Of all the subjects that we talk about in the Kintsugi programme, I personally find self-acceptance one of the hardest to grapple with.
Self-acceptance is often defined as ‘being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and having a feeling of satisfaction with yourself, despite any deficiencies or choices you’ve made in the past’.
But, with all that I know about myself, how can I possibly live in a place of self-acceptance?
My mind often lurks in a dingy corner of gloom that says, ‘if people really knew me, then they wouldn’t love me” and so accepting one’s self can become a seemingly impossible feat. Worse than that, it can drive me to perform like a circus monkey, in order to compensate for the personal flaws I see.
But this is also completely illogical. As humans, we have a natural state of compassion for others and when we are at our best, we are naturally kind to those we meet. Self-acceptance could be thought of as having the same unconditional kindness and love for ourselves that we strive to have for other people. We look at the strengths and struggles of the people we really love and we would not change them for the world. Perhaps a part of self-acceptance is doing that for ourselves?
In the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, the cracks and brokenness repaired with gold are what make the pot beautiful and unique, and ultimately more real. The path we take in life is rarely smooth and the pains of life can be deep, but they are what make us who we are. In my case, I know that life’s challenges have rubbed away at my sharp edges over time and, whilst I would never ask for pain for myself or others near me, there is an undeniable ‘divine exchange’ that happens when we respond in love to the trials of life.
Modern culture often encourages us to look into ourselves for answers. I love Whiney Houston’s rendition of “The Greatest Love of All” but its exhortation that the greatest love of all is to learn to love ourselves leaves me stuck. When I look further into myself, all I see is more of the stuff that I’ve buried deep.
The story on the prodigal son in the Christian tradition gives me more hope. In the parable, we read of a son who insults his father and leaves to live a self-centred life. After running out of money and falling on hard times, he realises that living as a servant for his father would be better than his current predicament. Returning to his father, he throws himself at his mercy and asks to become his servant. However, the father will have none of it. He embraces him, restores him to the family and has a feast to celebrate.
Here’s the thing. The father could not love his son any more or any less — he just loves him, for who his is — not for what he’s done and not for what he hasn’t done.
The father in the story symbolises God and the story describes his unconditional love for humanity. Whether you believe in God or not, I think this ancient story beautifully portrays the intrinsic, fundamental value of every person on the planet.
Prison Fellowship has nearly 3,000 volunteers who provide support for people in prison across England and Wales. We say that ‘no one is beyond hope’. It sounds simple. But it’s a huge statement when you think of the implications of ‘no one’ being beyond hope.
On one of our prison courses, we often use a £20 note to illustrate the worth of each and every individual. We take a new note and ask its value “That’s easy, it’s £20” those on the course say. Having then screwed it up and stamped on it, we hold up the beaten-up note and ask the same question. No matter how much the note is mistreated, its value never diminishes.
Each model of personal development and belief system will approach self-acceptance from a different angle. Below are some of the more practical thoughts that I’ve found helpful:
· Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as you would want to treat others.
· Embrace your scars — they make you who you are.
· Forgive. For your sake, if not theirs. Drinking poison and expecting someone else to die simply doesn’t work.
. Avoid ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’. Performing for others out of duty will eventually destroy you.
· Accept things as they are without resignation and bitterness, and focus on what you can control in the future.
· Many of us walk around with an ‘inner critic’ — that voice that says “you’re not good enough”. We would never say the things that we say to ourselves to others. Hush that voice!
Lastly, not everyone believes that there is a God. But, for those of us who do, we can draw on the story of the prodigal son, remembering that our Heavenly Father doesn’t love us any more or less because of what we do. His love is perfect and unchanging. As the story shows, He just longs to have us home.
CEO, Prison Fellowship