Entering the Paradox: Self-Improvement and Radical Self-Acceptance

As a therapist, I often aim to practice what I preach. Not only because I feel more genuine in the work I do with my clients… But because this stuff (particularly DBT of course) works! Practicing what I preach in my personal life has improved how I handle what life has thrown my way. This is something I often pride myself in and find to be important in my life. I’m always looking for what I can change about myself… to move towards being a better therapist, better friend, better wife, a better person. (What does “better” really mean anyways?)… I focus a great deal on self-improvement. Even my husband has commented on his admiration for my ability to constantly look within and work on myself. With this focus in mind, I see myself through a critical lens. Sometimes even getting caught in mental behavior chains for habitual thoughts or behaviors I found ineffective in my life… seeking a solution on how to change something within myself to be different. Yes, this focus on change leads to growth, but after years of this focus it can become exhausting! I find myself going in circles constantly trying to change, which also leads to never feeling as if any of it is enough.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

–Carl Rogers

I’ll be honest. I’ve been in therapy on and off for years with multiple therapists who practice a wide range of therapies. Always seeking solutions to my problems. Searching, analyzing, critiquing, trying to figure it all out. But lately I’ve come to wonder: what if the key to change isn’t to change at all? What would it be like if I were to sit back and fully accept who I am and what I’m experiencing in this moment? What if I accepted my urge to over-prepare for presentations? Or my anticipatory anxiety? Or my negativity and willfulness first thing in the morning? Or my constant scrolling on Instagram during my lunch break? Or that I have a hard time letting things go sometimes? What if I worked on just radically accepting myself as I am? What would happen? Would I get fired? Or become homeless? Would everyone hate me or judge me? Would my life completely fall apart? These are just some thoughts emotion mind clings to in reaction to the notion of letting go of constant self-improvement. I know my mind loves to catastrophize in these moments… and you know what? That’s OK. I’m learning that I don’t have to fix my mind because it’s not broken. I’m working on noticing my urge to change who I am in the moment and just notice… Notice what comes up… my emotions, my thoughts, how my body feels. And to just be. There’s nothing else to do! How freeing this concept has been to me lately. Although, it will take just as much effort for me in the beginning as did self-improvement. It takes a great deal of mindfulness to notice our urges and to work on doing something differently. So wait a minute… Does that mean I’m still focusing on change then? In order to radically accept, I need to do something different. In accepting myself as I am in this moment I need to change in order to accept and change! What?!?

I guess I’ll just lean in to the confusion and sit with that for a while… I don’t need to figure it all out right now. Nor do I have to explain it perfectly in this blog. It’s not meant to make perfect sense. I guess that’s DBT for you…. Always shaking things up and making me think. Damn you, Marsha! 

Kate Teixeira is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Yoga teacher who practices in Franklin Park, NJ. She is foundationally trained in DBT by Behavioral Tech and is also trained in the treatment of trauma, eating disorders, and substance abuse. When not practicing, she can be found doing yoga, cooking, or spending time with her four animals. For more info on how she “practices what she preaches” you can check out her Instagram: @katetexlcsw