying to impart and I have to believe that in raising my siblings and I, they did the best job they could. I have seen anger at times in my siblings but not recognised it in myself. I am the one who has acknowledged an issue with depression and someone once said that depression was just anger turned inward (directed at myself rather than others) -and that makes sense to me. But I’d never really acknowledged my own inappropriate angry outbursts until this week – and I see just how inappropriate they are.
Accepting that ‘this is my stuff’, that I sometimes respond angrily inappropriately, means acknowledging that there are alternative ways of dealing with anger which are appropriate and could be more helpful in future. And I’m finding those ways. Slowly perhaps, but small progress is still progress.
The next step is forgiving myself for my behaviour and choosing to put it behind me and move on. (It sometimes seems that each step is harder than the last!) So that’s been something I’ve been thinking about – forgiving myself. I can’t change what is but I can be aware of my limitations and be mindful of my choices.
In accepting myself, I’m learning to give myself a break, not be so harsh on myself; and in doing that, I’m learning to be a little more understanding, a little kinder and gentler, a little more compassionate with others. So for me it rings true that self acceptance is the first step to embracing the differences in others.