The Power of Accepting Yourself – Michael Cohen, published Bookline and Thinker
Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) considers that one of the problems with the human condition is our sense of unworthiness. We overcome this by achievements, raising our self-esteem with good grades, good style, beautiful houses, and working to please others. In The Power of Accepting Yourself Cohen distinguishes between this rated self-esteem; and self worth, where we feel good about ourselves simply for who we are, not for what we have achieved.
Self worth is all about being able to make mistakes, to not look great all the time, to not do our best in every moment and still feel comfortable with ourselves. Isn’t this rather de-motivating though? Not when you consider that low self worth leads to common conditions like anxiety and depression, two of the most de-motivating of human conditions.
Oprah Winfrey said ‘Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.’ Quite, but in my experience, it’s often us telling ourselves our friends won’t want to be with us on the bus, whereas really they would be happy to. In other words, we don’t want to be on the bus with ourselves.
Cohen’s book talks about Unconditional Self Acceptance and how we can recognize that we all (yes all) have shortcomings and that nobody is perfect. Case studies help to illustrate how we can be way too hard on ourselves and set ourselves unreachable goals and standards that we cannot meet. Following REBT closely, Cohen helps us to understand how we do this through holding irrational beliefs ‘ I must give a perfect speech, if I don’t it will be awful and I couldn’t stand it’. He teaches us how we can become aware of these beliefs, how to test their realism and how to decide whether to hold on to them or not.
In his work as a hypnotherapist, Cohen has clearly worked with clients who present with the types of issues that you or I might have, and a cross section of case studies are outlined in the book. Attending the school reunion; the break up of a relationship; giving a speech; taking a driving test; worrying about our ability to take a University course. The case studies neatly illustrate an underlying common feeling that we are not good enough, or that somehow everyone else could cope better than us.
These underlying common feelings are often, Cohen points out, irrational beliefs that aren’t doing us any favours. The more perfect we think we must be, the more we are likely to fail. It’s common, he says, to have irrational beliefs. When we learn to notice them and challenge them, we usually feel a whole lot better, and when we feel better, we interact better with the world around us.
What I like about this book is that it held my attention easily. As a book, it is accepting of the human condition. Self-help doesn’t need loads of theory and hundreds of exercises. The book accepts itself for what it is, keeping things simple. The range of advice and exercises Cohen provides is both plenty and not too much. There is variety here that allows you to practice and develop tools for relaxation, for self-awareness, for new ways of thinking and for new routines. The exercises all complement each other, and they all stand-alone too.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the simplicity of this book rests on a simple theory. REBT has, since the 1950’s, played a major part in the development of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is now commonly used as a short-term therapy. This book is a good introduction to what therapy really is about. Modern therapy is not about ‘being analysed’, but about training us in self-analysis. Once we know what we are doing, we can change it. A contradiction? Not if what we need to change is our belief that we need to change.