“I’m tired of fighting myself,” I ranted to God in a recent bout with the I-hate-myself blues. “I can’t seem to reconcile those parts of me I dislike. I either run from them or beat myself up for not being perfect. It takes a lot of energy to keep up this inner battle. I’m drained. I wish there was a switch I could flip to discover a healthier self-image.”
“Maybe there is a way.” The silent whisper I recognized as God’s voice interrupted my whining. “It’s a ‘449’.”
What’s a 449? Then it came. It was something I’d read.
Page 449 of the Big Book in Twelve Step literature (Third Edition) says acceptance is the key to happiness. Here’s what it says:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. …Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
Perhaps the Big Book is right. Acceptance is the key to happiness. It’s the mental switch we can flip when people, places, and things—including ourselves and our imperfections—aggravate us.
Acceptance isn’t resignation. Like the Serenity Prayer says, acceptance means letting go of the things we can’t change, changing the things we can, and having the wisdom to know the difference.
And maybe acceptance has to start with ourselves before we can extend it to others. I don’t know why it’s so hard for many of us to accept ourselves. Could it be our excessive drive to compete and excel? Is it our plastic self who needs to show others how wonderful we are so we can prove to ourselves we’re good?
If we don’t do the inner work to find healthy self-acceptance, we can project judgment, anger, and disappointment on those around us.
According to Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., self-acceptance takes daily practice. It requires us to embrace a positive form of psychology that focuses on what’s right with us. Here’s some of what she outlines as a toolbox for self-acceptance:
1. Set an intention.
If I set my intention that a life with self-acceptance is far better than a life of self-hatred, then I begin a chain reaction within my being geared to a life of peace.
2. Celebrate your strengths.
List all the hardships you’ve overcome, all the goals you’ve accomplished, and all the lives you’ve touched for the better. Review it frequently, and add to it often.
3. Surround yourself with positive people.
Include in your circle of trust only people who inspire you, those who nudge you to grow.
4. Forgive yourself.
Our mistakes and our imperfections are not failures–they are opportunities for learning, healing, and growth. Forgive yourself, learn wisdom from your mistakes, and move on.
5. Shush your inner critic.
That negative voice in our heads that rubs our noses in shame is not the voice of love. Give your inner critic a name and tell it to be quiet. Replace its voice with positive words such as, “I am good. I am doing the best I can. I am enough.”
6. Perform charitable acts.
It becomes difficult to maintain that you’re a failure when you see how your good deeds help other people.
7. Be kind to yourself.
Practice self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack and let yourself be perfectly human—flaws and all.
This week, practice acceptance. Consider putting a sticker on the mirror in your car or bathroom with the number “449” on it.
Whenever you feel the urge to judge yourself or others, remember page 449—acceptance—is key to happiness and self-respect.
—brian j plachta