The next time we are with our lover or our child, there is a question we can ask ourselves – how do we truly love them?
The next time we look at ourselves, our past, we can ask – how do I truly heal, how do I truly grow and move on?
What strange questions! The foundations of loving, healing and nurturing are simple: gentle attention and non-judgemental acceptance. Yet how many of us can give them; how many of us know how it feels to receive them? Without exaggeration – not many. It was only recently that I experienced it for the very first time.
What is Unconditional Acceptance?
Unconditional acceptance isn’t a technique but a mindful, giving, state of being. Our focus is gently and lovingly on the other, giving them the gift of simply letting them be who they are. And for the first time in perhaps their entire lives, they are finally in an environment free of all burdens and judgements. No more hiding. No more chopping and pruning their emotions, beliefs, and past. No more fear and shame.
The psychologist David Richo has stated that such attention is the main ingredient in a mature, loving, romance. Nathaniel Branden, the father of the self-esteem movement, believes it is vital in raising mature and emotionally healthy children. Please do not discount this – try it for yourself, and see how your most important relationships change. You might be just as surprised as I was.
Best of all – this is the first, and sometimes only, requirement in deep emotional healing. The psychotherapist William DeFoore gives a beautiful example. He describes a client who had suffered tremendously for years. Methods and techniques all failed, for she could not get in touch with her emotions – until one day she finally found stillness in the presence of unconditional love. For the first time she felt safe enough to simply be herself, and out poured the hurt and pain she had reined in and denied for years.
Recently, I’ve discovered the same thing – so many wounds had gone unhealed inside me, stuck beyond a certain point, simply because I could not find true unconditional acceptance anywhere. When I learnt to give it to myself, things shifted very quickly, in one of the most powerful forms of self-work I’ve found – sub-personalities, the shadow, and the inner child (yes, the inner child! ). This work will be detailed in an upcoming series, and this is to prepare for that.
How Do We Give It?
How exactly do we give unconditional acceptance? In my experience, it involves the following elements:
Really listening to what they have to say, even if it is uncomfortable.
Total and unconditional acceptance for every single part of their person.
Not giving advice until the right time.
Not trying to change or manipulate them.
Not judging them.
Allowing them their experience.
Please don’t trivialise these points. They might seem common-sense, but except for some gifted therapists, I have not seen many who can actually do them all. Let’s analyse them in more detail.
Really listening to someone means giving them your full, gentle, focus. A father might say he cares for his children, but when his child is speaking to him, he might be watching the television out of the corner of his eye. He might tell his little girl to come back when he is done polishing his car.
And no matter how sweetly and gently he says to her afterwards – What is the matter, honey? – the real message is clear. She is invisible; she does not matter. This is one of the most painful emotional wounds one can sustain.
True listening is hardest when what they have to say is painful. Imagine if your close friend said you are always inconsiderate and selfish. How many of us can listen to this without getting defensive, firing back in anger, or immediately discounting it?
Naturally, if the person is being abusive, protect yourself. But in other cases, can we stay open and listen? A good thing to do is to see that they have a right to their opinion – and they might have a good reason for thinking of us this way. Those closest to us see our denied and disowned parts very clearly.
That is their gift to us, for they are helping us reclaim these denied parts, helping us become whole again. Could we look honestly at our actions and see how they could have formed this opinion? Remember that each criticism that hurts us reveals to us a wound that is calling out for our love and attention.
It is a strange fact of life that we often talk to strangers more politely than we do those we are close to. Nathaniel Branden gives a strikingly true example: if we had a guest in our house, and he spills a drink on the carpet, how would we react?
Even if we got upset, we would still hide it and do our best to be polite. Now, what if someone in the family did the same thing? Many of us won’t bother to hide our irritation. We might call them clumsy or stupid, or even punish them. Again, this need not be obvious. I often see parents talking about a young child as if he was not there. This can be very damaging to a fragile mind.
Could we see that those closest to us, that we claim to love, deserve the most respect – and that we don’t always give it to them?
Please be honest, for this is a painful thing to see in ourselves. We have all used ridicule, emotional or even physical violence to control and manipulate those we claim to love. Perhaps it is time to show respect for his or her dignity as a human being.
To stop this article from being too long, I’ll leave the rest of the points for the next article – they are all related.