Most people will admit to not be entirely happy with themselves. Either they do not feel they look good enough, earn enough money or aren’t smart enough. Moreover, throughout our lives we get challenged and certain life circumstances might see us making some poor choices of which we are shameful. No matter how you are programmed or what your biological makeup, we all grapple with self-acceptance at times in our lives.
Doubt and imposter syndrome.
As a young aspirational, ambitious and driven young professional, I set out to conquer the professional world. I landed a job and started climbing the corporate ladder, but soon felt out of place, or as if I don’t belong. I remember even growing a beard to add a few years to my face and hopefully earn more respect from customers and more senior colleagues. No matter what I did, I did not feel like I belong.
I decided to do what I do best and hit the books and perform some research on the topic. Turns out I was simply suffering of Imposter syndrome. This is the process of feeling inadequate and undeserving when being involved in, or heading up a task or project that one feels unqualified or inexperienced for. I realized that in order to get rid of the imposter syndrome, I’d just better make sure not to fail so as to prove to myself more than anyone else, that I deserve to share the room with the more accomplished.
My manager laughed at me after I massively overachieved on the goals set out by the project. He could not believe that I did not believe in myself and doubted myself. He asked me whether I thought they just assigned difficult projects to staff willy-nilly. I realized my mistake – the company was already confident in me performing well at this task and I just needed to prove them right.
This level of self-doubt cripples’ one’s growth and potential to see beyond the mountain in front of oneself that could allow for rocket-propelled growth.
When it comes to self-acceptance, one really needs to have an extremely strong sense of self and appreciation for oneself.
Blame and shame
As I joined the final years of high school, many of my friends got cars to drive to school. Living in a fairly upmarket part of town, it meant that there were many houses with parents leaving town over weekends. This made for some of the best house parties imaginable. We would have loads of fun and things almost always got out of hand a little bit towards the latter half of the evening.
On one such house party, there were an especially large crowd and the party was really out of control. The host tried his best to manage the situation but as young adults, with alcohol free flowing and girls in short skirts, there was no stopping this freight train.
Towards the midnight hours of the evening with no sign of stoppage to the party, I discussed with the host that this might become a huge noise issue and we do not want law enforcement to come and inspect the situation. I got an idea to cut the main power to the house, leaving everyone in quiet darkness and hopefully people will start departing.
This worked magically! Apart from a few disgusted murmurs, most got in their car and left. The host and I noticed an especially intoxicated friend and offered him a ride home as they were in no shape to drive. This seemed like a good Samaritan-like thing to do at the time, but we would learn a very big lesson that night.
One the way to friends’ house, another car skipped a red light and smashed straight into us on the side where the intoxicated friend was stationed. We spun across the entire intersection rolling over the curb when we finally came to a stop.
Being the least injured I got out of the wreck checking all passengers to see if they’re okay. They were mostly shocked, cut, reeking of alcohol, but alive. However, the friend that we were taking home, that took the brunt of the impact, was stuck in the car and not moving.
Not long after the crash, the police, ambulances and fire department were on site. They cut our friend out of the vehicle and lifted his limp body into an ambulance and sped off to the hospital. The driver of our vehicle and of the other got taken to the hospital, with police in tow. The other passenger and I got put in the last ambulance.
When we got to the hospital, we quickly learned that all parents have already been alerted and that our friend was in intensive care. Police stayed at both drivers’ wards, with a clear instruction to arrest them once they got cleared from the hospital.
Our friend ended up recovering from his injuries with several broken bones and scars, but he was alive. Unfortunately, the drivers of both vehicles got arrested and faced charges.
This story left a huge imprint in my memory. For some reason the biggest feeling that would eat me up at the latest loneliest hours of the night was guilt, blame and shame. I could not believe that we had made such stupid decisions that night. From the house party, to the copious amounts of alcohol consumed on the premises. Then sending these drunk bodies home in their cars. Then I made a suggestion that ended up getting the driver a criminal record and our friend almost died.
The entire event would play over and over in my own head. I would go crazy and think about it nonstop and even find ways to justify our actions just to feel better. Nothing worked and at the core I knew that we were all to blame for what had happened that night. No matter how I tried to put it on being too young, blaming it on alcohol, taking the friend home was a good gesture – it always came to the same point of shame and guilt that it had to happen at all.
At some stage in all of our lives, we will go through something similar to this story. Being involved in something that should not have happened, or that you feel should’ve or could’ve been prevented. Or just something that you are so ashamed of doing that you cannot live with yourself.
Overcoming shame and guilt
Let’s start by acknowledging that it is not easy to overcome shame and guilt. But at some point, it can gnaw away at the very life of you and finding a way to overcome it becomes imperative.
Start by acknowledging that we as humans are all fundamentally flawed sinners. We will make mistakes. Frequency and severity will differ, but we will regularly stuff up.
Learn from the mistake, now move on
When faced with a big event that one feels ashamed of – start by evaluating whether there was something you could do to stop it. If yes, vow to never ever do it again and that whatever happened should be seen as a very expensive life lesson never to be repeated.
Be kind to yourself and
Realize that no one will judge you as harshly as you yourself would. Teach yourself to love yourself, with all the good and bad and cut yourself some slack. Life is hard and full of bad temptations. No one can come through life mistake free.
Unforgiven pieces of your past will stifle all growth and potential in you. Understand that forgiveness is a slow process that will take dedication, focus and time. Forgive others for things they didn't mean to do. Forgive others for things they didn't know they did. Forgive yourself for mistakes you think you've made. And forgive yourself if things don't change quickly enough.
Don’t compare yourself
Most of us tend to look towards our peers, colleagues, friends and family to compare our shortfalls, mistakes, progress and happiness with theirs. People usually show their best most publicly acceptable side to the world. You cannot look at an outwardly friendly person and just assume that the person is happy and has never made mistakes or has any regrets. The point is that we all have, and by comparing your life through the lens of how others portray themselves, you really have no idea what pain could be behind their Facebook profile, or office tea break discussions.
Allow the feelings
Self-acceptance is a process. It will take time and seem extremely frustrating, stifling and debilitating at times. Allow the troubling parts of the process. Allow for the feelings to come to the surface. If you need to scream, shout, punch a wall or cry, allow it. These are the bodies ways to expel such negative energy. No one is a robot that can just suppress bad and express good. Allow for all good and bad feelings to have a voice and manifest itself, as it is all a part of healing.