So I’ve started to make significant progress in accepting myself just as I am. But what about you? How can I possibly begin to accept the way you are? With all your annoying habits? And that tendency to piss me off? And your complete lack of concern for my well-being? And that awful thing you did to me last year, which I fear I’ll never be able to forgive you for?
It turns out that if I’m accepting myself with all my foibles and failings, then I can’t help but start accepting you with all yours. If I become less critical of myself for being the way I am, then this will inevitably lead to me being less critical of you.
A good example of this would be the development of in-car relations in our family. Annchen and I had developed particular patterns of behavior in the car. I’d usually be driving, and she’d usually be navigating. At least that was the plan.
I’d be the first to admit that I have an appalling sense of direction. If you put me in the middle of a city and spin me around twice, I’m completely lost and utterly dependent on a skilled navigator to get me where I need to go. Which is where Annchen comes in. She actually has an excellent sense of direction and has gotten us to safety when we’ve been lost in the mountains on many occasions. She’s also very competent at finding her way around the city. She can even read a map.
The problem is the GPS. As soon as Annchen looks at the digital representation of the street layout on the screen, her brain turns to mush, and she simply can’t make the connection between the image on the screen and the actual physical street.
And that’s not what I need.
In addition to my abysmal navigational skills, I’m not the most confident of drivers. Especially when I’m trying to drive around a city where I’ve never been in a foreign land. What I need is the Wonder Woman of navigators. Somebody who will give me clear, precise instructions: “Turn left in a hundred yards. Not this one. The next one. Yes, left here.”—so I can focus on the driving challenge.
Unfortunately, that’s not what I get. I get told “left” when it should be “right.” I get, “Not this left. Oh, yes it was that one.” And “Keep going along here. Oh no, it looks like we’re on the wrong street.”
In my anal-retentive way, I refuse to take any responsibility for the wrong turns and getting lost. I am after all the driver. Why should I have to try to understand where we’re going? I’m far too busy trying to get the car into the right gear and not hit the curb. My lack of navigational responsibility naturally annoys Annchen no end, and she starts to get extremely defensive when I criticize the lack of clarity in her directions.
So the shouting begins.
And this became the pattern that we used to fall into. If we ever wanted to increase our chances of having a heated exchange in any given month, then all we had to do was jump in the car and head for somewhere new.
But at some point, there was a shift. We both realized that when I’m driving and she’s navigating, there are going to be problems. We’re going to take wrong turns. We’re going to get lost. We’re going to get a bit stressed, and it’s okay. It’s just what we do.
Little by little, I’ve learned to be a calmer driver who doesn’t care so much if we take the odd wrong turn. And Annchen has learned to not get so stressed about navigating. If she makes a mistake, she makes a mistake. And that’s also okay.
This is acceptance. Accepting me. Accepting you. Recognizing that some things about us don’t get fixed. We’ll continue to be bad drivers and bad navigators, and that’s fine. These things don’t actually need to change, and we can learn to live with them.
And just because we accept the other person, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we like or approve of everything they do. Often far from it. There may still be things in you that I find annoying or I might want to try to change. But this annoyance or desire to change you appears upon a foundation of acceptance.
You’re perfectly okay just as you are—in spite of all that annoying stuff that it might be nice to change.