You may have heard that self acceptance is the key to overcoming your problems and being happy in your own skin. The trouble is, we tend to resist accepting our problems and ‘the way we are’ because we believe that if we accept ourselves being and behaving this way, then we will stay this way forever and never change. But this is really the opposite of what happens.

Acceptance of your problem and your current position may actually be the first essential step before real change can occur.

Denial or resistance makes for even bigger problems. By fighting or denying your problems or issues you can actually make them stronger (what you resist persists). You now have a new problem to add to your previous one — the problem of your non- acceptance. This non-acceptance typically manifests itself as self- anger or blame, or as outright denial — and denial requires a lot of psychic energy to maintain.

Energy must be used to delude yourself, or distract yourself, or to pretend that the problem isn’t real or that it didn’t happen, or that you are not like that, or to keep your focus on ‘the bright side’.

Then you never end up treating the problem, but it sits there in your system, ready to be re-activated anytime you are provoked by life to ‘tune into’ the bad feelings or bad memories, or when you become ‘overloaded by life’ and life problems and their accumulated stress causes your problem to rise up in all its former glory.

Even worse, however, untreated problems or issues may sit below the surface and ultimately contribute to immune suppression, ill health, and other physical challenges. It is however possible to avoid such occurrences in a series of two steps:

    • Acknowledge your problems.

Accept that this problem exists, even though you don’t want it to. Yes, it shouldn’t be there, yes it’s a problem, yes it’s frustrating, but its reality is not in question. Once you say yes to a problem, then you can be free to deal with it, to treat it, and ultimately to let it go. But while you continue to say no to it, then it continues to have a grip on you. Everything you believe (the ‘is’ of your existence) is ultimately just what you have become attached to.

    • Release your attachments,

You are free to create other beliefs and attachments should you so desire. But isn’t ultimate freedom the freedom from having to create attachments at all? Doesn’t ultimate freedom exist beyond the pain–pleasure continuum of emotional attachments, of stimulus–response conditioning? Perhaps we can only release attachments if we realise we have them in the first place.

‘Even though I have this problem I accept myself.’ The acknowledgement of the problem’s existence, and the acceptance of it, is the first part of the statement. Then the acceptance of you is the second part. Well, you may not initially accept yourself at all, really; more likely you are upset at yourself, upset at the world, and upset at everything because of the fact that you have the problem.

Okay, for the sake of the argument and for now, you are at least going to make the statement ‘I accept myself’ even though part of you doesn’t accept you at all. Rest assured that the part of you that knows you have the problem will feel validated at this point!

This first acceptance, the acceptance of the existence of the problem, is crucial to moving beyond the problem and letting it go, even if all you are really accepting is that you can’t stand having the problem, that you want to be rid of the problem, that you don’t accept yourself for having this problem, that you hate the fact that you don’t accept yourself or the problem. How, after all, can you let go of something that you never had? So why not accept that you have it so that you can treat it and then maybe, just maybe, you can take an ‘is’ and make it a ‘was’.

Steve Wells M.Psych and Dr David Lake are author of Enjoy Emotional Freedom - Simple Techniques for Living Life to the Full.