Have you ever thought that you accepted yourself fully, only to realize there were conditions placed upon that acceptance?
Just over one year ago –shortly after I officially launched my coaching business – I realized I’d stopped making tangible progress with my confidence, self-esteem, and shutting down my inner critic. I’d made some profoundly positive shifts that became part of my daily routine, like meditating in the morning, reading inspirational blogs and/or personal development content, listening to inspirational podcasts, and phasing out negative friends and family members. You could say I was “cleaning house” in a sense—getting clear on what I wanted my life to look like and discarding the rest.
I was feeling incredibly inspired to discover my tribe and guide them on a transformative journey to unlock their untapped potential, chase their dreams, and live their best lives.
Yet, I was still experiencing some of the same old negative, self-defeating thoughts I always had, like “who am I to help others?” and feeling somehow “behind” in life despite all my progress. I would still slip into self-sabotaging thoughts, mentally talking down to myself and questioning my abilities. I would still compare myself to other women my age, coming up with stories as to why they were “better” or “further ahead” than I was.
Despite knowing how critical it was to stop doing this, the sense of self-doubt seemed overwhelming and inevitable at times. Upon realizing that these issues were still present, I promptly abandoned myself. Rather than practicing self-care, I “relapsed” into shame. I was ashamed of feeling shame.
“I’m a life coach. I’m not allowed to get in these moods anymore. I shouldn’t still struggle with these feelings,” I thought.
During this period, I dwelled hard. I didn’t reach out to anyone. I felt a nauseating fear in the pit of my stomach that made me want to give up on everything. The light at the end of the tunnel had all but flickered out. Convinced that I was alone in these feelings, I stubbornly forgot that other people went through these same emotions all the time.
“I’m not normal. I’ve learned nothing after all this time. I’m foolish and completely hopeless. Who would even want to be around someone like me?”
These may seem like words from the journal of a severely depressed individual. When you read these words you might think, “Eek. I can’t believe she shared that publicly!” Or you might wince and turn away in discomfort, briefly recalling your own dark and “ugly” thoughts. But in truth, these are just two of the sentences I spewed out into my journal on a particularly bad day.
I no longer buy in to the belief that these kinds of thoughts make me “bad” or a “failure” as a coach. Years ago, I wouldn’t have admitted to such heavy thoughts. However, I’ve learned not to restrict myself when I’m venting onto a blank page. I dig deep into the negativity I feel, because if I don’t, I truly don’t know what emotions lie beneath the surface—or why they exist.
Writer Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I know this is true for me, and I’m sure it probably applies to many of us. Sometimes we don’t really know how we feel until we start expressing it, whether it’s through writing, speaking, drawing, painting, or dancing. We can surprise ourselves with beliefs and emotions we didn’t know existed within us.
This practice of exploring the darker thoughts led me to the realization that I still wasn’t completely showing up for myself. In other words, I needed to consciously support myself and engage in positive self-talk more often.
As a self-proclaimed self-aware person, this realization initially caught me off guard. I thought I knew myself inside and out. But as shadow work practitioners would say, nobody really knows their shadow—not until it is carefully lured out into the light.
It takes time, effort, courage, and brutal honesty to get acquainted with your darker emotions.
Our instinct is to run, but we need to dedicate ourselves to our shadows rather than condemning them.
Whether you work through heavy feelings in a journal like me or with a trusted friend or coach, it’s important to stop shying away from the “ugly” stuff, like anger, jealousy, fear, and judgment.
These things shouldn’t be off limits. Furthermore, these things don’t make you bad, they don’t make you worthless, and they don’t mean you’re crazy. They’re simply the heavier, unacknowledged sensations waiting to be heard and healed—waiting for their moment in the spotlight.
In addition, it’s crucial to realize that this self-awareness process never ends. You’ll never get rid of all the negative you experience, and frankly, wouldn’t life be boring if you did?
Dark emotions rise up not so we can feel ashamed, but so we can integrate them and forgive ourselves. This process is the foundation of healing, self-care, and self-acceptance.
A good way to tell if you are conditionally or unconditionally accepting of yourself is to look at your expectations and attitudes.
- Do you only cheer yourself on when you feel positive and/or accomplish external goals?
- Are you “allowed” to have an off day or an unproductive week without lapsing into self-judgment and self-loathing?
- Do you stand up for yourself when others discourage you?
- Do you give yourself the benefit of the doubt in difficult or confusing times?
Answering these questions will reveal if you accept yourself only conditionally. Conditional acceptance means you only love yourself when you’re performing well. (Spoiler alert: In this case, it’s the achievements you love rather than your actual self.)
This is an incredibly easy trap to fall into, especially in the beginning of any self-acceptance journey. For many of us, self-acceptance is a foreign path that we only embark on after years of self-rejection. A lot of the things you must allow yourself to do will seem counter-intuitive, like expressing dark thoughts or letting yourself surrender to pain rather than fighting it.
So, what can you do if conditional self-acceptance is the only kind you know how to practice?
For one, don’t beat yourself up for it! Any berating or negative judgment just keeps you in the vicious cycle. Think about it: Yelling at yourself for yelling at yourself? Not effective.
Secondly, admit to any feelings that oppose unconditional self-acceptance. Don’t deny them or refuse to look at them. Instead, explore them. Let them coexist with the positive stuff until they’ve taught you whatever they needed to teach you.
And lastly, incorporate self-care when it’s easy. When your mood is light and you’re full of energy, use these periods to wholeheartedly implement self-care routines. I like to implement self-care through everyday sensory experiences, like lighting some incense, taking a hot shower when it’s cold, or taking the time to cook a really good healthy meal.
The momentum of positive habits will make your lows less treacherous. Having that stable foundation of self-respect already built into your daily life will remind you that it’s ok to struggle. Struggle is temporary. Struggle makes you human. And it certainly doesn’t make you any less whole.
Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.