Acceptance of ourselves, of others and of life in general is a lifelong struggle for us all. Of course, it’d be nice if finding acceptance and peace was as easy as taking a stroll around the block but, unfortunately, the path to acceptance and peace is a lot more like a muddy mountain in which any hard-won progress is immediately followed by a lot of backsliding.
For some reason, acceptance likes to show up when we’re at our very lowest point: where we’re ready to wave a white flag in surrender! Acceptance seems to insist that not only have we been thoroughly humbled but that we’ve been completely stripped of our arrogance and pride, too. It’s not possible to find acceptance and peace inside of some formula and they’re not a conclusion that one can reach after careful deliberation. Acceptance and peace happen to us: we don’t make them happen. For example, I could try and say that I’ve “accepted” the fact that one day I’m going to die since, intellectually, I know that everyone dies. But that’s entirely too cavalier of an attitude for true acceptance. When we come face to face with the real acceptance of our own death, it’ll feel like we’ve been sucker punched and we’ll be almost as terrified as if we were up against the real thing! True acceptance hits home.
There are four hurdles that each of us must contend with before we can experience a moment of acceptance and peace. Those hurdles involve:
1. Issues surrounding our individual temperaments
2. Our unrealistic expectations, ideals and standards passed down to us from our parents and society
3. Our naivety and general inexperience when it comes to living life
4. Our tendency to assess ourselves negatively
With all of these hurdles stacked against us, it’s amazing that we ever experience any moments of peace and acceptance at all. Finding acceptance is critical if we ever hope to live our best possible life. Because, until we can accept ourselves as we truly are, we won’t be able to accept or make peace with the boundaries and limits in our lives. Without clear boundaries and limits, the world’s a very confusing and scary place. Most of us, though, have a desperate need to believe that anything’s possible (as long as we work hard and persevere.) Yet, a world without any limits or boundaries only serves to keep us perpetually off-balanced and confused. Our limits and boundaries actually define us as individuals: if we’re female, we’re not male, if we’re born Italian, we’re not Spanish, etc.
For us to be able to live the best possible life that we can possibly live, we must be able to know who we are and who we’re not. Without that knowledge, it’s not possible for us to know which path is the best path for us to take in life. That’s why so many of us end up living lives that are dictated by our families, our culture or society instead of living a life that’s right for us.
In the quest to know ourselves and to live a fulfilling life, it’s inevitable that we make hundreds of decisions and choices on a daily basis: from those that are minor and inconsequential to the ones that are ultimately life-changing. Conscious or unconscious, one thing’s for certain, any decisions or choices we make are always dictated by what we perceive our limits and boundaries to be. Simply getting up in the morning necessitates that we decide how late we can sleep so that we’re not late for work. If we persistently ignore that limit and are repeatedly late for work, we’ll most likely lose our job. If we lose our job, we’ll simply be exchanging one boundary for another because, though we might not have to get up when the alarm rings anymore, we’ll be up against the limit of running short of money due to the fact that we’re no longer working anymore!
This constant bumping and grinding against our limits and boundaries is what shapes our world as surely as a sculptor chisels stone into art. The truth is there can be no life (or sculpture) without the boundary of its outline and the limits of its shape. Our capacity to accept and incorporate our limits and boundaries is what lays the foundation upon which our lives are built. It grounds us and delineates what’s possible and what’s not possible.
Acceptance of these limits and boundaries doesn’t come easy for us due to the fact that, as humans, we despise the thought that we might be limited or restricted in any way. The truth is that being able to accept ourselves just as we are including all our limits and boundaries is quite freeing since we no longer need to pretend that we’re anything other than what we are.
Here’s a discussion of the hurdles we’re all up against as we attempt to get acceptance and peace:
Hurdle #1: Temperament
There are a few of us in the world who actually find it easy to accept our limits and boundaries while the remainder of us are seemingly fated to rebel against them until the day we die. This actually makes sense if we take the time to look at the nine categories of temperament discussed in Chapter Three. For instance, if someone happens to be born with an extremely high activity level, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s going to be hard for that individual to cope with the limitation of sitting still in a classroom all day. If someone’s born with an extreme sensitivity to external stimuli, such as noise, bright lights or crowded rooms, those limitations are going to make it extremely difficult for that person to enjoy a circus or the Fourth of July. And, in the same way, a person who’s born with a gloomy or pessimistic temperament will instinctively fight his limits and boundaries because he’s been born with a tendency to respond negatively to almost everything!
Temperament is always going to have a big influence on which boundaries and limits are tolerable (or intolerable) for a given individual. If we’ve been lucky enough to be born with a sunny and mellow disposition, then it’s probably going to be easy for us to accept our boundaries and limits as we’re naturally easy-going and not overly bothered by most things (think Golden Retriever.) On the other hand, if we’ve been born with a rebellious or contentious temperament, it’s much more likely that we’re going to disregard or push against our limits and boundaries. At the other end of the spectrum, some of us will actually cling to our limits and boundaries (or what we perceive our boundaries to be) to the point that we get upset or anxious anytime those boundaries or limits are crossed or violated.
These different kinds of responses to limits and boundaries can be seen everywhere. My two grandsons are a good example of how different individuals respond differently to limits and boundaries as a result of being born with different temperaments. Andres, who’s just over a year old, is typically mellow about most things. He watches the world around him as intently as if he’s recording it for future reference. He’s not the least bit perturbed by new people or unfamiliar situations. He’s calmly curious. When it comes to bedtime, it’s rarely a big deal for him as he accepts it, goes along with it and that’s that.
River, who’s just a few months shy of two, is not a particularly mellow fellow and he rebels against his boundaries simply because they’re boundaries. River decided long ago that bedtime should be something he does only when he’s tired and not a minute before. He’ll cry and cry if we try to put him to bed before he’s tired enough to fall asleep on his own. River will sometimes refuse to be buckled into his car seat, bucking like a wild bronco at the end of a rope. In general, he’s very opinionated about what he wants or doesn’t want to do. For instance, he absolutely loves the vacuum cleaner and will repeatedly flick the power switch off and on as he pushes it from room to room. In the evenings, he likes to drag a chair from the kitchen table to the sink so he can climb up on it and play at washing dishes. River is perfectly clear about the number of boundaries he should have: zero! It’s simply not in River’s nature (temperament) to abdicate, while Andres finds it quite easy to go-with-the-flow.
It might be tempting to call River “difficult” and Andres “easy”, especially considering that those are two of the three classifications Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess gave to the three different types of temperament in their fifty year study of temperament in people (the third classification being “slow-to-warm-up”). As a grandma, it’d break my heart to label River as difficult since the word clearly has negative connotations and could eventually be something that hurts his feelings if he were ever to hear it used in reference to himself. It might even become self-fulfilling.
I believe it’s vastly preferable to bestow on River a canine characterization. Without a doubt, River takes after his grandma as we’re both irrepressible Terriers who relish being in the middle of things and have a definite propensity for getting into mischief. We love being in charge and we’re irrepressible know-it-alls. Having been born with these traits, River is simply not someone who’s going to go with the flow. Those of us who are responsible for River’s upbringing will have to do our best to teach him how to train himself so that he can eventually tone down his Terrier exuberance if it turns out to be a problem for him down the road.
Just as with people, temperament varies dramatically from one breed of dog to another and it’s these temperamental differences that dictates how easily (or not so easily) a dog accepts his limits and boundaries. Over my thirty-plus years as a veterinarian, I’ve heard stories about and observed lots of dogs that will fight any and all boundaries to the bitter end. At the other end of the spectrum are the dogs that can seemingly take any kind of limit or boundary in stride. For instance, some dogs will only bark once or twice when the doorbell rings, calmly taking a cue from their owners that all is well while other dogs will go absolutely nuts, refusing to quit barking no matter what their owner says or does. I got to know one of these “irrepressible” dogs quite well from her visits to my veterinary clinic: her name was Annie and she was completely intolerant of any and all limits and boundaries.
Annie was a pint-sized Pomeranian with wild Phyllis Diller hair who’d been treated at my clinic multiple times for pancreatitis. Annie’s routine was set in stone: the instant she was carried through the clinic door, she flipped out and would hysterically bark and snap at anyone who got near her. Though it was hard for us to imagine, Annie’s owners had repeatedly impressed upon us that Annie’s behavior at the clinic was nothing compared to the way she behaved at home! If someone came over to their house to visit or do some work (even if they’d been there multiple times before), Annie would go ballistic: barking non-stop until they finally left! Annie simply couldn’t tolerate being around anyone except her immediate family. She didn’t like when something was going on outside the house either. She’d bark non-stop if kids played in the street or the gardener came to mow. What made matters worse was the fact that Annie’s bark was horribly ear-piercing and so shrill that fingernails on a blackboard sounded sweet in comparison. No matter how her owners tried isolating her in a back bedroom with the TV on and her bowl full of treats, Annie could NOT be consoled.
Some dogs with anxiety similar to Annie’s can’t actually be left alone because, If the are, they’ll bloody their mouths and paws from chewing and clawing at doors, windows or simply the confines of their kennels: these dogs can’t tolerate the limitation of being alone. Other dogs (like Labradors) can’t accept the confines of their own backyards and, consequently, they’ll jump, dig or gnaw at the fence until they’ve found a way to get free. I happened to have a Lab like that once by the name of Dude. Dude was an incorrigible escape artist and he got out so frequently that my neighbors were forever having to put him back in my yard when I wasn’t home.
A funny thing happened as a result of this particular arrangement. One day shortly after getting home from work, I opened the slider to the backyard in order to check on the dogs and, low and behold, there were TWO black Labs were staring back at me! Someone had obviously seen a black Lab running loose in the neighborhood and, having assumed that the dog was Dude, had put the dog in my backyard. Clearly, there was a different black Lab running loose in the neighborhood. I actually recognized the second black Lab as being a dog I’d seen occasionally at my veterinary clinic named Apache. Apache lived just a few blocks over and, clearly, he didn’t like boundaries anymore than Dude did!
Lots of dogs push the limits of their boundaries: some won’t stay off the furniture even though they’ve been reprimanded a million times. The minute their owner’s backs are turned, these dogs shamelessly jump on the couch or bed leaving an obvious doggie impression covered in fur as evidence of their defiance.
Other dogs refuse to come when called, looking their owners straight in the eye only to turn tail and run off in the opposite direction! What stinkers! The list goes on. There are dogs that repeatedly swipe food off of counters, dogs that won’t stop jumping up on people, dogs that refuse to be house broken.
What’s important to understand about these dogs is they’re not simply puppies that haven’t yet learned what’s expected of them. No, ma’am, these are mature dogs whose owners have “doggedly” tried to train them, using various types of behavioral instruction, sometimes even hiring professional trainers! These dogs simply have ridiculously stubborn temperaments that set them up to ignore, resist or, in general, thumb their noses at the limits and boundaries their owners are trying to impose on them. These dogs have their own agenda and they aren’t going to be dissuaded!
Temperament is the underlying reason for all kinds of unmanageable behaviors in dogs. Not surprisingly, people have the same kinds of quirky and defiant temperaments that dogs do and, just as is true of dogs, none of us have the ability to change the individual that we were born to be as a result of our genetics.
Hurdle #2: Expectations, Ideals and Standards
As we’ve just seen, temperament is a formidable obstacle in the quest for acceptance and peace. The next hurdle that each of us must deal with in order to find some acceptance or peace in our lives has to do with our expectations, ideals and standards. All of us have expectations, ideals and standards whether we’re consciously aware of them or not. Expectations, ideals and standards are an integral part of what it means to be human and each of us acquires them from our culture, society and families.
Expectations are an every day occurrence in our lives: ranging from something as trivial as expecting breakfast when we get up in the morning to something as major as expecting that one day we’ll get married and have children. Our worlds revolve around our daily and long-term expectations and, when we don’t get what we expect, we’ll naturally be frustrated and disappointed in proportion to however important a particular expectation was for us.
Standards refer to the basic minimums that each of us hope to receive from life. Our individual standards come about from the particular family we have, where we happen to live and what socioeconomic class we’re in. For instance, the basic standards for someone who’s living in middle class America might include getting a high school education and then, after high school, getting married, having kids and maybe owning a small house. Those definitely wouldn’t be the same standards that someone living in the slums of India would have for himself.
Ideals refer to the very best that we might ever hope to attain for ourselves. Again, ideals vary from individual to individual and, like our standards, they’re influenced by our families, culture and socioeconomic class. Ideals are the model for perfection in our lives yet, as they’re beyond our reach most of the time, we’re often find ourselves confused and discouraged at our inability to ever attain that perfection. This can be seen in a school aged child’s dream of being a basketball or football star or in all the contestants who try to make it big by competing on American Idol. Coming down to reality is a rough road for all of us at various times in our lives: even concerning the less exotic ideals we have for ourselves such as having a “perfect” marriage or being a “perfect” parent. Though it’s hard coming down to Earth, it’s something that each of will need to do if we ever want to acquire some acceptance and peace in our lives.
Dogs definitely have expectations (such as when to expect a walk or to be fed) but, lucky for them, they aren’t burdened by any the ideals and standards that we humans have. The ideals and standards that define us as humans come from the compulsion we have to constantly compare ourselves to one another. All day long, consciously or unconsciously, we critique and evaluate ourselves in our never-ending attempt to determine whether we’re worse off, equal to or hopefully better off than everyone else.
If we combine this constant comparing of ourselves to others with the tendency we have to evaluate ourselves negatively, it’s no wonder that so many of us are plagued with a bad self-image. All the comparing and negativity makes it impossible for us to be satisfied with our current circumstances, talents and abilities. We’re eaten alive by our desire to always be better than what we are at any given moment. Despite the fact that we’re never as bad as we think we are, we can’t help but be haunted by the feeling that our lives aren’t nearly as good as everyone else’s!
And, as if things weren’t bad enough, this dissatisfaction is continually enflamed by the portrayals of wealth, talent and beauty that are constantly flashed across the television, internet and other forms of media. Having the talented, rich and famous constantly on display is like driving by a car wreck and not being able to turn away: it’s both horrific and captivating. Is it any wonder that we’re discouraged and depressed after watching or reading about the “chosen ones” whose lives make our lives seem just that more boring and pathetic? Tormented on a daily basis by all the things that we don’t have and everything that we’re not, it’s not surprising that we hate ourselves for being so substandard.
Dogs never do that! Dogs don’t look at other dogs and think, “Oh, I wish I could be that dog!” For us humans, though, there’s no escape from our expectations, standards and ideals and, if we don’t find a way to make peace with ourselves as we are, we’ll forever be wishing that we could be someone else.
Hurdle #3: Naivety and Inexperience
In addition to temperament and our expectations, standards and ideals, another obstacle we’ll need to contend with in order to get some acceptance and peace concerns our naïvety and inexperience. Being naive and inexperienced at certain points in our life (especially when we’re young) is unavoidable: none of us can ever know what we don’t know before we finally know it! Experience involves the “school of hard knocks.” All of us are fated to stumble and fall until we’ve finally get some experience and knowledge under our belts: there’s simply no way around it. And age isn’t always a determining factor. As they say, “There’s no fool like an old fool” and anyone can get themselves into a jam or be taken advantage of despite the fact that they’re older and one might think that they should know better. In truth, it’s all a matter of what our life experience has been up to a particular moment in time. All we have to do is watch Judge Judy to see all the countless people who put their faith in someone only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them.
My own naivety displayed itself in a life-long tendency to get involved in relationships where I took the role of the “giver” while the other person took and took. This tendency to be the giver showed up in all my relationships: family, friends, work, romantic. I simply had this tendency to blindly trust people and, unfortunately, some of those people weren’t deserving of my trust. So much of this tendency to blindly trust people comes from my temperament which (as I’ve mentioned in other chapters) is very Lab-like. As a Lab, I naturally liked people and, since I always gave people the benefit of the doubt, I couldn’t always differentiate the good people from the bad.
Due to the pain and suffering that I kept experiencing in my relationships, I started to blame myself, concluding that there had to be something wrong with me. My naivety and inexperience made it impossible for me to see the world as it really was and, feeling quite sorry for myself, I honestly believed that I was the only person in the world who wasn’t living a happy life! I didn’t understand at that point in my life that all of us have a public persona and that public persona is rarely (if ever) an accurate representation of what’s truly going on in our lives. What we see when we look at someone else is a facade and, the truth is, none of our lives is ever as wonderful and perfect as we try to pretend they are when we’re out in public. Putting up a facade is how we protect ourselves as our facades allow us to keep secret all the countless insecurities, worries and doubts that we have about ourselves.
The truth is everyone in this world struggles and no one (absolutely no one) escapes the pain and suffering that’s a big part of simply living life. My naïve and inexperienced mind couldn’t comprehend that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. I naively got caught up in blaming myself for all of my unhappiness rather than being able to understand that life isn’t easy for anyone!
It eventually became clear to me that I wasn’t ever going to be able to accept myself for who I was as long as I kept thinking that the answer to all my problems was to change myself into someone different. I didn’t understand then that no one can ever really change themselves into someone that they’re not. In my naive and inexperienced mind, I thought that if I wanted it badly enough and worked hard enough, I could transform myself into anyone I wanted to be. Talk about naive and inexperienced! Fortunately, as I got older and gradually learned a bit more about life, I eventually came to the realization that I was stuck being the person that I’d been born to be. What made this a lot easier to accept was learning to think of myself as a dog! Once it became clear that I was part Labrador and part Jack Russell terrier (a Laberrier), my attitude towards myself immediately started to improve. I was able to be so more compassionate and forgiving towards myself as a dog than I’d ever been when I’d simply thought of myself as a flawed human being. Everything changed when I started treating myself as nicely as I’d treat a dog!
Seeing myself as a dog also made it easier for me to understand that life isn’t fair because I was definitely aware of the fact that some dogs are blessed with wonderful lives while other dogs experience abuse and neglect and left to starve on the street. It definitely wasn’t the abused dog’s fault that its life had turned out that way. That realization helped me to make peace with the unfairness that occurs in the human world: that too is really no one’s fault. It finally sunk into my thick head that everything in life is a bell-shaped curve: though a very small percentage of us experience amazing lives and a very small percentage of us are experience tragic lives, the majority of us have lives that are somewhere in the middle: in other words, we’re average. When I started to see the world in this way, all the pain and suffering that I’d ever experienced didn’t feel so “personal.” The longer I lived, the more I understood that life is simply the way it is and, contrary to how I’d felt when I was young, naive and inexperienced, life isn’t out to get me personally!
Hurdle #4: Our Tendency to Assess Ourselves Negatively
The final obstacle to finding acceptance and peace concerns the human tendency to assess ourselves negatively. It would seem that life is hard enough without constantly demeaning ourselves but that’s definitely what we do! For example, I’ve always been extremely hard on myself whenever I didn’t feel that I was being strong and capable…of all the things that I expected from myself, I believed that I should be there for other people (especially my family) and I should be able to fix any problem that ever happened to come up (a bit unrealistic to say the least!) Whenever I fell short of what I expected from myself, I was absolutely ruthless in my negative self-talk: constantly calling myself a loser who was worthless and stupid.
We humans are constantly tormented by our “shoulds.” All the “shoulds” in our lives are stuck inside our heads and they aren’t going to quit prodding and poking us until we thoroughly hate ourselves. The “shoulds” completely dictate how we feel we ought to be: that we “should” be strong, smart, attractive, funny, patient, creative, productive, kind, considerate, compassionate successful…in other words, we should be perfect! The “shoulds” are not only unreasonable, they’re unachievable.
In our efforts to try and combat the negativity that’s second nature to us, we’d be smart to incorporate a bit of the self-righteousness that toy breeds feel! Toy breeds never doubt for a moment that universe revolves around them and that everything and everyone should cater to them! Toy breeds expect to be catered to and they have absolutely zero guilt, doubt or embarrassment over the demands that they make of everyone around them.
Toy breeds expect their humans to have a fat wallet: that they’ll be provided with the pampered life that they deserve. These tiny five-pound Poodles, Malteses and Yorkies expect to be carted around in their owner’s Prada bags, their perfectly groomed heads poking out as they’re toted from store to store on Rodeo Drive. When mealtime arrives, these little princes and princesses anticipate nothing but the best: nothing but the most tender morsels of steak and chicken. For the rest of the evening they are simply adored until it’s time for bed.
As can be seen, toy breeds have entitlement oozing out of their painted toenails: something that I, as a Lab, had no clue about. A Lab’s humanitarian tendencies are the complete antithesis of a toy breed’s demands to be pampered. Yet, if the rest of us hope to have a chance of one day considering ourselves to be worthy, we’re going to need to incorporate at least a little bit of the entitlement that toy breeds have in spades. Personally, I’ll know when that day has finally arrived because, when it does, the Lab’s need to take care of everyone else won’t be at my own expense!
Fear of not being good enough is what’s always behind any feelings of unworthiness. Unfortunately, our fear of not being good enough is constantly exacerbated by all the nasty, mean things we say to ourselves countless times a day. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been so terrified of not being good enough that I came up with a strategy as to how to play it safe: by always being the “giver” in my relationships. I’d reasoned that if I gave and gave and gave, making sure that I did everything I possibly could to please the other person, that it would be much less likely that I’d ever be rejected. The problem with such one-sided relationships, though, is that they’re not at all authentic because the relationship is completely based on fear and the inevitable suppression of the giver’s feelings and emotions.
The truth is it takes an incredible amount of courage to be vulnerable. If we’re ever going to be able to ask for what we want and express ourselves fully in a relationship, we’re going to have to have some faith in ourselves such that, no matter what happens, we’ll know in our hearts that we’ll be okay, that we’ll somehow survive. If we can’t believe that about ourselves, then we’re definitely giving someone too much power over our lives and our happiness. If we don’t find a way to manage our fears and learn that we have a right to receive and to speak up for ourselves, then all of our relationships will be doomed to failure for the simple fact that the relationships weren’t based on the truth.
Give and take is the lifeblood of a healthy relationship. If all of us were to resist receiving out of a fear of being weak, unworthy, indebted or needy, the world would become an even more cold and lonely place in which people revolve around one another but never actually connect. For someone to give, someone must be willing to receive. If that doesn’t happen, there can be no interchange. Even if it takes forcing ourselves, we must get some practice at receiving in our relationships. If we don’t, we’ll continue to have unbalanced relationships. As the legendary John Lennon once said, “We all need a little help from our friends.” In its most elementary form, giving and receiving is simply a matter of taking turns: a concept learned at four years of age but something that’s frequently forgotten in adulthood.
Several years back when I was struggling to deal with an emotional crisis, my four of my hurdles were doing their very best to keep me down. I’d gotten myself to a place of being complete exhausted as a result of ignoring my limits and boundaries. I’d been trying to do more than I could possibly do and, being my stubborn self, I was too afraid and too proud to ask for help. As I got closer and closer to my breaking point, my negative self-talk went into high gear! I kept asking myself, “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right?” Yet, even though I was in the middle of beating myself up, there was a tiny part of me that could see how out of control I was and how unfair I was being to myself. In a desperate attempt to do something different (i.e.-different from kicking myself when I’m down!), I decided to see if I could calm myself down by trying to imagine what kind of dog I was being at that moment. Hopefully, if I could shift my perspective, I might be able to stop my downhill spiral.
Maybe it was because I’d gotten to the point emotionally where I wanted nothing more than to tuck my tail and hide that Doug (the talking dog from the movie “UP!”) came to mind. Doug always made me smile and I couldn’t help but feel an immediate connection to him since we’re both incorrigible helpaholics. Driven by our all-consuming love for the ones we love, Doug and I tend to try way too hard to please. Yet, instead of actually being helpful, we often end up as nothing more than a couple of bumbling hero-wannabes.
There’s a wonderful moment in the movie “UP!” where Doug’s unwilling master (the voice of Ed Asner) exasperatedly yells, “Bad dog, Bad dog!” at Doug. Poor confused Doug immediately hunkers down, tucking his head and tail as he slinks off a broken dog. That’s so me! Whenever I fall short of my ridiculously unrealistic expectations for myself or I happen to lose my cool in the midst of an emotional breakdown, I instinctively scream the equivalent of “Bad dog, Bad dog!” at myself!
Seeing the similarities between Doug and I made it possible for me to see myself in a much more compassionate light. I was able to understood that, despite the fact that Doug and I were horrible people-pleasers, our temperaments were not something that we could control since we’d been born that way! Putting myself in the same shoes as Doug definitely diminished my self-loathing: it wasn’t completely gone by any means but it wasn’t so ruthless. Taping into the compassion that I felt for Doug helped me to apply some of that compassion towards myself. Doug and I simply had people-pleasing temperaments that left us no choice but to respond in a persistently (though sometimes annoyingly) helpful way. We couldn’t control our responses anymore than the dogs in the movie “UP!” could when someone yelled the word “SQUIRREL!”
I was actually quite surprised at the relief I could feel from simply thinking of myself as a human “Doug.” It was shocking how something inside of myself had softened and I no longer seemed to hate myself: all because I imagined myself to have something in common with a cartoon dog! I made a promise to myself from that moment that, anytime I started being hateful to myself, I’d immediately bring dear, old bungling Doug to mind. Most importantly, if I couldn’t imagine myself saying such hateful things to Doug, then I definitely shouldn’t be saying them to myself!
When we put all four of the hurdles to acceptance and peace together: our inborn temperament, the expectations, ideals and standards instilled in us by our parents and society, our tendency to being inexperienced and naive and, lastly, the inherent negativity we always have towards ourselves, it’s quite clear that the biggest hurdle to accepting and being at peace with ourselves is ourselves.
All any of us can do is to continue trying to do the best that we can to find a way to accept and to be at peace with ourselves. For me, I found that learning to think of myself as a dog was extremely helpful in my quest for acceptance and peace. The truth is, for better or worse, all of us are who we are (just like dogs) as a result of our genetics and, when it comes down to it, we’re all we have in this life! It’s simply unavoidable that we’re all fallible in one way or another and, though we tend to ignore this fact, we’re all blessed in some way or another. It’s up to us to remind ourselves of this fact so we might minimize the horribly negative things we always say to ourselves.
Being able to accept our individual limits and boundaries is what gives us humility and the capacity to feel compassion and empathy for others as well as ourselves. Once we accept that each of us is limited in one way or another (despite what external appearances may imply: i.e.-that some people appear to have it all), we can finally start noticing just how much more alike we are than different: all of us struggle, all of us experience heartache and loss and all of us die. There are no free rides in life. Yet, by learning how to think of ourselves and others as dogs, we can hopefully lighten up a bit and try not to take ourselves quite so seriously. Laughter is always the best medicine for whatever ails us!
In the next chapter, we’re going to discover that one of the biggest challenges to being able to make peace with ourselves is our resistance to change. We’ll see that the more we resist something, the more it persists. If we’re ever going to find any acceptance and peace, we must first be able to confront the issues that are causing us pain. It’s ironic that we humans always resist letting go of the very things that are choking the life out of us! We’ve got to get a handle on that! Woof!