Thursday, July 2, 2009

Accept Me

Accept Me
By David W. Edgerly, Ph.D.
Copyright Celeritous Dancer, Chtd. and Best Selling Authors, LLC, 2000
This article may not be reproduced in part or whole without express written permission.
Most people want to be accepted, at least by those they care about. In many marriages this notion of acceptance becomes one of "accept me as I am". More powerfully stated it becomes "If you loved me, really loved me, you'd accept me as I am".
This nonsensical notion stems from some gross misconceptions about something popularly called "Unconditional Love" or "Unconditional Acceptance". I used to take the position, that perhaps with the exception of a parent to a young child, there was no such thing as unconditional love. After much discussion with people I now believe there may be such a thing as unconditional love between adults.
However, unconditional love is not relational love. It, if it exists, sits separate from relating. There is no such thing as unconditional relating. All relating is conditional, therefore all marriages are conditional and all marital acceptance is conditional.
To explain this I'd use an example many people turn to as an example or model or unconditional love: their dog or cat. Oddly, the reality is this is the perfect model of conditional love, or relating, at it's best.
Assuming you have a dog or cat with which you have a great "love" relationship I'd challenge you to run an experiment. In two simple steps stop feeding your pet and stop paying any positive attention to it. In a very brief time your "friend" will begin behaving differently toward you. If you want to speed up this experiment simply throw your dog or cat into the wall twice a day.
The reason the animal's behavior will change is the way you and your pet relate is built on a smoothly functioning set of conditions. You feed and attend to your pet in warm kind ways and it will, in turn, respond by attending to you, with affection, work, entertainment, or whatever it is you get from your animal.
The reverse of this experiment would also work. If every time you got home your cat clawed through your skin, or your dog punctured your leg with a bite, it won't take long for your behavior, and probably even your feelings toward the animal to change. Maybe you'll still love your animal, unconditionally, as you take it to the humane society and get rid of it. Or, out of some bizarre sense of obligation and/or guilt, you'll keep it around as some sort of perpetual nuisance in your home.
Let's put the notion of unconditional acceptance into human terms. One of the concepts people seem to like to draw on is "it's just the way I am". How absurd. Would you accept your child stealing money from you, or cheating on exams? Would it work if they said, "it's just who I am, a thief and a cheat"? Maybe your neighbor sets fire to your house and explains "it's just who I am, an arson". If it doesn't count for other people than it doesn't count for you.
Unconditional love or acceptance has nothing to do with relating. Again, all relating is conditional. So, if you've craved some sort of unconditional acceptance as part of relating to your spouse, you really do need to live on Mars or Venus…maybe it exists there. In this world relating is conditional.
This means, if you want your partner's acceptance and love you have to behave in ways which elicit it. Likewise, in turn, if they want your love and acceptance they must elicit that.
One of the common phenomenon which exist in relationships is the use of coercion to elicit behavior. For some this coercion comes in the form of intimidation (usually in the form of intensity). For others it comes in the form of the use of guilt. Some even bring "god" into the picture as the source of coercion. Partners attempt to elicit specific behaviors through these techniques. Sadly, in the short run the techniques often work. That is, the coercion elicits a very specific and limited piece of behavior from their partner. However, the ramification of coercion is alienation.
What these people don't understand is relating, whether with a dog, or a partner, is conditional. If they wanted certain things, like warmth or affection or fun, then they need to behave in ways that elicit these rather than coerce them. It is necessary for them to change their behavior and attitudes and then those in their life will respond in kind.
As a young man I was hostile and angry. Oddly, so was the world. This reaction from the people around me was used to continue to justify my hostility. And people continued to treat me accordingly. Today, almost everyone I meet is nice to me. It seems so simple now, but it really was an "ah ha" experience when I realized I was eliciting exactly what I got, and didn't want, from people.
Most of us crave acceptance from someone. If you do, then behave acceptably.

By David W. Edgerly, Ph.D.
Copyright Celeritous Dancer, Chtd. and Best Selling Authors, LLC, 2000

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