Archive for Self-acceptance


Posted in Fiction with tags , on May 9, 2015 by becciseaborne



When she was small she had a battle in her mind with a climbing frame.

It was dome-shaped and sat proudly on the edge of the school field nearest to the juniors’ playground; it was too big for the infants. From the centre, at the top, a pole descended to the ground, and at a point about half way down, four more poles, this time horizontal, fanned out to the edges, quartering the internal space of the globe. There was nothing else connecting or supporting the poles except the central one, and the external structure of the frame.

So it presented a challenge. To get to the centre she, or anyone else, had to traverse one of those horizontal bars without falling off. She remembered them as being quite high, almost too high from the ground to jump up and grab to swing from. Another popular challenge was to sit on one of the bars, both legs over the same side, hands gripping loosely and to throw yourself off, spinning all the way under and back up to the top. So many of the other kids did this every play-time. She wanted quite badly to join all her friends spinning on the climbing frame. But every day as she watched the smiling, looping children and heard the laughing and rhyming songs, her courage would sink into the field beneath her feet, and she would watch from the side, maybe from one of the more secure poles on the outside of the frame.

At night, though, in bed it was different. At night she was always at the heart of the climbing frame with the others, spinning and singing like everyone else. Her courage wouldn’t fail, her resolve was strong, and in this certain knowledge, with the very real feeling of joy and success in her heart, she knew she could do it. Knew she would do it. There was no danger of being hurt if you fell. Only pride and ego could be damaged by getting it wrong, and every break time her friends’ faces told her it was a risk worth taking.  She could do it. She would do it. She would love it!

In the busy reality of the next day, though, her fear of failure would recapture her and again she would watch in quiet, still, hopeless hope. Sometimes her nocturnal determination would even see her plan late night visits to practice unseen, so she could arrive at school one day confident of her ability to take her place up there without embarrassment. But of course that was impossible. She was only eight.

In the end she never did join her friends looping and spinning and laughing around those bars, but she remembered her mental battle with that climbing frame for the rest of her life.



Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on February 28, 2015 by becciseaborne

Difference 2– • –


I found my way;

More bearable than your way.

My way has no stopwatch,

No expectant blank page,

No closed door.


My way has spaces,

Open windows,

Gaps, loops, connections, cracks.


I found my way;

My way has truth,

My way has me.


I found my way;

More bearable than your way.

My way has no checking,

No assumptions,

No answers.


My way has openings,


Opportunity, questions, choice.


I found my way;

My way has truth,

My way has me.


 – • –



Posted in Poetry with tags , , on January 31, 2015 by becciseaborne
I used to dance with pain
Held her close, flung her wide
Deceiving circles of distracting grace 
Gouges in the floor unseen
I used to dance with pain
Only true measure of love
Pushing beat to valve
My prize for crazy shapes 
I used to dance with pain
Kept moving when the music stopped
Held on as others drifted off
Ripped raw feet of use no more
I danced away from pain
Dulled heart nests in softer rhythm
Space to create a dance my own
Led my feet away
Dance from me danced
False circles found again
Distraction sputtering
In absent eyes
I leave the floor
In search once more
Of pain
 (Photo: Bill Wadman from

A Vaguely Female Type Thing

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , , on January 31, 2015 by becciseaborne


Allison Torneros


For quite a long time in my early twenties, I refused to identify as female and wouldn’t allow people to refer to me as female, or as a woman, girl, lady, whatever. Recently, for some unknown reason (perhaps because I’ve been reflecting on related topics of late), this fact came back to me.

It’s not to say I thought I  wasn’t female, or that I thought I was anything else. I was, I insisted, a ‘vaguely female-type-thing’. I’m still not entirely sure what this was an expression of; it certainly wasn’t an outright rejection of the female gender itself. Perhaps it was more a reflection of my confusion about what being female really meant, what the expectations and conventions were and whether I agreed with what I found to be held as true by others. More particularly, it may have been connected to how that was perceived by others in relation to  me, and especially those close to me at the time. It may also have been linked to aspects of sexuality; it certainly emerged at the time of a particularly…let’s say ‘problematic’, relationship with someone whose own sexuality I’m still not sure of. (I’ve no idea if he is either.)

Given that it was a time when I was still pretty aggressive and obnoxious, I’m sure most people thought I was either taking the piss or trying to provoke an argument (again). But in reality it was quite a sincere statement about an undefined uncertainty. This was probably located in confusion about what I wanted as well as what it was okay for me to want, specifically as a female. This was most likely in relation to life goals generally; career, relationships etc. By this time my idea of what I might want to consider as a career was gaining some clarity (the ‘how’ being slightly less straight forward), whilst my experience of intimate relationships was deteriorating, and I was finding interesting ways to distract myself from the latter. So my sense of identity was a little out of kilter.

Growing up, I gained an overwhelming belief that I should not accept any limitations placed on me by dint of my gender and that I could and should  be anything I wanted to be. In more recent years, as with many other aspects of my upbringing, I realise that what I received were, in fact, mixed messages. The conflicting aspect of these messages came from two different sources. Firstly, my parents have very different aspirations for my sister and me. Primarily, my Mum wants us to be happy; over and above anything else she wants us to be ourselves and to be happy, regardless of how or why. Of course my Dad wants our happiness too, but he sees the route to this as being categorically prescribed through convention and achievement; good education, stable relationship, respectable career, stick to the rules, plan everything, and avoid anything risky, unusual or potentially painful.

Secondly, the way I see it, there was a discrepancy between some of what my Dad articulated and some of the messages he gave off subconsciously, that we picked up by osmosis. Looking back there were many inconsistencies. In particular, I grew up understanding it was important to be informed and have an opinion (and most importantly, to be right), but mostly I felt painfully, knot-inducingly unheard.

My Dad assesses many important (and unimportant) things on the basis of the skill and effort that has gone into them and the level of the achievement that is gained by this. Whilst moderately liberal in some ways, he holds onto some quite traditional views, which although he doesn’t mean them to be, are sometimes expressed indirectly in ways which give quite judgmental, limiting and prescriptive messages. For me these frequently have the effect of inducing somewhat self-flagellating episodes of self-criticism, self-doubt and a reluctance to make decisions based on my own inclinations and desires. The further effects of this in the past have included an inability to discern what it was I actually wanted at all. Of course there have been many other factors at play in these situations, but this backdrop certainly hasn’t helped. These conflicting notions formed a powerful contradiction within me which I’ve only perceived and explored more recently, but which was partly expressed, I think, through the ambiguity in that chosen label in my twenties.

Well over 10 years later I’m still pretty confused about what it means to be female, the difference now being that I believe I’m in good company on that score, and that I’m equally confused about what it means to be a human being. So the gendered aspect of my overall perplexity is somewhat diminished, though it’s still significant for me. The other difference is that I generally tend to feel a bit more okay about my various confusions and am usually able to take them as the signal of the starting point for a journey rather than as an indication of failure, or as a barrier to some unknown goal, the genesis of resentment and anger.

So how can we take these journeys? It seems to me that the more opportunities and routes of expression we have for the various aspects of ourselves – aspiration, inclination, sexuality, gender, all of our passions – the better. For me, risk taking is an essential part of this…it’s a cliché that keeping on doing the same things will only get you the same result, but it is nonetheless true. This presents me with a challenge in terms of my inner contradictions. My nature is that of a risk taker, but I was raised by a powerfully risk averse figure who formed my learned behaviour, and that is hard to break out of. I also love and care deeply about him, and do not want to cause him disappointment or heart ache. Perhaps secret subversion is the key? It certainly has been at times, but I don’t think that’s healthy for positive self-image or identity either. So honesty and bravery are perhaps a better course. Those have certainly featured at times too, and continue to be a work in progress. This phrase has become somewhat of a mantra in recent months and years. Maybe a carefully plotted line between the two, occasionally straying a little wider than intended in one direction or the other as life’s messiness intervenes?

In the end, a significant factor in my moving beyond being a Vaguely-Female-Type-Thing, whilst still in my twenties, was the transition to a much happier and sexually healthier relationship which accompanied another transition into a more stable and assured self-identity. This continues to be a work in progress, and has not been a linear process, not least of which because that relationship ended a long time ago. What it showed me, however, is what it is possible to hope for. Hope and possibility are so important for human existence; we can only survive and grow if we insist on seeing them, even (or especially) in our darkest moments. In the presence of hope and possibility, we never stop looking for the opportunities to take a risk, or for the routes to connection and expression. That Vaguely-Female-Type-Thing does visit occasionally still, but I understand enough of what she tells me to find a path and start walking.


 (Art: Allison Torneros)

Needfulness: Thoughts on Obedience and Empathy

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , on December 3, 2014 by becciseaborne

There is much that’s contested and disputed over what restorative justice “is” – and what it isn’t. Despite this, I think it’s fair to say that most would agree that at the core of restorative justice – and restorative practices more widely – is a concern to identify and meet the needs of people who have been affected by the actions of one or more parties. Volunteering for Circles of Support and Accountability brings me into contact with people (core members) who have caused serious harm, but who also have significant unmet needs. Meeting these needs will not only support them to have a better life, but will also enable them to manage their behaviour and reduce their risk of reoffending. What also strikes me about many core members is the apparent inability and unwillingness to recognise or address their own needs. In getting to know core members well, the reasons behind this often become clearer, but recently I came across a discussion by Hal Pepinsky which I thought shed some interesting light on the subject.

In his essay, ‘Empathy Works, Obedience Doesn’t’ (1998), Pepinsky makes a powerful case for the dereliction of the concept of obedience as a tool which forces us to subjugate ourselves to the wishes and directions of others, losing any sense of our own needs and inclinations in the process. I find this argument fascinating. It’s not without its problems, particularly in framing it with the logical conclusions he wishes to draw from his assessment (a complete absence of punishment or the requirement of obedience). What his discussions highlight for me, however, is that there is a need for a better balance between what we sacrifice of ourselves, and how we are enabled better to identify, understand and meet our own needs. This seems crucial in order to function in a healthy, balanced, empathetic and emotionally literate manner, as Pepinsky, and many others besides, articulate cogently.

Reading his discourse, I was minded to reflect on my own experiences of addressing needs, what tools I’ve been given to do this throughout my life and by whom. We would all imagine, I assume, that our parents and families would be the primary source of such qualities and skills, followed perhaps by school, and friends. But here, as with so many things, families are able only to pass on what they already possess – any deficit is nearly always inherited. And Pepinsky is right in one very crucial sense; our socialisation is about how to fit in and how to please others. When our baby sibling is born, our parents undertake careful exercises of incentivising our “good” behaviour toward them. And so we learn that addressing someone else’s needs, and pleasing others brings reward and gratification, and that this should become our priority. We learn that attending to the needs of others is more important than attending to our own. It seems to me that very soon, not only will we lose the inclination to engage with our own needs, we may well lose the ability to distinguish between our own needs and those of others at all. We switch our internal gratification through self-fulfilment for a second-rate external version, handed out by others for pleasing them; our fundamental needs supplanted with far shallower, but more amenable ones.

This is different from being compassionate and altruistic, where we are able to work towards the needs of others whilst keeping our own inclinations and requirements in balance with this. Essentially, according to Pepinsky, this is subjugation of the self, and strikes me as being very dangerous. In any given situation, not to know whether our instinct and our decision making is being driven by our own or someone else’s goals creates a deficit in self esteem which can be utterly corrosive, and the consequences far reaching. Every time we undertake an act which fulfils anothers’ needs at the expense of our own, we are sending and reinforcing a message to ourselves that our own needs are less worthy of attention and action than anyone else’s. The result of this, most obviously, is a failure to meet our own needs. This is damaging enough in itself, but is accompanied by a constant downgrading of our own self-worth, and more irrevocably, a further disengagement from our own needs. An additional consequence may be a potentially permanent inability to identify or engage with these issues at all on our own behalf, or at least to be able to separate them from those of other people in any meaningful or useful way.

Pepinsky argues that in such a state of needful disenfranchisement, people resort to dissociated violence and aggression, perpetrating crimes against their fellow citizens. Whilst this line of thought feels intuitively plausible, I would go further and say that there are many people for whom the subjugation created by obedience leads to a very different but equally corrosive dynamic. Imagine, for example, how someone who is unable to make emotional decisions based on anything other than meeting someone else’s needs (without even necessarily being aware of this), would go about creating and sustaining healthy intimate relationships. Imagine how they might fare at work in negotiations with colleagues or business contacts; how they might build supportive and healthy friendships; how they might cope with stressful and demanding situations at home or work. Imagine how they might raise and nurture their own family. Acknowledging and addressing our own needs is, foremost, an act of self acceptance, which is a permission giver in the most positive sense. It enables us to say ‘no’ in a respectful and engaged way; it allows us to put ourselves first, to negotiate, to change our minds, to move on from things, and to feel less guilt about all of these things. It even gives us permission to try – and fail – at things, which is possibly the most important thing of all, especially for core members who are trying to rebuild more positive lives, often in completely new ways.

It is a very slow and complex piece of work getting people to unlearn such an ingrained response pattern, which is usually established in a formative stage of development. For many, it can never be fully undone, but as the cliché goes, awareness is the first step to addressing an issue. So I guess vigilance is the key, and crucial to that, is having the right people walking beside you too. Fundamentally that is what Circles of Support and Accountability is about. As is true friendship.

Mirrors: Thoughts on Self-Acceptance and Forgiveness

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , , , on July 27, 2013 by becciseaborne

Distorted image mirrorThe lost soul

When Amy Winehouse died almost exactly 2 years ago, the inevitability of how she died raised issues around addiction and self-destruction. These matters periodically make their way into the public consciousness, mostly in relation to celebrities and talented artists, such as Pete Doherty and others. We have a perpetual and morbid interest in a subject which is at the same time both unsettling, yet confirms our own position of relative stability and normality, whatever that means.

For my own part, although I had no personal connection, I felt a real sadness that a young, fragile person had just kind of slipped off the planet before she had even got a grasp of it. She had a truly fantastic voice, and was evidently talented, yet “troubled” – that cliché that means everything and nothing. Her drug and alcohol problems and her stints in rehab had received much media attention. One obituary noted that her pre-existing insecurities, rather than diminishing once she achieved such acclaim, only grew and fed the self destruction (“Razor sharp, Winehouse changed the music scene for ever”, The Independent on Sunday, 24 July 2011). It was this that caught my attention.


Broken mirror reflectionSelf-perception

In the face of world-wide praise and celebrity a talented, intelligent and engaging young woman seemed to become less of herself. She retreated and seemed to struggle with the identity which her talent surely entitled her to claim. Something about the praise and attention didn’t fit with her. I believe that far from being abnormal, her struggle was a universal human response where there is a gap between self-perception and what others hold up for us to see. Of course the full extent of her behaviour and its consequences are less inevitable, but it does seem to me that she had quite a common sense of being unworthy of the attention she was receiving.

About five or six years ago I met someone who had a similar and very evident dislike of praise or positive attention. It’s a completely different story, but at the same time the underlying issues are similar. I met this man when he was released from prison having served a long sentence for child sex abuse. My role was as one of five volunteers who would meet with him on a weekly basis to work on relapse prevention and offer practical and moral support. The aim was to prevent further victims by guiding him to keep to his relapse prevention plan and to stop him from feeling isolated – a major trigger for dangerous thought patterns and behaviour. This reduces re-offending.

He had been abused as a young boy himself and was used by circle of abusers to recruit other boys his own age. This, put together with his own offending as an adult, and the significant amount of time he had spent in the criminal justice system as a sex offender meant he had built a self-image and identity as a bad person who needed to be punished. There’s no doubt that his crimes were awful and needed to be atoned for. The premise of the voluntary work, though, is that it’s the behaviour which is bad and not the person. In other words, one person is not merely the sum of all the bad things they have ever done. Most of us are able to realise this, mainly through the forgiveness of others for those transgressions that would otherwise cause guilt and maybe eat away at us. Forgiveness allows self-acceptance and we are consequently able to maintain a healthy self-image.

Socially constructed distortionBut for sex offenders there is no forgiveness. They are demonised and stigmatised by every corner of society. And that mirror we hold up to them becomes how they view themselves. So the man I met a few years ago was someone who believed himself to be utterly without good and totally unworthy of anyone’s time, respect or kindness. He didn’t believe that he was entitled to have anything good happen to him.

Some may argue that he didn’t, but the point here is that this fuels distorted thinking patterns which justify the offending behaviour. In other words it makes re-offending more likely, and no-one wants that.


Dissonant image mirror

A new mirror

As time went by we all built up quite a rapport with him and we agreed we wanted to hold up a different mirror for him, a positive one that he could aspire to. So praising achievement and positive attitudes was just as important as challenging negative behaviour and unhealthy thought patterns. He certainly proved himself worthy of both at times. More often than not there was something positive to say, though and we noticed that he seemed to really struggle with this. We talked about it to find out what was going on for him, and it turned out to be pretty simple really; he just didn’t feel worthy of the praise he was being offered; he didn’t see himself in the mirror.

On one occasion this almost led to serious problems. He was struggling to keep to his relapse prevention plan, and although he was doing everything “right” on the face of it, he was having some unhealthy – and risky – thoughts and feelings. He wasn’t talking about these and so they were going unchecked. This meant that while we were saying well done for all the things he was achieving, he was churning over this huge dissonance between appearances and reality. He knew he was getting into murky water, and that things weren’t right. The gap was widening and the guilt he felt about it was probably making it a lot worse too, building the pressure.


Butterfly mirrorMaking the image fit: self-acceptance

It could have gone one of two ways, but fortunately for everyone, he chose the safe option and confessed what was going on. Of course we then had a lot of discussions about how we could make it easier for him to talk about these issues in future so that he didn’t get backed into a corner again. We were also more cautious and more specific about the praise we gave to him. He said it was awful being told how great everything was when he knew that really there was a big problem. Over many months we were able to support him in growing into this new identity, and eventually he came to accept the idea of himself as a person worthy of a normal life. To date he has not re-offended.

The point is, really, that all that positive attention and praise being received by someone who perceives themselves as being unworthy of it can have completely the opposite effect to that which is intended. Maybe Amy Winehouse – on a different level and for completely different reasons – felt the same. Maybe she couldn’t see herself in the mirror that the world was holding up to her. One of Amy’s friend and collaborator, Mark Ronson, talked about how she hated people “gushing” over her or enthusing about her success, how it would make her “shrivel up”, or run away.


What are we meant to do when we find ourselves in a situation like that? Some people like what they see in that mirror and they make it work for them; there are those successful A-list celebrities that exemplify this. But if you don’t recognise or relate to the image the world is showing you of yourself, how do you make sense of it? For Amy, she just wasn’t the person everyone else thought she was. She was just Amy Winehouse, with a sharp wit to fill in the gaps where her self esteem should have been, and when that didn’t work any more because the gaps got bigger, she found drugs and alcohol. There are many, many of those talented and imperfect people who exemplify this, too. Most of them are dead. And nearly all of those died way too young. If they had been able to find a route to self-acceptance – and in some cases self-forgiveness too – maybe they would still be here.