Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 2)

This is part two of my series applying the concepts from the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz to self acceptance and body acceptance.  You can read part one here: 


Part 2

Second Agreement:  "Don't Take Anything Personally" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

This is a huge struggle when it comes to body acceptance. Face it, humans are social creatures and we may even be biologically wired to seek the approval of others.  It becomes even more difficult when someone who you should be able to count on for acceptance (parent, child, lover friend) voices negative criticism of your body or self expression. 

The psychological concept behind this agreement is Humanistic and has to do with each person having their own personal mythology, or story, that defines our self-concept based on our values, experiences, and goals. Part of that mythology is that we assume, on an almost unconscious level, that other people share our story, experiences, tastes, dreams, and opinions.  That is why seeing things from another person's point of view becomes more difficult the more that view differs from our own.

If someone's personal "hero quest" is to reach a certain aesthetic ideal, they are quite often quick to assume that everyone shares in and approves of that goal (or that they should do so).  It helps when the aesthetic ideal is culturally reinforced through the media and arts.  But the fact that a lot of people share a particular mythology doesn't make that mythology true for you.  You have your own, and it is just as true as the mythology of the fashion marketing world. 

Understanding where that criticism comes from is a big step in deflecting it. It becomes easier to understand when put in terms of clothing, because our ability to change our clothing makes our fashion image less emotionally fraught than our body image. Let's say that you're part of the biker culture.  You wear a leather vest, jeans or leather pants, body art, maybe even piercings.  Your very preppy parents ask you constantly (for your "own good") why you can't dress more "respectably."  Our culture reinforces that your style is unlikely to bring you wealth or status.  You may be rejected by potential partners who make assumptions about you because of your clothing.  You get sideways stares in restaurants and malls.

Whose problem is this? 

Our society, and individuals who disapprove of your image would like you to think it is your problem and any negative effects your fault.  In truth?  They are the ones responsible for their own minds and actions.

It is NOT your responsibility to live up to someone else's mythology or expectations.  As a friend once said, "what other people think of me is none of my business."  Your only responsibility is to determine and live up to your own mythology or self-concept. 

Make it part of your mythology that there is nothing wrong with your body or the skin you're in.  That acceptance changes reality for you.  The more certain you can be, the more you are insulated from other peoples' fear.  Because if someone reacts negatively to your body, it is most likely because they have fear.  They may fear experiencing (even tangentially) the stigma of a body shape that does not fit the popular cultural ideal.  They may fear aging and mortality.   They may fear judgement from others.  They may fear some ghost of an experience inside their head that has absolutely nothing to do with you. 

But it is THEIR fear.  You don't have to own it, and you certainly don't have to support it.  It is not your responsibility to be universally appealing or well liked.  If their fear keeps them from having a relationship with you, then you will find other people without fear.  You don't need to engage in scarcity thinking where you examine where you have failed in obtaining approval from this one particular person.  There are billions upon billions of people in the world, and among them are people who would approve of you as you are right here and now. 

That's what it means to not take it personally.  Your mother's concern about your appearance is fear that she cannot make your life free of pain and judgement from others.  That stranger's derisive comment is their fear of becoming or being something else, or bitterness that they are no longer something they liked.  You can choose to pity the person, or educate them, or ignore them.  The only wrong choice is to take on their fear and use it to hurt yourself. 

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