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Acceptance is a profoundly life-changing concept, although it's difficult to comprehend through words--you have to experience it in order to truly understand the benefit. In the words of Pema Chodron, acceptance is "creating space for the unwanted"--whether the "unwanted" is a loss, an unpleasant emotion, a difficult interaction, or any other life circumstances you did not choose. Acceptance is NOT resigning yourself to pain or giving up. It's actually the exact opposite of that: it's an empowering ability to embrace that which is difficult.

The level to which you value, respect, trust, and accept yourself has a tremendous bearing on your relationships, work, and overall quality of life. Many people know on a rational level that they have much to offer the world, but they don't feel any real sense of self-worth. If self-esteem is a problem for you, therapy can help you to find the path to self-acceptance. You will be amazed at how different your life becomes when you finally believe that you have value, deserve to have healthy relationships, and trust your internal compass to guide your decisions. Many people don't believe that it's possible to improve your self-esteem, but I'm here to tell you that you can - I've seen it happen countless times. Of course, this is a process and it doesn't happen overnight, but even valuing yourself enough to seek help is a very important first step.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If you felt confident, you'd more easily assert yourself; if you asserted yourself more effectively more often, you'd feel better about yourself! Improving your ability to be assertive--not passive, not aggressive, not both--is all about being clear about your boundaries, knowing deeply that you have every right to set boundaries, and committing to doing so again and again. I can help you discover and practice the skills that work best for you in setting and keeping good boundaries. Even if you don't yet deeply feel you have a right to set them, you can often "fake it 'til you make it" and improve your life experience as we work on helping you truly feel "allowed" to assert yourself. On a deep level, you may feel that you can't or aren't allowed to assert yourself. If so, this kind of belief system is probably one you've held for a long time, and may seem amply borne out by experience. But just because it goes deep and has been around awhile doesn't mean you can't challenge it, and change it. This is courageous work, and it doesn't take forever! My role is to guide you to use the perspective you have today to challenge the old beliefs as they come up in your daily life now. And once you've got it, it's like riding a bicycle: you know it forever and never (or rarely) fall off.

Narcissism and arrogance are no substitute for a grounded, real confidence in oneself as truly good: flawed but totally acceptable. Confidence breeds trust in others that is grounded in something real. Arrogance and self-importance can also be attractive to others who hunger to be near someone who seems powerful, but it eventually leads to unhappiness when the curtain is eventually pulled back on the fraud being committed. Self confidence is not the same thing as self esteem, but they are related. To be confident is to feel capable and empowered to be able to make things happen (while retaining a sensitivity to the agendas and needs of others, which narcissistic individuals have a difficult time doing). Self esteem is the sense of our simple inner goodness that causes us to genuinely love ourselves and accept ourselves on a deep, fundamentally felt level. If we have that deep sense of being okay and belonging in the world, then this tends to breed self-confidence about taking risks, making things happen, and having a sense that we might deserve or get what we hope to achieve. And even more, if we take risks and they don't work out, our confidence provides a kind of soothing buffer to our hurt, anger, or embarrassment to help us recover, get back up, and do it again.

I often hear people say that accepting something implies that something terrible is "ok" or that it is not worth fighting to change it anymore. You may not feel ready to accept something in your life or feel too angry even to consider acceptance. This is normal and finding your way to acceptance is a difficult and often painful process. I see acceptance as saying "It is what it is, and I can strive to change what I have control over." Acceptance involves the wisdom to know when it's time to let something go, to accept reality and what cannot be changed, and to get "unstuck." The lack of acceptance can result in situations where you essentially beat a dead horse and never get anywhere. Acceptance, like forgiveness, can free you to focus on growth and solutions.

Self-esteem involves a feeling of personal competence (that you are capable of accomplishing things/self-confidence) and of personal worth (that you are worthy of love and happiness/self-respect). How well do you think you are able to cope with the challenges of life? Do you stand up for your interests and needs? A major problem with how people often think of self-esteem is the tendency to compare to others. For example, "I am good if I am smarter, more attractive, more successful, etc, than other people." Another way to look at it is the tendency to base self-esteem on some conditional external factor (I am good if I succeed, am attractive, make lots of money, am very interesting, make no mistakes, am always in control, etc). Here is a much more effective way to think of self-esteem: Unconditional acceptance of yourself and others as worthy human beings despite flaws and mistakes may seem unrealistic, but it is extremely important. Unconditional acceptance does not mean that you do not have opinions about what is good or bad, but rather that you can separate the person from the behavior (I am bad vs. I did a bad thing). People have desirable and undesirable qualities, they succeed and fail, and they behave well and badly. We try to accept that none of us is perfect and that we never stop having the potential to better ourselves.

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Kristen Morrison, Ph.D.

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Elizabeth Nelson, Ph.D.
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The Colorado Center
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