If You’re Not You, Who are You Then?

womanwithquestionmarkOur efforts to be happy and successful often cause us to imitate other people.

We certainly can and must learn from others, but there is a problem if we do that at the expense of never finding out who we are. It’s especially problematic when we disguise and numb our feelings.

We can’t help but feel vulnerable when we step into being our authentic, imperfect and yet worthy-of-love selves, but it’s the only path to joy and happiness.

Shame is the root of our lack of authenticity. It’s universal. We all experience that “not good enough” feeling.

In her research on the power of vulnerability, Brene Brown, researcher, author and storyteller, discovered that people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging.

She took note of the qualities that these people share. Listen to what she shares in the video below and find out what you can do about it and the tremendous benefits of doing so. Then share what you think in the comments.

Tool for Happiness: Accept Yourself

Young Girl Playing By Herself --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Young Girl Playing By Herself --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

No matter how much advice there is on discovering happiness, you will have to define what it means to you. It is helpful, however, to learn what other happy people have found works for them. One practice common in happy people is self-acceptance.

Here are five steps to accepting yourself.

1. Face your limitations and then do something about the ones you can

We were all born with certain genetic makeup and dispositions. Keeping in mind the things over which we have control will expedite our happiness and success. This doesn’t mean you can’ t make changes and improvements in your life, but it does mean that you have to work within your capabilities.

Some of our limitations can be pushed back.

If I decided to run a marathon, I would run into my physical limitations quickly. I’m over my ideal weight, not particularly fit, and certainly don’t have the training, stamina and practice to sustain a long run. To try to run a marathon under these conditions would doom me to physical injury, pain and maybe death.

On the other hand, if I wanted to run a marathon and was willing to commit to the diet, preparation, training and practice required to safely complete the race, I have no doubt that I would be able to complete a marathon. Perhaps I would not win, but I would be able to complete it.

Take a hard look at the things you consider your limitations to see which ones have shallow roots. Then make plans to do what it takes to push past those in your pursuit of your goals.

Going beyond what you once considered limitations will give you a huge dose of confidence, inspiration and self-acceptance.

2. Do what you love

This phrase is often completed with “and the money will follow.” But I’m not talking about earning money in this instance.

You must do what you love in order to build your self-respect and self-acceptance. When you are spending a third or more of your life on a job you hate, yielding to someone’s will, helping someone build their business while neglecting your dream you erode your own feelings of worth.

If your job pays great money but it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, you must make a plan to escape to one that does. It make take a while to make this transition, but just getting started will begin to increase your self-love right away.

3. Silence your inner critic

As soon as you begin a new venture or set out for a goal you can count on your inner critic to step up with objections, cautions and criticisms. It’s important to acknowledge your inner critic, but send her back to her corner.

Your inner critic’s job is to keep you from taking risks and hurting yourself. But to do this she reminds you of all your failures, shortcomings, and does her negative best to keep us from moving forward. Left unattended, she will have you believing that you are completely incapable and inept. As a matter of fact, she will paralyze you from taking action.

You can’t kill your inner critic, but you can disarm her whenever she appears. Her words distort the truth of who you are so you can’t left your self-worth be defined by her and your work toward your goals be dictated by her.

4. Pat yourself on the back

When I was growing up we were discouraged from talking about our own accomplishments. My parents feared that it would make us boastful, shallow and distasteful people. They were misinformed.

Congratulate yourself when you complete a goal. Celebrate when you reach a milestone, even small ones. These moments of acknowledging your achievements bolster your self-esteem.

5. Give up the quest for perfection

I recently told a client that she must resist the urge to try to edit and write at the same time if she hopes to finish her book. She was amazed that I advised her not to read the previous chapter before starting the new one.

If you reread your previous writing before continuing, it is near impossible to resist the urge to edit and rewrite.

Once the rough draft book is completed you may go back through the book to begin editing and smoothing out the rough edges. But trying to edit and write at the same time is like trying to ice and bake it at the same time.

Trying to fashion a perfect life is futile as well. You must live your life knowing that making mistakes is part of living. When you learn from the mistakes it’s very beneficial, but you will make new ones. Treat mistakes and setbacks as lessons.

As you grow and develop your skills you get better at what you do. Becoming comfortable with your own imperfection ensures your happiness.

When you accept yourself, you won’t waste time on trying to please others, looking to them for validation or swayed by the fickle judgments of others. And best of all, you will be better prepared for happiness and success on your own terms.

Are You Normal, Do You Want to Be and What Does This Have to Do with Happiness?

Rorschach_blot_01During a reunion of friends I hadn’t seen for a year, we met over dinner and each shared our progress toward personal and professional goals.  In the process of sharing events of her year one friend disclosed that she’s motivated by trying to prove to her family that she is as smart as her high-achieving  “specialist doctor” brother.

When she confessed that this stems back to childhood she recounted some of the verbal attacks and labels she has endured at the hands of this brother even now (although they are both highly educated professionals.)  The rest of us at the table were horrified, visibly shaken and some teary-eyed to hear and see the pain she has endured.  By contrast, she was surprised at our reaction. What was dysfunction with a capital D to the rest of us was normal family relations to her.

In a Psychology Today article, Peter Kramer discusses the concept of normal from two angles

As the experience of mid-century shows, we can hold two forms of normality in mind—normal as free of defect, and normal as sharing the human condition, which always includes variation and vulnerability. We may be entering a similar period of dissociation, in which risk and pathology become separated from abnormality—or an era in which abnormality is universal and unremarkable.

We are used to the concept of medical shortcomings; we face disappointing realizations—that our triglyceride levels and our stress tolerance are not what we would wish. Normality may be a myth we have allowed ourselves to enjoy for decades, sacrificed now to the increasing recognition of differences. The awareness that we all bear flaws is humbling. But it could lead us to a new sense of inclusiveness and tolerance, recognition that imperfection is the condition of every life.—Peter Kramer

I always equated normal with boring, so it was never my goal. According to my kids and friends I succeeded. As a matter of fact, my kids don’t mind reminding me from time to time with “You’re weird.”

“Good!” I think to myself, “I’m still on track.”

One of my favorite Twilight Zone TV episodes shows a scene of a doctor and nurse standing in a darkened room at the bedside of a patient whose face is fully bandaged. She has undergone experimental surgery to correct her disfigurement so she will be allowed to remain in the State. This is the  eleventh and final surgical attempt to make her beautiful. If this doesn’t work she’ll be cast out to live in a village with other freaks.

As the doctor and nurse remove the bandages, the doctor comments to the nurse that Janet, the patient, is a beautiful person no matter what a face looks like.  When they remove the last layer of bandages and Janet is revealed as a beautiful human female, the audience is confused for a moment.  When the staff turns on the lights we see that all of the staff  have pig-like faces.

Fearful over her fate, Janet runs out into the hall , past a State broadcast on complete conformity.  She runs into a room where she finds herself face-to-face with a horrifying sight,  a handsome human male, Walter Smith. The episode ends with Walter taking Janet to the village where others of her kind live.

Normal is very much what we decide it to be.

What we accept as normal can change as our goals, desires, and situations change. I believe that the source of  some of our unhappiness is discontent with what has become normal in our lives and failure to do anything about it. It’s a proven fact that to make changes in our lives we have to adopt new habits. That means resetting whatever was once normal for us.

The ever popular goal of  losing weight, for example, requires not just eating less and exercising more, but adopting a new lifestyle. If sleeping in and stuffing your face with donuts is your normal, it’s likely you will need to create new behaviors which when repeated over and over become your normal that will help you reach your weight loss goal.

Part of what lead to the demise of the Rorschach test (also known as the Ink Blot Test–see one of the images above) was the suspicion that the results of this projective personality test told us more about the examiner than the subjects.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize, as Peter Kramer proposes, that we let go of the myth of normality. It may be a useful construct for intellectual discussion and research, but in our daily lives recognizing and accepting imperfection in ourselves and others is one key to being happy. The next key, of course, is giving ourselves permission to change what we consider normal as we reach for new goals and rethink what relationships and experiences we want as part of our lives.