How can I really accept myself

Acceptance of reality


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Thinking is an important corrective of emotions. The area in the brain that is responsible for this, the prefrontal cortex, is more pronounced in humans than in all other living beings. Its tasks distinguish us most clearly from animals: logic, planning, reason. In order to cope well in a complex environment, we have to be able to decide on things that are initially unpleasant but make sense in the long term. For example, completing a job or having a conversation that takes a lot of effort. People who have had this supervisory authority damaged in an accident are emotionally unstable, impulsive and aggressive. All the others use the prefrontal cortex to influence their feelings and to align their actions with values. This interface is critical to wellbeing. Only through thoughts and behavior can a person change his situation in such a way that he satisfies needs and reduces frustration. This is where psychotherapy comes in, but conversations with friends, family members or work colleagues also have an influence from there. However, there is an emergency off switch: very strong feelings. They inhibit the prefrontal cortex and thus the control body. Nature has come up with it in such a way that when people are in great danger they don't start to think, but run, scream and fight. That's good as long as the danger is real. But if the fear comes with things that are not life-threatening, such as before an examination or criticism, this mechanism is unfavorable. Fear, hate, love, and grief can cripple anything, if only they're big enough. It's a vicious circle: the stronger the feelings, the worse the control center works. Then there are no longer any clear thoughts or meaningful connections, the head is empty. Less control means more feelings and so on. Until they drive you crazy.

Shortly after being released from the clinic, back in her hometown, M. tries to commit suicide. She tries one more time after moving to Chicago, to a Christian flat share to start over. Re-admitted, confused, lonely and praying a lot. Moves to another Christian flat share, finds a job with an insurance company and begins evening studies at the Catholic university. One night, in the small house chapel, where she often comes to pray, she has what she will later call her "transformation". Suddenly it was light around her, very golden, she had the feeling that something was coming towards her. M. jumps up from the bench, runs back to her room and says: "I love me!" She has never spoken to herself so directly before.

The ancient philosopher Epictetus is said to have said to his students: "We cannot always change things, but we can change our attitude towards things." People even look very differently at a death diagnosis. Although there is nothing that can be done about the situation itself. Some can gain something from the last, particularly intense time, others find everything that happens there terrible. Both are justified. And both, as the philosophers look at it so soberly, is just thinking about a state, not the state itself.

When Marsha Linehan realizes that her patients feel misunderstood and attacked when she tries to work with them on their harmful attitudes, that they only get more frustrated because they have long known that everything would be easier if they were different , but if they just don't make it, Linehan realizes that another step has to come before the change: acceptance. Acceptance of reality. And radically. "Many people believe that if you accept something, you cannot change it, but the opposite is the case. Only radical acceptance of the facts in our lives allows us to change," says Linehan. "Accepting that your husband doesn't really love you can be the fact that allows you to take action." And "accept" is meant profoundly here. A superficial acceptance has the exact opposite effect: staying in a situation that is not good for you.

Nobody can change the past. And no one can change certain facts of the present. For example, if you had parents who weren't interested in you. Or you are too old to have a child. Linehan is convinced that even the most painful realities have to be accepted before things get better. But when she brings this idea to her patients, all with lives of tragedy, they yell at her: "I should accept who I am? I should accept what has happened to me? Don't you see my suffering?" Linehan realizes that she doesn't know how to do it herself: to accept what you never wanted. There are also things in her life that she does not accept. And as a therapist, she too has to be able to accept her patients, unreservedly, with all their weaknesses, struggles and relapses. She decides to learn how to accept first and then to be able to pass it on. She asks colleagues, friends, former fellow students, everyone she knows: "Who is the best teacher for this in the whole world?"

Man is not directly made to accept. Our brain craves pleasure. And does everything to avoid the unpleasant. Anna Freud already researched these tricks and wrote about them in her book in 1936 The ego and the defense mechanisms. The best known is probably the repression: If guilt or shame seize us too strongly to endure it, we push it so deeply into our unconscious that we can only guess it if it sneaks from there into our dreams or brings us to it to do something we don't understand. As we flee from unpleasant feelings, we begin to abuse, drink and ingratiate ourselves, the keyboard is huge. We deny reality, avoid people, or kick our dog in the place of the boss. We say: "I don't feel anything for you", or: "Everything is fine with me", and we also believe in it. Because anything else would hurt too much. We develop pain in the back or head, become paralyzed and can go blind so that we do not have to recognize some mental suffering. We hurt ourselves or even give up our existence to escape misery. However, acceptance presupposes that you first look the evil in the face.

Warding off uncomfortable feelings isn't always bad. When the man moves out, the children are screaming, furniture is missing and the money has to be laboriously earned, then it is understandable once the body switches to functioning. He needs the strength to maintain himself and what is left of his environment. It is not enough for mourning, there is fighting. It is also understandable that a person rears up once the muscles become weaker, the stomach grows, the hair shrinks. He has to prove that he is still him - and still there. Only: the grief for the broken family or the fear of finiteness cannot be erased by ignorance. If they are ignored in the long run, they nestle in their niche and stay there. Then, quietly and secretly, the grief unfolds its great weight until everything becomes difficult. And the fear of getting old can also develop a destructive force. It abuses families, produces young lovers, causes accidents, financial problems and burnouts.

Schemas are the complex processes in which one's own feelings, thoughts and actions interlock according to an individual pattern that is always similar. It is the typical behavior that we know from ourselves or trusted people that we display without thinking: One avoids arguments, the other always becomes equally aggressive. One of them whines all the time when he is confronted with his own insecurity, the other then fights until he drops. A scheme is a trick used by the body to save energy and time. Instead of reconsidering what to do with every look, word, smell or in recurring situations, the body saves certain combinations in childhood and adolescence, which it can quickly fall back on. From then on, some stimuli always trigger the same thoughts, feelings and behaviors, very quickly and automatically. This is the only way we can cope in this complex world. If, for example, a person always withdraws immediately from the smallest disputes or criticism, this may be due to the fact that as a child they had to experience how their environment rejected them, disappointed them, and left them when they tried to make contact. He has learned that relationships are dangerous and hurt. By withdrawing, he avoids danger as soon as he discovers the slightest evidence. Schemas are memory traces that are supposed to prevent unpleasant experiences. Leslie Greenberg researched this phenomenon at York University in Canada and divided emotions into primary and secondary. A primary emotion is our first reaction to a stimulus: even before it penetrates consciousness, the brain evaluates it purely emotionally - depending on experience - and activates a scheme. The amygdala plays a decisive role in this. The area is the antagonist of the prefrontal cortex in the brain. If it stands for thinking, then it is emotional memory. She classifies stimuli in a flash, lets feelings arise and sets off schemes. Even before the first thought. What emerges at the end of this automatism is the secondary emotion: the result of a coping process that was learned a long time ago and often runs quite independently of what is actually happening at the moment. Love can express itself as hatred, sadness as aggression, if we learned early on that they are dangerous. There are innumerable schemes that serve us well, without them we would not be able to survive. The harmful schemes, however, confuse our most important ambassadors on the path to pleasure: With the intention of protecting us, they blur information about what is really good for us and lead us to actions that do not solve our suffering. Over and over again. As different as the other schools of psychotherapy are, almost all of them postulate that enduring unpleasant feelings is central to overcoming problems. The Buddha taught the first truth: Life means suffering; avoidance of suffering leads to worse suffering.