Everybody says you should. Every positive-thought guru has a set of affirmations for you. Every self-help book says it starts here. But how the hell do you do it?
Look at who you have been
Start by looking at the versions of self you’ve been before.
All these versions of your past self have combined, transformed, and brought you to this point.
To love who you are now — this version, Self: Present Model — to appreciate fully all you are and are not, all you have chosen, all you have to give, requires you to accept and appreciate the versions of self which have died to bring this You into being.
That’s a bit tricky, isn’t it?
Some versions of yourself you may not like.
Some versions you look back on with disdain, or shame, embarrassment or dis-ease. You may have a fundamental discomfort with what and who you’ve been. Facing your past self may be one of the most difficult things you ask yourself to do.
Shame will be waiting.
Fear will be lurking.
Your heart will beat faster. Your thoughts will find all the excuses. Your energy will call distractions to appear out of thin air — and they will.
You are so powerful.
A brief review of my past selves
I‘ve spent a lot of time looking back, reviewing my life, lately. I saw a lot of past-self versions that I’m not proud of.
There’s the internally conflicted, overly private, self-repressive version of me, in which a naïve, earnest, trying-so-hard-to-be-good half continually battled with a buried-rebel, longing-for-freedom half. I spent a lot of years being that version of myself.
There’s the version of me who wouldn’t stand up for herself.
There’s the version of me who believed everything I was told about what made me good and valuable and worthy, and what (or who) could take away that value.
There’s the version of me who thought that sacrifice and control were the only ways to love.
There’s the version of me who thought I was broken, fucked-up, damaged, useless, wrong wrong wrong in every way that a person can be wrong.
There’s the arrogant, knowledge-hungry version of me who needed to feel superior in order to feel okay, because I started from a place of feeling inferior and needed to prove I knew enough, had done enough, had earned enough to be seen and valued.
There’s the version of me who thought pleasing and agreeing were requirements for connection, who wanted love so bad that she betrayed and disrespected and ignored herself in order to get it.
There’s the version of me who had impeccable moral standards, a solid line on capital-T Truth, answers and advice based on sound guidelines, and absolutely no clue about anything at all.
There’s the version of me who was a true believer.
There’s the version of me who took responsibility for everyone’s feelings and tried to make everyone okay, safe, happy and felt like a failure whenever she couldn’t do it, whenever one of her people felt pain, any pain.
There’s the version of me who gave a fuck what people thought of her.
Now say goodbye and thank you
I’ve left behind these versions of me.
I see them. I acknowledge them. I do not shrink from them. I thank them, I bless them, I say goodbye, and I move the hell on with my life.
I am who I am right now. You are who you are right now.
Can you leave behind your past self? All the incarnations? All the You-versions that existed?
They’re not real anymore.
They don’t live, except when you give them permission.
Sometimes they come back around: ghosts in the hall, voices in your head. Sometimes you have to snap yourself back to the present, to the You who exists now.
You are the self you choose to be, this version, in the present, here, now.
Sometimes leaving a version of yourself behind isn’t a thing you do willingly but a thing that happens, without your knowledge or consent, and you have to catch up with yourself.
Sometimes leaving a version of yourself behind is all will, deliberate choice, and you have to do it despite all that tells you otherwise.
Your fears will laugh at your efforts.
Your shame will tell you it’s impossible.
Your childhood beliefs will scream how you’d better not and warn you of terrible consequences.
But you know you know you know that it’s time to grow up, time to let go and go on.
I don’t regret leaving any version of myself behind.
Believe your choices, not your feelings
It’s okay if you feel however you feel about your past, your present, and your self.
If you feel shame or disdain — rather than acceptance and gratitude — it’s okay.
Accepting yourself does not depend on feeling good about yourself.
Read that one again.
Accepting yourself does not depend on feeling good about yourself. Self-acceptance is a choice that you make over and over again. Your choices, over time, will teach you how to feel.
Self-acceptance is not feeling good about yourself.
Self-acceptance is choosing to treat yourself well even when you don’t feel good about yourself.
Self-acceptance is learning how to take care of yourself even when you think you don’t deserve it.
Self-acceptance is letting yourself move forward even when you feel chained to the past.
Self-acceptance is trusting that who you are right now — with all the feelings, all the choices, all the pain — is okay.
Who you are right now is okay. How you feel right now is okay.
You feel how you feel because you haven’t known how to change it. Starting right now, you will choose to act with self-acceptance no matter how you feel. Don’t worry about changing how you feel about yourself.
You can’t control that.
Starting right now, you are choosing to accept yourself. You are letting yourself accept your own feelings.
I am so proud of you.
This is tough shit.
Look at the things you want to avoid
You couldn’t be who you are now — a person courageous enough to change — without every single version of self you’ve been. To regret being some past version of yourself is to deny and disregard who you are now.
Who you are now is only possible because of who you’ve been in the past.
One step leads to another.
How can you love and accept who you are now if you can’t love and accept who you have been?
Accepting who you’ve been doesn’t mean excusing your poor choices, your mistakes, or the ways you hurt yourself or others.
But taking responsibility does not have to mean taking on guilt, shame, or in any other way rejecting yourself: past or present.
You can take radical responsibility for yourself AND you can give complete acceptance to yourself.
Both are possible.
In fact, one isn’t possible without the other.
When you take complete responsibility for yourself, you are saying: This is all me. My choices. I blame no one. It’s all me. Every bit of it is me. It’s all on me, it all belongs to me, and I take responsibility for every single consequence that I’ve created for myself, every experience, every feeling, every response, every choice.
That feels heavy, because if there’s no one to blame, then the pain is on you. The pain you’ve caused yourself, the pain you’ve caused others. For a moment, it will feel like you are sinking under the weight of this burden, this responsibility.
Sinking, drowning, buried, dead.
The burden will take you down, hold you down, keep you there, flailing and gasping…
Until you can’t fight anymore and you let go and go blank and sink and surrender.
Until you accept.
And in accepting, find that you can release that version of yourself:
— the version of self who blamed others, who looked upward for direction or outward for validation, who feared judgment as if it meant something, who felt the need to justify, explain, or defend herself, who hid the parts that weren’t nice or socially acceptable or valued or good, who tiptoed around other’s feelings and opinions as if they had more of a right to exist in your own life than you did.
What a trip.
Let’s say thank you and goodbye, together:
Goodbye, past self. Thank you for the lessons. Thank you for doing your best.
You were truly a beautiful, heartfelt, sincere, and lovely human. You tried to walk such a careful line between kindness and honesty. You made some colossal mistakes. You believed in some screwed-up shit. You worked really really hard on the wrong things, for a long time.
And now let’s move the hell on with life.
Meet yourself all over again
You are who you are right now, in this moment.
No one else. No less. No more.
Every moment you get to meet a brand new version of yourself.
And every moment, you have the chance to accept yourself.
What does your life look like when you choose self-acceptance? Think about it. Write it down. Be really specific.
Because sometimes you won’t feel like it. And sometimes you won’t believe you deserve it.
That’s when you need a precise way to choose self-acceptance, to show yourself that you deserve it even when you don’t feel like it or believe it.
Here are a few ideas:
- Take 5 minutes alone and breathe deep.
- Say kind things out loud to yourself.
- Call a friend and talk it out instead of losing yourself in your own head.
- Put down the alcohol and drink water.
- Stretch for five minutes to release that tension in your neck and shoulders.
- Write down every negative thing you’re thinking and then burn the paper.
- Schedule a therapy session.
- Say: I choose to accept myself as I am, right now.
- Think of five things you like about yourself.
- Say: My feelings matter. What I want matters. I matter.
- Start a list of things you enjoy doing.
- Take a 15-minute nap, then get up and take a 15-minute walk.
- Sing a song you love.
- Use a foam roller on those sore or tense muscles.
- Don’t “power through it.” Take a break.
- Cry it out, then blow your nose and watch something funny.
- Do that thing on your list you’ve been avoiding.
- Make the call.
- Put down your phone and go to sleep.
Take one small step, then another
You are who you are right now. Exactly who you should be.
You are unearthing things you lost.
What is beautiful to you? How can you bring more of it into your daily life?
How can you quit censoring yourself?
You are learning to want what you want without needing approval.
You are beginning to walk the world in wonder and awe because look at it! It’s amazing: all of this, all of you.
When you are not burdened with taking responsibility for others, you have the strength to take full responsibility for yourself.
And when you take responsibility for yourself, you draw all the power and authority over who you are and what you do right back where it belongs: in you.
It’s one small step from responsibility to acceptance.
You get to take that step every moment.
You get to walk in your own authority. You get to accept yourself on your own terms.
Every version of you has plenty of screwed-up shit to work through, mistakes to make, lessons to learn, failures and challenges and potholes to fall right into.
And every one of those moments is a new moment to accept who you are.
There’s no wrong version of you. And there’s no wrong way to do this.
Let’s do it together.
Annie Mueller is a writer, reader, seeker of growth, and transplant to Puerto Rico, where she lives with her best friend and their four children. Her crash course in self-discovery came from experiencing job loss, financial devastation, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, and major surgery—all in less than a year. She writes about creativity, personal growth, and spirituality; runs Prolifica, a content management consultancy for small teams and solo professionals; and sends out a popular weekly newsletter about feelings and freelancing. You can find more of her work on her website.
Image courtesy of Joshua Abner.