The Power of Acceptance: Learning to Love Myself

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Learning to love oneself is a transformational endeavor that has the potential to bring us unparalleled peace and fulfillment. I hope that by sharing my story and the lessons I’ve learned, I can help others take their first steps towards self-acceptance.

Early Struggles with Acceptance
As a child, I struggled with self-acceptance, just like many people do. My family moved a lot as my father struggled to find jobs that could support my mother, my four sisters and me. There were times that he disappeared for weeks leaving us to fend for ourselves without money, transportation or much food. These experiences with abandonment and scarcity led me to be ashamed of myself and my father. I was often plagued by doubts about my worth and identity. In addition, as I grew into my teenage years, I was increasingly aware that I was attracted to other guys. This was in the 1970s and 1980s when being gay was not accepted, especially in the South, where I am from. I felt the weight of societal expectations and the pressure to fit into predefined molds. My differences made me feel like an outsider. It was a lonely and isolating experience, and I longed for acceptance from others. The only coping mechanism I had at the time was drinking alcohol.

The Role of Therapy and Angels
My journey towards self-acceptance began when I decided to get sober. When I checked into the Hazelden Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center in Minnesota I had hit rock bottom. I knew that I could not live with or without alcohol. The group therapy sessions they offered set me on the path to understanding why I drank, and more importantly, helped me to accept myself. I started to unpack the emotional baggage I had carried for years, exploring the roots of my insecurities and self-doubt. I gained insights into the importance of self-compassion and the damaging effects of self-criticism.

One of the turning points in my journey was recognizing the many angels who seemed to appear in my life when I most needed them. They protected me from myself in many cases and also guided me towards a deeper understanding of self-acceptance. From my college roommate, to my baby sister, to the intake nurse on the phone at Hazelden, and so many more, I look back and am amazed at how their kindness and encouragement was instrumental in helping me change my perspective and develop a more positive relationship with myself. 

Practical Advice
As I shared with Susi Vine on her podcast Happified, I have found there are three fundamental principles that have enabled me to shed my shame and restore my resilience:

    • Be Honest with Yourself and Accept Who You Are.
      There is no shame in being your true self. Look at yourself in the mirror, accept who you are, and love yourself. 
    • Be Honest With Others and Accept Who They Are
      Trust that there are people in your life with whom you can be honest. Those people will accept you and love you no matter what. They will be the angels that support you as you make your way in the world. As for anyone who doesn’t accept you, their beliefs may limit their ability to love others, but they do not limit you. Be strong.
    • Be in Service to Others So Each Day Has a Purpose
      Find a way to serve others rather than focusing on yourself. It will broaden your perspective and give you a purpose in life outside of your own ambition. When you shift your focus to making someone else’s life better, your own life gets better, too. 

The Outcome
By learning to love myself, I have found a renewed sense of purpose and joy. I’ve discovered the strength that comes from within.

One of the most significant changes in my life has been the improvement in my relationships. When I accepted and loved myself, I became better at connecting with others. My ability to empathize and relate to people deepened, allowing for more genuine and fulfilling connections. Without being honest with myself and shedding the shame that haunted me throughout my life, I would never have met the love of my life and enjoyed a happy marriage for the last six years.

Self-acceptance has also opened the door to personal growth and self-improvement. I’ve now published two books; something I never dreamed I could do. My most recent, Sunday Dinners, Moonshine, and Men, is a memoir detailing my fraught relationship with my father. Though my father passed away in 2012, writing this book has made me realize that the work, to be honest with myself and to forgive, continues. 

Ultimately, self-acceptance along with my sobriety, has granted me the gift of inner peace. I no longer drown my shame in alcohol or fight against myself, instead I embrace my true self with open arms. This inner peace has made a profound difference in my overall well-being.

Take the First Step
If you find yourself struggling with self-acceptance, no matter what the cause, I want to encourage you to take the first step on your journey. It may be a challenging path, but the rewards are immeasurable. If you struggle with substance abuse or alcoholism, start by seeking professional help, whether it is inpatient rehab like I needed, or attending a nearby Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Most importantly, remember that you are not alone in your struggle.

Look for the angels in your life. I promise, once you look, you will find them. They are your support system that understands and accepts you for who you are. Take steps to be honest with yourself and those around you. It gets easier with time. Finally, seek out ways to serve others. These efforts will give you purpose and help to silence that negative committee in your head that says you are “less than.”

With time and effort, you can experience the same peace and fulfillment that I have found. Remember that it’s a continuous journey, and there will be days when you may stumble or doubt yourself. But with each step you take towards self-acceptance, you’re moving closer to a brighter, more fulfilling future. You are worthy of love and acceptance, starting with the love you give to yourself. 

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Tate Barkley, wearing a royal blue sweater and glasses stands leaning against a red brick wall with one hand in his pocket

Tate Barkley

Author, Speaker

Welcome to my blog. In this space, I will be sharing my thoughts on shedding shame and developing resilience. I have faced many obstacles in my life from poverty, to alcoholism and addiction, to coming to terms with my sexuality. I have learned that being honest with myself and others and truly accepting who I am is the key to living an authentic life. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. I try to answer all emails, so please feel free to email me if you would have questions about any of the subjects that are discussed here.