Acceptance & Empowerment: When Change Happens Deeply

sky photo“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”  – Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

Upon hearing the quote above, some individuals question psychotherapist, Carl Rogers’s message. You may similarly wonder, “How does that work?”

The idea of Acceptance preceding Change goes against much of the quick-fix/self-help/problem-focused culture we often find ourselves in. I must be ______________ (smart, “normal”, outgoing, thin, organized, well-off, educated, popular, confident, in a relationship, stress-free, employed, composed, attractive, spiritual, sober, “well-adjusted”, etc.) before I can be _______________ (accepted, loved, happy, respected, understood & okay). Yet, I question the depth of change possible when we try altering the outer behaviors and “problem areas” without also taking time to understand and attend to the inner person of who we are. Much like trimming grass at the surface only to have it grow back days later, there are deeper, much more complex roots that lie below and require understanding.

In my last post I discussed the idea of the inner Child – the part of each one of us, which is formed in childhood, and continues into adulthood, and which asks the question: “Am I Okay?” Related to this question, I believe change is what many seek when attempting to answer another quite similar question: “How Can I Be Okay?

Empowered to “Climb the Mountain”:

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”  – Brene Brown

And why is self-acceptance, or self-love and the development of understanding one’s core self, so important and necessary for moving forward? Perhaps because in its absence, we often find shame. I find that shame can be explained as that gnawing, pit-in-the-stomach feeling that coincides with thoughts of “I’m bad,” “I’m hated,”, “I’m useless,” or “I’m uncared for…” Perhaps a specific event impacted the amount of shame you carry? Or maybe rather than the presence of something negative it was the lack of the positive (i.e. love, understanding, & validation) that resulted in your shame?

Regardless of what your shame looks like, carrying shame with us through life is similar to carrying added weight to one’s backpack and then attempting to hike – or sprint – up a mountain unsuccessfully. The weight is needless and unhelpful -pulling us backward – but we’ve carried it for so long. It has become “our normal” and we’ve become all-too accustomed to the aches and pains it provides. Stopping to unpack the extra load takes time and commitment. It also requires looking at difficult realities below the surface. Yet, it is an investment in ourselves and provides the empowering effect of standing and walking forward more free to create and enjoy the journey ahead.

Psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom, refers to therapist and client as “fellow travelers.” (The Gift of Therapy). I love this idea and I have found it to be true both in my role as counselor as well as in my own time spent in the client-seat. Traveling together in the reflective journey of counseling requires the difficult tasks of looking at the “weight” – the shame, the pain, and the confusion present. However, through the challenge it also provides the exciting experience of exploring what hopes are possible when a person begins to see him/herself through the lens of love rather than shame and encounters change happening deeply. ___________________________________________________________________________________ Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

When You Change…

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ E. E. Cummings

beachI recently went to the beach with my family. We returned to an island we hadn’t visited in many years. Being back there – a place of my childhood summers – granted me that lovely nostalgic feeling of returning to a place that I love and know well.

I realized that the beach, the homes, and the striking scenery of that place were very much the same. It kept its serene, subtle beauty. Barefoot strolls on the brown sand gave me the same comforting feeling I knew many years ago, and the refreshing touch of the calm ocean tide against my ankles presented me with the similar experience of feeling renewed by cool, salty water.  Looking out at the expanse of the large, far-reaching ocean in front of me again left me with the similar awe-inspired realization of how small I am in this big world.

However, as much as this beautiful beach seemed unaffected by time, I know that the same cannot be said about me. I have changed-I am no longer fifteen and wondering what I want to be “when I grow up.” And I expect that ten years from now, I will look back and say something similar about who I am today…

Perhaps it is for this very reason that so many of us are drawn to the beach, the mountains, and other naturally beautiful and seemingly unchanging scenic sanctuaries. As humans, we cling to those places and things that are constant in our lives. The ups and downs, twists and turns that life presents us with can be wearing – even the ones we know are healthy and important.

Yes, change is often hard.

Most new clients pursue therapy desiring, expecting, and needing positive change in their lives.  Discovering the beauty of it, of course, looks different for each person – perhaps it includes learning a better way of communicating with one’s spouse, acquiring new strategies for coping with the stress of balancing work & home, or developing acceptance of one’s personality and identity.  Each individual and situation is unique, and making changes can require varying amounts of intentionality and patience. Furthermore, each individual’s personal change can also mean incurring varying responses from family & friends.

Yep, sometimes your friends will not like it when you change.

And why is this the case? Probably for the same reason that we return to the same beach, fear ordering something different on the menu at our favorite restaurant, and tear-up when we finish the last page of an amazing book with characters we adore: change in those we love can unexpectedly create feelings of confusion, sadness, and possibly even loss. And this can be true even with knowledge that the change is helpful, positive, and good. Those precious loved ones in your life must get accustomed to your changes just as you are beginning to spread your wings and adjust to a different outlook and a new way of life.

Why else?

Some friends may not like it when you change because it challenges them to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Possibly, it forces them to look at their own ‘elephants‘ they’ve kept hidden.

Going back to the quote by E.E. Cummings above the picture, courage is an essential ingredient when following the path of growth.  It often requires exposing oneself to new territory and being vulnerable to the reactions of others. Yet, without it, change is impossible.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” ~ Frederick Douglas

So, what does change mean to you and how do you experience the tension in managing the common stretch marks that often accompany it?

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.