The desire to be accepted is something which I think we all share. The level of the desire may be different but each person seems to want someone and/or someplace which seems accepting of who we are. Each of us can relate to the theme song from the 80s sitcom, Cheers. We want a place where “everyone knows our name.”
One of the struggles that I have had is accepting myself. I am a person who can always find areas where I can improve. Pointing out the weaknesses and imperfections which I have is easy for me. This is a double-edged sword. Being self-aware and having the ability to see areas of improvement has helped me to grow. In some situations, I have aggressively worked on making necessary changes which have led to positive steps forward. Yet, there are some areas where I am not able to change; areas which are truly beyond my control or ability.
I think that improving self-acceptance begins with understanding the reason(s) I am not able to accept part(s) of me. As mentioned above, this understanding can lead to naming areas where I am able to make improvements. Other times this understanding can show me that my struggle with accepting myself is driven by reasons which I self-impose. I may see another person and wish I was more like them. I even convince myself that since I am not like them, I am not worthy or acceptable. Envy can play a role in my battle as well. I want what someone else has. I convince myself that if I were only better, I could have it as well.
I continually have to remind myself that some parts of my life I can change while other parts are not within my abilities to change. I cannot change the look of my face or basic structure of my body but I can change my weight or the way I take care of my physical presence. I cannot change financial and employment decisions of the past but I can adopt different financial management approaches and the type of employment which I seek. One part of my life which I tried hard to change but was unchangeable because it is how I was created is my sexual orientation.
Throughout a large part of my life, I hated who I was because of who I was attracted to in life. I tried to “fix” myself. I ignored my feelings and emotions which led me to look at males romantically. For me, it was not acceptable to be gay. I tried to convince myself that there was no reason I could not be romantic with a female, fall in love with a female, and live a “normal” life. The surrounding culture told me that this was the right thing to do and that falling in love and creating a family with a male was physically impossible as well as socially unacceptable. My hatred for myself because of all that I was burning inside grew larger and larger. I dated different women and truly enjoyed my time with them. At some level, I fell in love with a few of them and actually married one of those who I had fallen in love with. Because of that, I now have two amazing sons who I love very much and who have enriched my life in ways I can never fully describe.
Barriers finally began to break down as I grew older. Through some helpful therapy and conversations, I was starting to realize that being a gay man was not something horrid. I realized that it did not go against my belief in God. My sexual orientation is a part of me but not the whole of me. It is a part of me that is not evil or sick or wrong, but how my loving God created me to be. As barriers in society lessened and as I began to have a much different perspective on my sexuality, I was able to start accepting that part of myself. In that acceptance I moved to honesty. This required me to tell some important people in my life the truth and to adjust some important aspects of how I was living my life.
My first step was being honest with my wife and children. This was a difficult and painful step. Grief seemed overwhelming. Admitting I was being unfair to them and myself caused feelings of betrayal. While none of this was easy in any way, it did allow for a moving ahead in life. Working through all the emotions took time. I consider my former wife as a friend. She is someone who I will always care about and have concern for because she was such an important part of my life and as I said, I had fallen in love with her.
My next step was to change where I lived and where I worked. These were not easy changes either. Yet I was fortunate to have found a man who would help me through each of these steps and support me unquestionably. He was there through all my emotions, doubts, and fears. Together we found a faith community that accepted us and did not judge who we are or where we had come from. This faith community helped me to heal and more importantly, helped me to truly accept this part of who I am. Amazingly, this would also be the place where I found employment. I was able to use my gifts to support this community and to continue on my journey of growth.
All this has led me to fully accept and embrace this part my being. I am not at the point of fully accepting myself but this is a large part of me which affected self-perception. Having the ability to accept that I am a gay man has lessened some of my other acceptance issues.
How do you do with accepting yourself? What are the reasons leading you to not accept portions of yourself? Which reasons contain elements that you can change and which ones are not within your ability to change?
If we have the desire to be accepted by others and in various settings, we have to work on accepting ourselves.