Once upon a time (last week), I wrote about how important it is not to “read minds.” When you think you know that someone doesn’t like the way you are, or the things you do, you are making decisions based on an imaginary scenario. Your choices are limited to: attempting to conform to what you think they like, rebelling against the disapproval you think they feel, or turning your back to them entirely in order to avoid the pain of the rejection you think you would see if you were facing them.
What do you do when you know for a fact that there is disapproval or rejection? What if someone doesn’t like the way you are or the things you do? We are not often afforded the opportunity to be around people who accept us just the way we are. Actually, that “not often” is so close to “never” that it’s tempting just to say never.
May I present to you exhibit A: My husband. I’m the first person in line to say that I have the best husband who has ever walked the face of this earth. He is kind, handsome, intelligent, supportive, funny, giving, forgiving, AND he laughs at my jokes (a critically important trait). I would go on, but when I really get going on this subject, it gives one of my good friends a headache, and she might be reading. Plus, you have things to be doing with your day. Let us move forward with the fact that my husband is amazing and I appreciate him greatly.
Where was I? Oh yes, accepting people just the way they are. Except I don’t. I mean, I totally do, except when I don’t. You see, my husband loves Triscuit crackers. I, also, love Triscuit crackers, so it’s not exactly the Triscuits that are the problem. (Anyone who wants to go on about eating wicker lawn furniture, please do it on your own time. I’ve already spent almost a hundred words singing the virtues of my favorite dude and the day is moving on.) My favorite dude, who loves Triscuits, eats them one, teeny-tiny, crunchy, noisy, wicker fiber at a time.
It sounds like this: “Munch, munch, munch, munch, munch, munch — For the love of all that’s holy, man, just eat the freaking cracker before I kill you!!”
That last part is spoken by me, adoring wife who does not accept her husband for who he is and what he does when that involves eating wicker furniture one fiber at a time. To be fair, who does that?! I would ask for a show of hands of everyone who hates the sound of people eating, but I don’t want to be responsible for all the mobile devices crashing on the ground as people fling their hands in the air. Also, to be fair, I’m giving him fair warning that his life is in danger.
Who needs a hundred tiny bites to eat one cracker?Me
Listen, I know this is a small thing. Clearly, it’s not a deal breaker because we have been together long and long, and he still eats crackers that way whenever he’s not actively paying attention to his lifespan. I use this example, though, because I don’t think there is another person who loves, admires, and accepts him as much as I do — yet my inner psychopath is just under the surface when this small thing happens. (I’m quite certain there are things I do that he is unable to accept at all times, but if he wants them out on the internet, he’s going to have to start his own blog.)
Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.Fred Rogers
I think the comparison between the words love and struggle is a particularly apt one. One of the ways Merriam-Webster online defines struggle (n) is, “an act of strongly motivated striving.” The motivation to accept a person as they are when you love them is clear.
Because we love each other, my husband struggles to avoid a habitual way of eating his crackers around me, and I struggle not to say anything about it when he does. We don’t always succeed, or he would not be exhibit A and this post would look entirely different.
Sometimes, however, the people you love are not accepting things that are more important than your munching habits. They may disapprove of your life’s ambition, your four dogs, or even your choice of life partner. At that point, the struggle is vastly different. (Quick reminder here; this is when you actually KNOW what those people are thinking. If you only think you know, you might want to consider reading the previous post, Tending Your Own Garden.)
If you are struggling to change their minds so that they finally approve and accept your choices, you are fighting the wrong battle. There are countless reasons they may not approve.
- They may be trying to save you from a risk they would find unacceptable in their own lives.
- They may be working from a script so deeply embedded in them that they don’t even know it’s a script.
- They may simply be advising based on personal preferences.
In any of these cases, their opinion is THEIR opinion and you have no control over what they think, say, or believe.
Here’s the thing. Life is not a one size fits all gig. In fact, life is not even a one size fits ONE gig. We change, we grow, we shrink, we move, we come back. What applies in one situation isn’t going to apply to every situation.
I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.Alice Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
When you are making choices and decisions about your life, you need to determine for yourself if what you are doing is right or wrong. A quick-and-dirty test is to ask yourself if you are causing harm with what you are choosing. If the answer is no, I consider it all good.
I am not qualified to make moral judgments about anyone but my very own self, therefore I’m not going to delve into the murky waters of morality. When I say “causing harm,” I’m talking about damage to people, property, and things of that nature.
If you ask yourself if you are causing harm by choosing what feels authentic to you, and you find the answer to be no, you need to redirect that energy of struggle, that act of strongly motivated striving, toward loving yourself.
“To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” The person who most needs your loving acceptance is yourself. When you are able to accept yourself exactly the way you are, being accepted by someone else becomes a luxury; something nice to have, but truly unnecessary.
For many of us, the struggle of self-acceptance is real, and it is difficult. It is not a one-and-done experience either. Because life is fluid, we need to decide about new choices all the time. Because people will offer their opinions (well-meaning or not, asked for or not), we need to remember to be true to ourselves — not to make choices because they are easy or because someone else tells us to choose that way. The reward for accepting our true selves is not only greater happiness; it is freedom from the nearly endless array of choices that aren’t consistent with who we truly are.
May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.Nelson Mandela
Bright blessings to you, Sunny
Let’s keep in touch!