why not focus on problems?

Deb Lang Licensed Psychologist, RD

If you are like most people who come to see me, you are most likely struggling in some area of your life and want to change that.

You may not be that interested in working on self-acceptance and instead want to focus on the issues that are causing you distress.

First of all, to be clear, I do want you to get relief!

It is just that, focusing on problems is a bit like chopping weeds down versus pulling them up by the roots. They are bound to shoot back up again.

working on symptoms is liking just breaking the weed off at the top rather than going for the root

A lack of self-acceptance and self-love is often at the root of anxiety, struggles with food, difficulties dealing with stress, relationship issues, etc.

When self-love is absent, symptoms show up.

Without self-acceptance and self-love, changes are short-lived and never quite seem to be enough.

the push to make it happen

I spent many many years feeling a great deal of passion for helping people change.

It started in my early years as a dietitian.  

feeling like a failure because of weight

I sat with people, often women, day after day who were feeling

  • humiliated,
  • ashamed,
  • and like a failure,

because they had been unable to make the dietary changes that had been prescribed.

I hated it.  

It motivated me to get my master’s degree at Penn State.  

I specifically chose that program because I had the opportunity to work with a Psychologist interested in how change happens.

After that training, I continued to read, study, and learn anything I could about how to help people change so that they were no longer suffering. It motivated me to get my doctorate.

It became my passion.

and then it hit me

The people who really found peace who really blossomed – were the people who learned to love and accept themselves, just the way they were.  

As soon as that compassion and acceptance was there – the expansion and growth was amazing to watch.

I knew the peace that comes from self-acceptance in my own life and I guess I felt “obliged” to help others solve their problems.  

That is what they were paying me for, and so shouldn’t I do that?  

It’s just that focusing on solving the problem wasn’t leading to the long-lasting peace that people were seeking.  

Striving leads to more striving – not to peace.

When are you thin enough, calm enough, happy enough?

And what happens when life gets crazy?

You know what I mean. Those days when you feel like screaming.

self-compassion and acceptance can calm the system like nothing else on those days when you feel like screaming

Change is hard and it is really hard in stress.

Think of a time that was really stressful.  Did you follow through with your plans for self-care?

Or did something like this happen?

Maybe your self-care plan was to do something to relax or burn off some stress after work.

And, then you find out you are going to be in charge of an overwhelming project at work and you come home to a broken refrigerator.

Is it likely that you are going to following through on your self-care plan?  

Maybe, or maybe instead you,

had a panic attack.

let your spouse have it for some reason or another.

Or, you found yourself eating anything in sight.

Been there? Or someplace similar?

If so, you are certainly not alone. And, contrary to what you might think, it doesn’t mean that you are defective in any way.  

It means nothing about your motivation or your willpower and is really a reflection of the brain in stress.

And the thing that can make a difference in that moment is the ability to be there for yourself with love and compassion.

your system calms

Here’s what I mean by that.

If I can connect with myself in a moment of high stress in a loving way or even see myself in that moment with acceptance,

it calms my whole system.

self-compassion in a moment of stress calms the whole system

And, if you can calm your system in that moment, everything shifts.

The ability to think plan and see the consequences of my behaviors come back on board. Those abilities aren’t possible in the stress response.

Quieting the stress response opens up the possibility of figuring figure out what it is that you really need in that moment. It is also a receptive state. In a relaxed state we are able to receive support, be creative and feel inspired.

None of that is possible when our nervous system is in stress. It isn’t about you. It isn’t personal.

The ability to

  • think,
  • recognize the consequences of our behaviors,
  • feel love and compassion,
  • feel hopeful, inspired, creative, and
  • be receptive to support is always there.

It is always inside of you.

self-love and compassion are the keys that open us to a different reality during stress

Self-love and self-acceptance are the keys that open us to those possibilities, even with all the bumps and curves that life throws our way.