Introducing The Next Generation Of Leaders And Thinkers

Interview With Daniell Koepke, Founder of the Internal Acceptance Movement

Content warning: brief mention of an eating disorder.

I recently had the immense privilege of interviewing Daniell Koepke, founder of the Internal Acceptance Movement (I. A.M.), who is currently pursuing a PsyD in clinical psychology. Daniell has dedicated her talent in writing to the purpose of self-empowerment, hence the name of her online space. You can find her blog here. Be sure to follow her on Instagram @daniellkoepke for her beautiful photography and insightful advice.

Hi Daniell, can you tell us what the Internal Acceptance Movement is all about and why you decided to create it?

Hi! Absolutely: the Internal Acceptance Movement (I. A.M.) is a space that aims to foster self acceptance, self-empowerment, mental wellness, and recovery. It’s grounded in the underlying belief that in order to develop a positive relationship with ourselves we need to identify, address, and challenge the negative beliefs we have about our internal selves; the parts of who we are — outside of our appearance — that we feel are wrong or too much or not enough. I. A.M. is also based on the belief that part of this healing comes from reclaiming and owning the internal parts of ourselves that we’ve been taught to feel ashamed of. For me personally, this has meant owning my sensitivity and introversion and propensity to struggle with my mental health, and challenging the idea that having these traits and struggling in certain ways makes me weak or inadequate and a burden.

I got the idea for I. A.M. when I was in treatment for bulimia nervosa back in 2009. It started out as a desire to create a space to spread eating disorder awareness, body positivity, and pro-recovery writings.

But as I learned more about feminism, other types of mental illness, and the intersectionality of different forms of oppression (i.e. racism, ableism, homophobia, classism) with mental health, I decided that I wanted the I. A.M. to encompass something more broad. I wanted the blog focus on helping people heal from any struggle; to offer encouragement and validation; to spread awareness about the struggles certain marginalized groups face that might otherwise go unnoticed; to remind people that they aren’t alone and that the things they struggle with don’t have to be a source of shame; to provide self-care tips and coping skills; and to offer hope that things can and will get better.

You write eloquent pieces like this and this on your Tumblr and Instagram that blow my mind because of their keen wisdom and insight that people twice your age don’t have. You are able to put into words a shared perspective encompassed by the human race – struggles with fear, validation, and regret. Do you have a background in writing? Do you have a certain writing process?

Oh my gosh, that’s so kind – thank you, that means more than you know. I don’t have any background in writing. I think my voice as a writer developed through trying to be an older sister or mother to my wounded and insecure self – it’s the voice of the person I’m working towards becoming.

My own life, interpersonal relationships, and struggles with mental illness and chronic pain are my prime sources of inspiration. My writing process typically involves closing my eyes and imagining that someone I love and care about is struggling with the same pain or obstacle, and asking myself what words I would share to help them feel validated and seen and heard. It’s much easier to be kind to others over ourselves, so taking myself out of the equation often helps me go to a place of compassion and patience and wisdom that I might not be able to reach if I was trying to console myself.

Sadly, we live in a world where hatred, violence, and bigotry prevail in many aspects of society. What role does self-acceptance play in healing brokenness, both in our broken relationships with others and broken systems of inequality?

I think self-acceptance plays a huge role. I believe that there’s incredible power in creating a sense of self-worth that’s rooted in your own validation and acceptance.

When you can trust that who you are is enough and not need outside sources to confirm your value, it’s much harder for other people – be it bullies or abusive family members or manipulative exes or oppressive institutions – to convince you that you’re inadequate or shameful.

It doesn’t make navigating violence and bigotry any easier, but I think it empowers people to continue to advocate for themselves and their self-care and their rights – because through self-acceptance you come to believe with absolutely certainty that you deserve those things; that you deserve to live a life and have relationships that feel good; that you deserve the same rights and opportunities as everyone else; that you deserve to be here.

Older generations often demean millennials who hold progressive views, labeling us “sensitive snowflakes.” Much of your writing advocates for an embracing of sensitivity, and ironically, I feel like these older people would benefit from your advice. How would you respond to their critiques of the social justice movement?

I think that older generations who make those comments are angry because they long for a time when they could say whatever they wanted without being held accountable or having to reflect on their actions.

I would respond by affirming that being sensitive to bigotry and refusing to take it silently isn’t weakness – it’s a strength; one that is fundamentally about survival and self-care.

It’s about being brave enough to create conditions that allow your best self to come through; conditions that honor who you are and afford you the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. It’s bravery and strength because it means advocating for yourself. People deserve to exist under conditions where they are not actively being harmed and having their livelihood threatened. People deserve to feel safe in their skin and in their homes and communities.

I would also ask why they would actively choose to behave and speak in a way that hurts other people; that if they had the choice to make other people on the planet feel safe and good about themselves, or to make them feel endangered and dehumanized, why would you choose the latter? Is that really the type of person you aspire to be and want to be remembered for after you’re gone – someone who made other people in their community feel wounded and scared and marginalized?

I might further bring up all the things they might feel “sensitive” about – living in a country of immigrants, hearing fellow citizens speak languages other than English, queer existence and gay marriage and trans people existing in public, discussion of climate change – and ask why their discomfort about those topics and realities is not considered “sensitive-snowflake” behavior. I would ask why they are allowed to be upset about realities and truths they don’t like or agree with, but why liberals and marginalized groups aren’t? I would ask why they get to be an exception, and encourage them to question whether they are really different from us at all.

Many of Affinity Magazine’s readers are teenagers like myself. What would you say to someone reading this article who feels unconfident?

I would encourage anyone feeling unconfident to first write down all their negative or insecure thoughts. And once they have a comprehensive list, I’d encourage them to question: where or from who did I learn this? Being able to separate negative thoughts from my own truth has been really helpful in unlearning self-hatred.

For example, I’ve always struggled with the idea that I’m “too sensitive” and a burden for that hypersensitivity. And upon asking myself where I learned that belief, it became obvious that I internalized that judgment from my parents. When I broke down my personal family dynamics, I was able to realize that my parents gave me that label because they themselves are not sensitive people. They’re engineers and are very logical and uncomfortable with affection and emotions. Through that analysis, it became clear that their judgment wasn’t really about me – it was about them and their own discomfort with sensitivity and strong emotions. On top of that, the idea that I was a burden because I’m sensitive was also not about me, but about the fact that they felt helpless in the face of my sensitivity and that helplessness and discomfort is what felt like a burden – not me. Being able to objectively look at our dynamics like that, and being able to separate their issues from my worth, really helped me to feel less ashamed of my sensitivity.   

And if you’re able to make it that far, I’d encourage anyone feeling unsure of themselves or insecure to imagine that a friend or loved one was feeling the same feelings. I would encourage them to ask themselves: what would I do or say to encourage them and convince them of their capability and worth – and then apply it to themselves, because you deserve the same kindness and compassion you would extend to anyone else.

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