Self-Acceptance–Are We All Defective?

hike photo 9Hi everybody,

I’ve been getting lots of great emails with questions recently, and will try to get to as many as possible. Here is one from this morning.

Hi Dr. Burns,

I really hope you get to see this! I just wanted to say how I love your book and it has been helping me a lot I bought and read Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, and I’m currently reading your book on anxiety, When Panic Attacks.

But I did want to say one thing. On page 216, near the bottom, it says, ” … in fact, we’re all defective and you can view your ‘defectiveness’ as a reason for suicide or a cause for a celebration….”

I didn’t understand that. That we should view us being defective as a reason to kill ourselves?? It threw me off and I asked my friend to read it over. I just want to know what you meant!

It’s near the bottom second to last paragraph on page 216

Nicole

Hi Nicole,

Sometimes I write things that may be hard to “get” at first, so I appreciate your question. First, let me emphasize that suicide is never appropriate or needed for someone who is feeling depressed and hopeless. However, was writing about something I call the Acceptance Paradox, where you achieve enlightenment by accepting your many shortcomings with a sense of inner peace, or even with a sense of humor. I call that “healthy acceptance.”

And when you “grasp” this notion that it is okay to be flawed and defective, or even wonderful, you can achieve liberation from feelings of depression, anxiety, shame and self-doubt. And it brings you a lot closer to other people, too, because, believe me, there are TONS of other defective people out there, so we can have a party and lots of folks will join us, and we can just hang out and not worry about having to impress each other.

But people who are depressed usually have what I call unhealthy acceptance. They wrongly believe that because they are defective, they should kill themselves.

If you CLICK HERE, you will find a chart that distinguishes healthy from unhealthy acceptance.  As you can see, healthy acceptance is characterized by joy, intimacy, laughter, and creativity. In contrast, unhealthy acceptance is characterized by cynicism, depression, hopelessness, and loneliness.

This is sometimes hard to “see” at first on an emotional level, especially if you are depressed, or prone to depression. But when you suddenly “get it,” it’s like seeing the grand canyon for the first time. It simply takes your breath away, and you discover that it’s only okay to be defective, it’s actually great–in fact, the very BEST way to be!

I am writing something more ambitious on this topic, and I’ll publish it here soon. This is just a beginning note intended to whet your appetite, hopefully at least! What I am writing about now are some of the more philosophical underpinnings of TEAM-CBT, although the notions are actually ancient, and go back at least 2500 years. I will try to address two questions:

  1. Is it possible to be worthwhile or to be worthless?
  2. Do we have a “self”?

Although these themes may seem abstract, they have powerful, practical, emotional consequences. Just one small example, let’s say you struggle with anxiety and shyness. You may have the fear that others will judge you because you are inferior, or not “good enough,” and this thought can cause tremendous suffering. But this thought is based on the notion that you have a “self” that can be evaluated or judged. When you see through this notion, you can experience liberation from your fears.

The Buddhists called this “The Great Death.” Of course, we all fear death, and struggle to keep our egos alive. But once you’ve “died,” so to speak, you can join the Grateful Dead, and then life suddenly opens up in unexpected ways. And for those who may misread me, or interpret my words literally, I am not referring to physical death, but death of the “self.”

So, stay tuned if this type of dialogue interests you! And thanks for reading this!

Doctor David

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