Existential Psychology

Paradox Of Change

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“When I accept myself as I am, then I can change.”
– Carl Rogers

Acceptance and change don’t appear to be related entities and in fact seem to be contradictory. Isn’t the desire to change just about any facet of life spurred by dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs? To us the central paradox of human growth is precisely that acceptance, not dissatisfaction, is the prerequisite for any meaningful change. By acceptance we don’t mean condoning unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, in ourselves or in anyone else. But what we do mean is seeing the situation clearly for what it is, without resorting to the various defense mechanisms to distort things, and practicing loving acceptance of who and what we are and who and what the people around us are right now with an emphasis on the fact that from that place of loving acceptance real growth can begin.

As long as we come from a place of judgment, a place focused on correcting deficiencies, positive change eludes us. The most we can hope for is to reach a baseline state of being where the unwanted, the undesirable, have been minimized. But until we start striving for the wanted and desirable rather than just trying to get rid of the unwanted and undesirable we’re not yet on our own unique continuum of growth and self-actualization.

Removing the unwanted is of course important but if we’re not also thinking about producing the wanted, if we’re not thinking about unfolding our potentialities, we’re missing the boat on our human growth and robbing ourselves of the joy and satisfaction that come from constantly striving towards healthier ways of being rather than simply constantly running away from unhealthy ways of being. Total acceptance, what we could call unconditional positive regard, is the foundation upon which striving towards healthier ways of being is built.