by Jonathan von Breton, CCMHC
“The greatest sickness known to man or woman is called self-esteem. If you have self-esteem, then you’re sick, sick, sick, because you say: I’m okay because I do well and because people love me, so when I do poorly, which I’m a fallible human and will, and people hate me because they may jealously hate me or they just don’t like me, then back to shithood I go.” – Albert Ellis, Ph.D.
This is number 1 of the 3 basic “musts” that cause human disturbance:
“I absolutely must perform well on important projects and be approved by significant people or else I am an inadequate and unlovable person!” (Leads to) Feelings of serious depression, anxiety, panic, self-downing. ..… Personally, you can’t always succeed not to mention succeed perfectly. Being a fallible human, you just can’t.” – Albert Ellis
Yes, rating one’s behavior as opposed to one’s self is much easier said than done. Yes, our society strongly encourages the opposite. In fact, our society has a vested interest in doing so. I still have a hard time with it myself and I’ve had years of practice.
In general, I find it helpful to rate my behaviors as:
Successful, they help me get what I want and avoid what I don’t want.
Unsuccessful, they fail to help me get what I want and avoid what I don’t want.
Effective or Ineffective. This is another way of saying successful/unsuccessful
Consistent with my goals, values, ethics, beliefs.
Inconsistent, counter to, my goals, values, ethics, beliefs.
However, those are all behaviors. They aren’t my ‘self’ (whatever that is). The behaviors can be measured and rated, at least to a certain degree. The self can’t even be defined, let alone rated.
To say I’m a success because I succeeded at something, did it well, achieved a goal, is a gross over-generalization. To say I’m a failure because I failed at something is the same kind of over-generalization. That is not to say there aren’t huge advantages to succeeding at things, doing things well, etc. There are. It’s just not a good idea to let them define ‘me’.
So I try to never rate my so-called self. I’m not good or bad, a success or a failure, saint or demon. I rate only my behaviors. That way I can do more of the ones that work for me, are more likely to get me what I want, keep me alive, help me avoid unnecessary pain, and live cooperatively with others. By rating my behaviors, I can also refrain from or do fewer of the ones that don’t work for me.
I try to apply all of the above to Unconditional Other Acceptance (UOA) as well.
“Stop damning yourself and others by fully accepting the view that wrong, unethical, and foolish acts never can make you or them into bad or rotten people.” – Albert Ellis
This is number 2 of the 3 basic “musts” that cause human disturbance:
“Other people, particularly those I have cared for and treated well, absolutely must treat me kindly and fairly, or else they are rotten individuals who deserve to suffer!” (Leads to) Feelings of strong and persistent anger, rage, fury, impatience, bitterness. … As far as your demanding that other people must incessantly please you, love you, and do your bidding forget it!” – Albert Ellis
Once you damn an individual, including yourself, for having or lacking any trait whatever, you become authoritarian or fascistic; for fascism is the very essence of people-evaluation. – Albert Ellis
Unconditional Other Acceptance means I accept (acknowledge) , the reality of other people and their behavior. I strive to accept that reality, no matter how unfair, rude, obnoxious, immoral, cruel, or evil their behavior is. That doesn’t mean I like it or approve of it. It does mean I stop making myself EXTRA MISERABLE about by demanding it not be so. It also means I refrain from damning them as people and damn only the behavior.
As part of both USA (Unconditional Self-Acceptance) and UOA, I often have to remind myself, sometimes quite forcefully, that everyone is a fallible ****** up human being, nothing more and nothing less. Yes, I most certainly include myself. That means we all act: wisely, stupidly, pettily, nobly, kindly, meanly, jealously, lovingly, charitably, selfishly, generously, greedily, fearfully, bravely, rationally, irrationally, unhelpfully, helpfully, angrily, calmly, heroically, cowardly, and so on. We all do all of those things from time to time. But we are not any of them.
USA and UOA need not necessarily lead to passivity. If I don’t like my own behavior, I can make efforts to change it. If I don’t like someone else’s behavior, I can ask them to change. Surprisingly, that often works. I can avoid them. I can take legal action. I can even take illegal action and hope I don’t get caught. But that is an absolute last resort, only for life and death situations. If I go that route I had better be able to deal with the consequences.
Let me end with this quote. It nicely summarizes how judging oneself and others sets one up for an irrational; and unwinnable game of comparative human worth.
“Unconditional self-acceptance is the basic antidote to much of your depressed self-downing feelings. Self-appraisal almost inevitably leads to one-upmanship and one-downmanship. If you rate yourself as being “good,” you will usually rate others as being “bad” or “less good.” If you rate yourself as being “bad,” others will be seen as “less bad” or “good.” Thereby you practically force yourself to compete with others in “goodness” or “badness” and constantly feel envious, jealous, or superior. Persistent individual, group, and international conflicts easily stem from this kind of thinking and feeling.” – Albert Ellis
To learn more about these and other tools visit a SMART Recovery face-to-face or online meeting.
Jonathan von Breton is a Certified as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) and is certified as an Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor (ICADC). He is also certified as a clinical supervisor in Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Jonathan has been in recovery for over 31 years and has been involved in SMART Recovery since 1994.