“To succeed, it is necessary to accept the world as it is – and rise above it.”
I recently sat with a young man who was telling me why he was feeling so down, discouraged, and guilty. “It’s all that acceptance stuff” he said. “All that acceptance stuff” sounds pretty important, doesn’t it? In fact, the notion of acceptance is a fundamentally crucial step in the development of all people. By this, I am not promoting the notion that we all just need to simply accept everything in our lives, but rather stop beating ourselves up for the human limitations that we all have, while being aware of and celebrating our unique gifts.
Acceptance comes in many forms. The young man sitting across from me was talking about his sense of how accepting his parents were of him, which in turn had shaped his self-image, and his ability to be self-accepting. If you met this young person, you would likely see what I see. He is intelligent, quick, artistic, verbal, handsome, gentle, caring and loving. So why on earth would he need to struggle with the notion of self-acceptance? As we work to better understand this question, we are increasingly clear on one fact: He did not create that sense of being “less” or like a “failure.” Others did that for him, especially his father.
It is never my intent to vilify a parent for a child’s pain. It serves no purpose to do so, but it is important for this young man to know where these feelings came from. His sense of not being good enough come, in large measure, from the messages he received, and continues to receive, from his father.
As Father’s Day is upon us, I am reminded of a reflection I sent out one year ago. In part, I included the following:
Men tend to be “bottom line” thinkers. They don’t want to talk around something; rather, they want to get to the point. This kind of short-circuited dialogue can create obvious tensions in any relationship because too many important things are left unsaid.
If inadequate communication between adult partners can be problematic, between fathers and their children, it can be toxic. Children, whether they admit to it or not, anxiously watch for signs of approval from their fathers. In my practice, many young people report an easy going and open relationship with their mothers while they frequently describe the exchanges with their fathers as limited or absent. This leaves many children wondering what their fathers are thinking and sometimes assuming the worst.
So, why don’t fathers come by this connection thing more easily? Many men were raised to think that expressing how they felt was a sign of weakness. Men often tell me that they can express emotion but that the range of emotion is frequently limited to anger & frustration. While men can identify feelings of hurt, love, insecurity or frailty, it almost always comes out as anger, or it doesn’t come out at all.
The young man in my office wants, and needs, what we all want and need…validation. Validation is most importantly provided by those paternal and maternal figures in our lives. Without that sense of unconditional love and acceptance, we leave our sons and daughters to, at the very best, wonder if they are “adequate” in our eyes, and at the very worst, struggling with “all that acceptance stuff.”
No one should have to struggle with the notion of acceptance as children and yet too many children do exactly that. And those children grow into adults who carry that overwhelming fear of not being “enough” to relationships with their bosses, partners, and their children.
So, it is time to stop right where we are and challenge ourselves to be more self-accepting, whether we received that message from our parents or not. And if we are parents, we can begin to undo damaging messages of the past and help our children gain the kind of self-acceptance that all of us need in order to survive, and thrive, in the world around us.
With the passing of another Father’s Day, I would encourage fathers (mother’s too) everywhere to consider how they might want to communicate differently with their children. Considering the well-being of a child who knows they are abundantly loved and cherished, it certainly seems worth the effort. And it’s really not that difficult to do…just sit down each of your children tonight for two minutes, hold them and tell them that they fill your heart with pride and love. (THEN REPEAT DAILY) I guarantee that the children who hear that message go on to discover unqualified adult happiness.
Walter Sherburne, Psychotherapist