Updated: Jul 8
When it all began
In a blogpost entitled Unconditional Other-Acceptance (UOA), I stated, “My narrative of devalued worth began in my youth. I was poor, fat, mixed-race, ugly, unruly, and a fucking idiot, or so I believed.”
Contributing factors for my self-disturbing belief were associated with primary education. I don’t know how educators teach today, though in the ‘80s and ‘90s they would outright call a child “stupid” or “dumb,” and label challenging children as “hopeless” or a “lost cause.”
I recall one elementary school I attended that hosted a yearend party for students who achieved A’s and B’s, and who demonstrated acceptable conduct. I think I was in second grade.
Along with one other student, I wasn’t allowed to attend the day of celebration. Instead, I was encouraged by a teacher to look out of the window and observe how much fun other kids were having.
The school principle and other educators were joyously throwing into the air various plastic toys and candy as the gifts were raining down on gleeful children. The teacher tasked with watching “bad kids” offered her shaming commentary about how my inability to participate was of my own doing.
I endured similar experiences when transferring to many other schools throughout my youth. For instance, when lining up to participate in math races during which children on one side of the classroom would compete with students on the other side of the classroom, I would become ill.
I didn’t comprehend math beyond addition, subtraction, and basic multiplication. It was almost certain that I would lose against whomever I competed in a math relay.
As well, I didn’t learn English beyond an introductory understanding of my primary language. Sentence structures were baffling to me, as were the different components which comprised speech.
Reading was difficult for me, because the noise of my mind was too loud. I had to read a sentence three or four times in order to remember what I read. This made reading comprehension incredibly difficult.
At one point, after moving to Colorado, I made friends with a couple girls who allowed me to copy their homework and cheat on exams by duplicating their answers. If I didn’t receive A’s and B’s, there were physical consequences used at home.
As my grades improved by use of the deceptive behavior, I was referred to the A Gifted And Talented Education (AGATE) program. Yet, once educators realized my math skills and ability to solve puzzles and riddles was lacking, I was returned to my regular classes.
I don’t remember deliberately failing courses. I simply didn’t learn in the same manner as other children seemed to have. Also, it was a nearly impossible standard for me to achieve when tasked with sitting still and remaining quiet.
My mind was filled with grand tales of exploration and conquest, as I frequently wanted to share my insight at inconvenient times. Back then, corporal punishment was allowed in schools.
Not for a lack of trying, no adult was ever able to spank the “stupid” out of me. Looking back, enacting violence against a child with the aim to correct behavior was a questionable method of approach, to say the least.
Nonetheless, I received swats from school authorities through my freshman year in high school. Between elementary and twelfth grade, I rarely was able to sit still and remain quiet while being fed information I was required to recall during exams.
I barely earned the required grades to graduate, having been transferred to classes for students with learning disabilities at one point. I truly believed I was a “fucking idiot,” as my mom used to call me.
In high school, when I initially participated in the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) assessment process, I performed poorly. I didn’t expect to ever join the military, so I committed myself to filling out decorative patterns on the multiple-choice sheet.
However, I decided to join the Marines not long after graduating. I was required to retake the ASVAB, scoring just under the minimum score for the military intelligence (intel) field.
Nonetheless, in boot camp, I was referred to test for intel service. Similar to my brief experience with AGATE, I was swiftly returned to my platoon when unable to adequately solve math and puzzle problems.
My enlisted contract had military police (MP) as a guaranteed designator. In MP school, I learned that law enforcement was required to complete extensive written reports.
Despite having signed on to what some claim is the “dumbest out of all 5 branches of the military,” I hadn’t escaped a requirement to display intellectual proficiency. The narrative of stupidity that developed in my youth was reinforced as an adult.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to be summoned during my off duty time to correct mistakes in written reports. The photo for this blog entry, taken in 1998, captures how embarrassed I was when taunted by others while making corrections.
It was in young adulthood, when preparing to attend college while still on active duty status, that I was formally tested for my challenges regarding the learning process. I was terrified of being told that I was in fact a “fucking idiot.”
Unlike many people who verbally report symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to general practitioners or psychiatrists who are too busy to refer out for testing, I sought help from a psychologist. My evaluation included the following:
I was diagnosed with ADHD and an unspecified “mathematics disorder.” It wasn’t that I was “retarded,” as my mom used to call me, though my lifelong difficulty with processing information and communicating through written form was attributable to recognized conditions.
I’d go on to earn one bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. The higher education process was challenging, though I discovered techniques to help me along the way.
All the same, I still thought of myself as a dolt. Making the dean’s or president’s lists at university, receiving the honor of cum laude for undergraduate studies, and being told how intelligent others thought I was meant nothing to me.
I truly believed I was a fool in disguise. Evidence to the contrary was attributed to little more than happenstance, as I was convinced that I was an unacceptable moron.
As is the case with so many people, it would be easy for me to place at the feet of people in my past the burden of my beliefs. I could say, “I suppose I’m dumb, because people told this to me as a child; therefore, it’s not my fault that I believe I’m stupid.”
However, since I began practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I realize that suggesting such a thing is erroneous at best and spurious at worst. It’s a poor excuse that represents a lack of personal responsibility and accountability.
Being charitable to the people who taught me I was unintelligent, assuming they were merely unartful with their descriptions of me rather than malicious through their treatment, I’ve wondered if their expressed sentiment was correct. After all, I didn’t provide behavioral evidence to challenge their claim.
I didn’t test well, write adequately, or perform in an academic manner that supported the idea that I was astute. Not only was I unaware of ADHD during my youth, others likely were ignorant of this fact, as well.
Those who labeled me were no guiltier than I when mentally referring to myself as “stupid.” Suppose everyone involved was wrong and that I actually am moderately intelligent.
Haven’t I made mistakes before? Without a doubt, yes. Aren’t they allowed to be fallible humans, as well? Yes. This is the essence of UOA. What then could be stated of unconditional self-acceptance (USA)?
Per one REBT source, “Acknowledging and accepting ourselves unconditionally, rather than rating ourselves globally based on discrete behaviors or attributes, allows us to strive for our goals without self-hated, shame, or anxiety.”
I’m no longer in touch with the people who convinced me that I was a “fucking idiot.” In fact, I’ve not had contact with them for longer than the relatively brief time during which I was exposed to their rhetoric.
Any rating of self-worth I maintain at this point is the product of my own self-determined beliefs. If the rating is low, I can change my beliefs and improve my life in so doing.
Giving a recent example of how I use USA in my personal life, my blog comes to mind. Mostly, I write these posts for my own benefit so that I may think through matters I address with clients and other people.
Still, for the few people who actually take time to read my content, I’ve received feedback that could be used to reinforce negative beliefs about myself. I’ve been informed that my writing is unclear, I need an editor, and that my authentic voice isn’t expressed in my blog.
Using USA, I agree with all of these critiques. I don’t search for evidence to refute criticism, nor do I disturb myself with irrational demands of those who devoted time out of their day to interface with my blog.
I’m not a proficient writer and I know it. More importantly, I accept this fact without unreasonable conditions.
Suppose this wasn’t the case. I could tell myself, “I have worth only if my writing is clear, I no longer need an editor, and if my authentic voice is communicated.”
If my condition isn’t met, I could consider myself worthless. Insignificant is exactly what I believed about myself when told I was a “fucking idiot” as a child. It wasn’t a helpful narrative to adopt.
Therefore, I accept that my writing is inferior to others and I attach no worth to outcomes associated with my blog. I enjoy writing, it helps me to filter the storm of ideas within my mind, and if no one else on earth benefits from this process, I’m truly at peace with this notion.
I am a fallible human being—always have been, always will be. Acknowledging and accepting this fact is the basis of USA.
I’ve experienced a lifelong struggle with the process of learning and communicating effectively. Though I used to disturb myself with beliefs about my intelligence, I no longer do so.
REBT has allowed me to unconditionally accept that I am a flawed individual. I can choose to work on bettering myself in various ways, yet my worth as a human being isn’t tied to outcomes related to self-improvement.
If I die without being considered a talented writer, I’m okay with this possibility. Inside my mind, similar to the patriotic chants heard from some citizens within my country of origin, I shout to myself, “USA! USA! USA!”
Do you struggle with self-acceptance? Do you find that belief in the labels assigned to you hasn’t served you well? I may be able to help.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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LittleWankus. (2014). People say that U.S. Marines are the dumbest out of the 5 branches of the military. Well, this picture proves otherwise. Reddit. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/1tf3ua/people_say_that_us_marines_are_the_dumbest_out_of/
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