Self-acceptance has never been a linear process for me. I wish I could say I’ve achieved it already, or that I know the formula—but I haven’t, and I don’t (and honestly, I’m not sure I ever will). In fact, it will likely be one of the greatest undertakings of my whole life to truly accept myself! That said, there’s a tool that has been extremely life-changing for me, and always gets me moving back toward self-acceptance fast.
This tool operates on one simple principle:
Every feeling we have is feedback about a need that wants our attention.
Every. Single. Feeling. Every single one!
Our feelings are messengers. Our uncomfortable feelings are signaling us to look for the need(s) we want more of, and our comfortable feelings are letting us know we’re getting needs met. Your feelings may not always be easy to feel, but if you can decipher the message they are trying to send you, it will alwaysbe worth it.
I don’t know about you, but I spent most of my life in battle with my uncomfortable feelings. I saw them as problems that needed to be fixed, inconveniences to get rid of. I had almost zero tolerance for my feelings of sadness, fear, hurt, discouragement, loneliness, etc. They felt like they were ruining my good time!
I didn’t even realize how much pain I was causing myself by having this extreme intolerance to these feelings until I was introduced to this idea:
What if my uncomfortable feelings weren’t coming up to ruin my good time, but to point me toward insight that would unlock more wellbeing?
Talk about a paradigm shift! When I choose to experience feelings as messengers rather than problems, magic happens: they unlock crucial insight that allows me to move toward meetings more of my needs.
It’s often easier said than done to re-orient to our feelings in this way, so to get myself started, I like to take this approach anytime I notice an uncomfortable feeling coming up:
I say to myself, “Welcome, <feeling>.”
Welcome anger. Welcome sadness. Welcome despair. Welcome fatigue. Welcome boredom.
Whatever feeling I’ve had resistance to in the past, I make a point to welcome it now. Come on in uncomfortable feeling, and show me where I need to put my focus! I also love Rumi’s poem "The Guest House" as another reinforcement of this concept.
Once I’ve welcomed my feelings, then I start looking for the needs underneath. I ask myself:
What is this feeling trying to communicate to me? What need is it pointing me toward?
When I’m feeling frustrated or anxious, am I looking for more care? Respect? Connection? Clarity? Whatever feeling arises, there is at least one need underneath that wants my attention, and the magic starts the moment I put my curiosity toward finding that need.
You can download my feelings and needs list here to help you out with this.
Now I want to give one small disclaimer: it sometimes requires actually feeling the feeling to really get to the need underneath. For example, in my experience, feelings like sadness and anger are feelings that often need to move. If I feel sad, I might need to cry. If I notice anger, I might need to pound something or go shout into pillows. You get the idea. Give yourself permission to express whatever feeling you need to, in safe and healthy ways! You’ll find that as the feeling moves, the need will reveal itself to you.
I can’t tell you it’s going to be comfortable to welcome your feelings and uncover your needs, but I know that you have the ability to create a safe container for any feeling to have its space inside of you and reveal its wisdom. And I know that whenever you do this, you instantly activate more self-acceptance.
The journey of self-acceptance may not be a comfortable or linear journey, but it’s a worthy one—and you are making beautiful strides on the path, my friend.