People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right-hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.Carl Rogers
How many of us have experienced acceptance such as this? Have we been allowed to unfold, to be seen as a human in progress living with the reality that where we are is not where we are going? What would it be like to be accepted for who we are (warts and all)?
For many of us, there is a deep and aching loneliness or lingering feeling of being “less than.” But, where does this come from? Why are we plagued with this nagging voice in our heads or dull ache in our stomachs that signals to us that something is not quite right (or more specifically, that we are not right). This signal could be reflecting what we might call an unmet need or the experience of psychological neglect. There are many well-established theories that argue that we, as human beings, need more than food, water, and shelter to survive. Of course, these basic needs are essential, but so too are psychological needs of connection, being accepted, feeling as though we are worth something, and that our existence matters to someone. For some of us, this unmet need aches much like a physical pain, it can grow, and it can evoke a deep sense of shame that tells us that we are broken, unlovable, or flawed beyond repair.
These feelings can stem from our early childhood and adolescent experiences where well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning) parents were unable to provide us with the nurturance and love and acceptance that we were desperately craving. They tried, but perhaps they themselves were emotionally stunted. The attempted, but fell short because they were too exhausted from work. They were oblivious to our needs, but largely because they were also traumatized as children. They ignored our needs, but probably because they were too busy trying to make us “the best.” For these reasons and so much more, our needs—to be seen and accepted for who we are—went unmet. Instead, many of us were given piecemeal efforts wherein our self-worth was dependent upon our marks in school, our ability to be useful, our ability to be silent and demand little, our looks, or our ability to carry out our parents unfulfilled dreams… And so, here we are aching for intimacy but scared to truly be open to someone; striving for self-worth and overperforming to get it, or disengaged from life and relationships, because the disappointment and pain is too great.
So, what can we do about this? The first step is to recognize that this psychological wound that has gone untreated for years, perhaps decades. It exists and we need to tend to it, to apply a soothing ointment of self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-validation, to tend to this wound. How do we do this? But, acknowledging that what we didn’t get hurt us deeply. This isn’t about blame, it isn’t about pointing fingers—in fact, one could say that blame takes the focus off our own healing. We don’t need to unleash our anger on anyone (although we can be deeply angry about this). And then, we tell ourselves the words that we have longed to hear from our parents: “I accept you the way that you are; I want to help you care for yourself better; I want to you to listen to your instincts more; I want you to trust yourself; I want you to believe that you have good things to offer this world; I want you to get to know the real you; I am sorry that I couldn’t give you what you needed.”