- Part 1: The Basics – What is self-acceptance and why it matters
- Part 2: Related Concepts – Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Compassion, Oh MY!
- Part 3: The Building Blocks – Strategies to Boost Self Acceptance
There are many ways to look at self-acceptance. Some of them are more constructive than others. It would be a mistake to think of self-acceptance as a blanket acceptance of your weaknesses, bad habits, and negative tendencies in the absence of any responsibility to continue to improve
Self-acceptance isn’t an excuse for laziness and complacency. You can be content and still advocate self-improvement.
As it turns out, self-acceptance is not an automatic or default state. Many of us have trouble accepting ourselves exactly as we are. It’s not so hard to accept the good parts of ourselves, but what about the rest? Surely we shouldn’t accept our flaws and failures?
It also doesn’t mean that you accept your fate and determine that nothing can or should be done to change your life.
Part 1: The Basics – What is Self-Acceptance (and Why Does it Matter)?
Self-acceptance is a “state of complete acceptance of oneself that embraces the positive and negative attributes without any qualifications, conditions, or exceptions.”
This academic definition encompasses a lot. Think of it this way: Self-acceptance is a reckoning with yourself. It’s an acknowledgement of your shortcomings, character, strengths, habits, and tendencies. It’s about facing the truth and accepting that reality. Once you know where you are, you can make a reasonable plan to move forward.
Self-acceptance ultimately leads to contentment because you are no longer fighting with yourself. Because let’s face it, you cannot be both your #1 fan and your #1 enemy. It’s self-defeating.
The History of Self-Acceptance
Self-acceptance is common and powerful concept in areas such as counseling, coaching, teaching, and even parenting. Scientific studies have shown a link between self-acceptance and mental, emotional, and even physical health.
Although the ideas behind self-acceptance have existed for hundreds of years, there is no unifying theory of self-acceptance in psychology or any other social science. Professionals have studied self-acceptance and its relation to constructs like well-being, self-esteem, and mental health, but it is almost as if no field or sub-field has come forth to claim self-acceptance as its own.
However, the ramifications and influence of self-acceptance is perhaps more widely acknowledged today than ever before. Without self-acceptance, your psychological and even physical well-being can suffer, and often, beneficial interventions are less helpful for you than for others with higher self-acceptance.
In addition, if you feel negatively about yourself, the brain regions that help you control emotions and stress have less gray matter than someone with a greater degree of self-acceptance — that is, these regions actually have less tissue to “work with.” This lack of gray matter may also appear in regions of the brainstem that process stress and anxiety. Stress signals from these latter regions, in turn, disrupt the emotional control regions. So, poor self-acceptance may disrupt emotional control in two ways: directly, by disrupting the brain regions that control it, and also indirectly, by increasing stress signals in your brain that subsequently disrupt these regions.
Concepts to Know
Self-esteem – Self-esteem is defined as the evaluation we ascribe to the image we have of ourselves or, in other words, our judgment of our worth and how we feel about it. Another term for self-esteem is ‘sense of self-worth’ or ‘feeling of self-worth’. Self-esteem is more closely associated with psychological affect than self-acceptance. While it is an important piece in the global understanding of an individual, self-esteem does not alone create a psychological well human being.
Confidence (sometimes referred to as self-confidence) is having a belief and positive regard for yourself and your ability to succeed; self-trust. Additionally, self-trust comes a self-belief that you are able to exist and thrive in a range of different situations: personal relationships, the professional environment, social interaction, family life, and even the ‘unknown’.
Self-love – is regard for one’s own well-being and happiness (chiefly considered as a desirable rather than narcissistic characteristic). Self-love is more about giving the mind, body, and spirit what it needs, not what it wants
Challenges of Increasing self-acceptance
Most people want to be different – or better – in some way. And it causes negative emotions such as envy, self-pity, and self-doubt. The difficulty is how does one stop waiting for a better version of oneself or one’s life enough to just enjoy the life in the present moment? And then, how can it be possible to fully accept oneself and simultaneously pursue self development and growth? Common challenges to learning to accept yourself include:
Lack of self awareness (needs)
A barrier to developing self-accpetance is simply not understanding how to love yourself. Many people don’t fully understand what self-love means. They mistakenly think it is about doing things you want to do, rather than what you need.
Self-love isn’t just about treating yourself; it is about making sure you are fulfilling your needs. For example, if you want to lose weight, indulging in junk food isn’t going to help, even though it might be brining temporary joy. Instead, a healthier diet and exercise routine is considered a form of self-love as it helps you to become healthier and fulfils the body’s needs.
Perfectionism as a mindet – waiting for right time to start or finish leads to never taking action
Perfectionism is a major obstacle to self-love. While a little perfectionism can be a good thing, especially in business, it can also lead to disappointment, frustration, and unhappiness. When you feel like everything must be perfect, you aren’t going to be happy when you fall short. So, try and let go of your need to be perfect. Understand what draws your perfectionism and identify your triggers. Remember, nobody is perfect.
Self-Acceptance vs. Self-Improvement
It should be apparent that self-acceptance has nothing to do with self-improvement. It isn’t about “fixing” anything in ourselves. With self-acceptance, we’re just affirming who we are, with whatever strengths and weaknesses we possess.
The problem with any focus on self-improvement is that such an orientation inevitably makes self-acceptance conditional. After all, we can’t ever feel totally secure or good enough so long as our self-regard depends on constantly bettering ourselves. Self-acceptance is here-and-now oriented, not future-oriented. Self-acceptance is about already being okay, with no qualifications, period. It’s not that we ignore or deny our faults or frailties, just that we view them as irrelevant to our basic acceptability.
These are just some of the common obstacles to self-love you need to be aware of. By being aware, you’ll be able to figure out how to overcome them if they do arise. Finding people, you trust and who build you up is a big part of being able to practice self-love. However, don’t forget to be your own personal cheerleader too.
Part 2: Related Terms – Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Compassion, Oh MY!
Link between Self-acceptance and Self-esteem
Although self-acceptance is closely related to other “self” concepts, it is a distinct construct.
Its close cousin, self-esteem, is also centered on your relationship to yourself, but they differ in an important way. Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself—whether you feel you are generally good, worthwhile, and valuable—while self-acceptance is simply acknowledging and accepting that you are who you are.
As Seltzer (2008) puts it:
“Whereas self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more ‘esteem-able’ parts.”
Full self-acceptance can lay the foundations for positive self-esteem, and the two frequently go hand-in-hand, but they concern two different aspects of how we think and feel about ourselves.
When you emotionally and cognitive evaluate your own worth and abilities, you are exercising your self-esteem. How high or low you judge yourself has a tremendous influence on how you think and feel as well as how you act. Psychologists who study human behavior and cognition agree that self-esteem is a helpful tool for their work because it can help to predict outcomes including satisfaction in relationships, happiness, overall achievement, and even criminal behavior.
What you need to remember about self-esteem is that it actually has very little connection to your actual ability or talent. You can be really good at something and still have low self-esteem about yourself in this area.
The experiences in your life play a vital role in the development of your self-esteem. Parents, guardians, and siblings are the primary source of your experiences when you are young and therefore have a considerable influence over your esteem development. How parents speak to children, give and withhold love, acknowledge achievements, and set expectations all play a role in forming your self-esteem from a very early age.
But your self-esteem continues to develop throughout your life. Your successes and failures, no matter your age, inform how harshly or kindly you judge yourself. Each of us has an inner voice that repeats the many messages we have heard throughout our lives, reassuring or punishing us for our various actions.
Other factors that influence your self-esteem over time include the success or failure of various relationships, your physical appearance, your socioeconomic status, and any mental health issues you may have.
How Self-Esteem Affects Your Life
When you have higher self-esteem, you are more likely to have more lasting and healthy relationships. You can trust others and value their input in your life. High self-esteem is also correlated with emotional stability, conscientiousness, and being extroverted.
Low self-esteem can lead to problems with depression or anxiety, social isolation, and loneliness. Those with a low judgment of themselves are more likely to feel chronic stress, which can lead to physical health issues. Low self-esteem can cause problems in your interactions with other people, including romantic partners, friends, and colleagues. Those who struggle with their self-esteem can have troubles professionally, as they try to compensate for their low sense of self.
Some common signs of a person with low self-esteem include being a perfectionist, blaming yourself for everything, comparing yourself to others, refusing to accept compliments, and being afraid of failure. All of these can have severe consequences for your behavior.
In some people, low self-esteem results in self-destructive or self-sabotaging behaviors. Substance abuse is higher among those with low self-esteem, as are actions that allow them to avoid disappointment or potential hurt.
The downward self-esteem spiral is a vicious cycle. You have negative opinions of yourself, which leads to forming negative expectations about what will happen in your life. When these things come true, it reinforces your poor self-esteem, increasing your chances of failure. This leads to blaming yourself and even lower esteem.
Having a higher sense of self-esteem is vital to accomplishing your goals in life, being happy with what you have, and learning to respect yourself and your talents. While some of our esteem comes from early life experiences, you continue to evolve this construct over time, which means it’s never too late to improve your self-esteem.
Link between Self-acceptance and Self-compassion
Accepting yourself is a process. It’s a habit. The little things you do, or fail to do, each day determine your level of self-acceptance. Developing these useful habits and dropping the negative habits is a huge step in the right direction. It’s hard to accept yourself any other way.
Kristin Neff’s research proposed that self-compassion was a healthy form of self-acceptance (Neff, 2003b). When you speak to yourself, imagine you are talking to your best friend. What you say to yourself matters. Self-flagellation is extremely harmful to your psychological wellbeing.
A good place to start practicing self-compassion is to practice forgiveness. Write yourself a letter to forgive those mistakes you’ve made, and forgive yourself for anything you’ve continued to punish in yourself. There are many more ways to work on self-compassion listed on self-compassion.org.
Learn from mistakes. Failure is a part of success. Adopting a growth mindset when facing errors and mistakes is a powerful place to learn. Understanding neuroplasticity and our ability to change our brains with effort, over time, can be very motivating.
Link between Self-acceptance and Self-love
You can be aware of your shortcomings and still be happy with yourself. Your self-confidence doesn’t have to suffer either. You can honest with yourself and still be a powerful force in the world.
You might be thinking, “I thought I was supposed to be honest with myself, not build myself up.”
This is being honest with yourself. If you had a truly accurate picture of yourself and your situation, you’d be a lot happier with yourself and a lot more excited about life in general.
Rejection and hurt can leave us feeling unfulfilled and disillusioned with how we expect relationships to play out. When they don’t go as we want them to we often blame ourselves and wonder where we went wrong… that’s not what it’s about.
1. You’ll Be Large & In Charge
Instead of making bad choices because you’re being led by shame, guilt or fear – you will be empowered to make choices that truly make sense for who you are – meaning you will be living your authentic life. You will no longer be caught up with people pleasing, instead you will live a life that brings you satisfaction. Self-love means trying to honor yourself because you know your needs are just as important as others.
2. You Set Boundaries & Stick To Them
Once you have the hang of honoring your needs you start to feel more confident, which means you are more assertive. Of course, this results in a more purposeful attitude, especially when it comes to dating. You start to see who is wasting your time and you’re strong enough to move forward without them. More to the point, you are strong enough to set clear boundaries with people and stick to them.
3. The Approval Seeking Will Stop
When you truly love yourself, you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks about you – which means you’re a less defensive person and more confident about living a life that is authentic for you. Why would you need acceptance from everyone else when you truly accept yourself?
4. You Will Be A Conscious Decision Maker
Loving yourself gives you the courage to cut things from your life that don’t truly bring you joy or provide you with ample space to grow. It’s easy to make courageous decisions when you value yourself and actively make choices that are intended to honor you, rather than risk harming you.
5. You Will Enjoy Alone Time
A lot of people get caught up in keeping busy schedules simply because they’re terrified of feeling or being alone. You surround yourself with people, throw yourself into work, and make decisions that help you avoid that loneliness. Why would you do all of the things that you don’t love? You could be filling that time with things that you actually enjoy doing – whether it’s meditation, swimming, writing or watching a movie. It doesn’t need to feel scary to spend time alone, you should enjoy time with yourself. Self-love brings more comfort when you’re spending time in your own company.
You don’t need to find happiness in relationships, whether they’re romantic or not. The only love that you truly need to be happy is the love of yourself. When you start taking responsibility for it and stop giving your power away to everyone else, you will naturally feel happier. If you’re not in a romantic relationship you will find that you aren’t as desperate to be in one as you once were because you know you don’t need them. When the right person shows up, you will be ready for that love.
Part 3: The Building Blocks – Strategies to Boost Self Acceptance
Many mental health professionals believe that self-acceptance is necessary before change can occur. If you’re feeling stuck, a lack of self-acceptance may be the first challenge to overcome. Accepting your flaws allows you to change them.
Learn to accept yourself and enjoy the person you are:
- Let go of your parents’ behavior. Some parents are better than others. Overly critical parents don’t have bad children, they’re just lousy parents. There’s little to be gained by giving your parents a hard time for their inadequacies. The solution is to forgive them and release yourself from the past.
- Avoid judging yourself based on the parenting you received. It’s a reflection of them, not you.
- Volunteer. There’s no easier way to convince yourself that you’re worthy of self-acceptance than to volunteer your time with someone that needs you. Prove to yourself how great a person you are. There are countless opportunities to volunteer in your community.
- Be proud of your strengths. It’s hard to accept yourself if you’re constantly reminding yourself of your weaknesses. Make a long list that you can return to in the future. List every positive thing you can about yourself. Even the smallest positive attribute is worthy of mention.
- “I am a good person.”
- “I can play the banjo.”
- “I am loyal to my friends.”
- Forgive yourself. If you’re harping on your past transgressions, self-acceptance will be in short-supply. Chalk your bad choices up to experience and move on.
- Everyone does the best they can. There will always be moments where you’re less capable than others. You can do better next time.
- Let go of goals that will never be reached. If you’re 57 years old, your childhood dream of becoming an astronaut is over. It is. It’s difficult to accept yourself when the life you’re living is very different from your original plans. There’s a time to let it all go. Let the present moment be that time. Make new plans that are plausible and that excite you.
- Eliminate negative self-talk. You can’t accept yourself if you’re constantly insulting yourself. Give yourself a fighting chance to reach a state of self-acceptance. Speak to yourself the way you would a good friend. Be a friend to yourself.
- Be authentic. When you put on a persona for the world, you’re not giving others the opportunity to accept you as you are. How will you be able to accept yourself? When you’re authentic, the love you receive feels infinitely more meaningful. Living honestly is scary, but surprisingly easy. People admire and respect those with the strength to be authentic.
- Recognize your worth to the world. Fortunately, this isn’t something that must be earned. You’re born with it. How much could you contribute if you applied yourself? The world needs you. What could say more of your inherent value than the fact that the world needs you?
- Forgive others. The ability to forgive others is proportional to your ability to forgive yourself. Practice forgiving others and you’ll find self-acceptance comes much easier.
Self-acceptance is fancy word for tolerating yourself. No one is perfect. You accept your friends and family even though they’re all flawed in a unique way. Give yourself the same latitude. Focus on your positive traits and forgive yourself for your flaws and mistakes. Accept yourself as you are.
Resources For Self-Acceptance
Looking for some additional reads? Check out the following resources:
If you’d like to learn more about self-acceptance, there are several books that can help you with your self-development. Some of the best books on the topic include:
- The Gift of Imperfection by Brené Brown (Amazon)
- Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love That Heals Fear and Shame by Tara Brach (Amazon)
- Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (Amazon)
- How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism by Stephen Guise (Amazon)
- Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary (Amazon)
- The Self-Acceptance Project: How to be Kind and Compassionate Toward Yourself in Any Situation by Tami Simon (Amazon)
- 50 Mindful Steps to Self-Esteem: Everyday Practices for Cultivating Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion by Janetti Marotta (Amazon)
Self-acceptance is the ability to see oneself as a whole human that includes virtues and flaws. It is valuing the self regardless of accomplishment or failure. It is the ability to effectively learn from mistakes, rather than allowing them to internally disrupt psychological wellbeing.
The ability to self-accept is essentially permitting yourself to be human. None of us is great at all things. None of us is terrible at all of them, either. Accepting what is, and not rating or self-punishing is a piece of emotional resilience that will improve wellbeing across ages, cultures, and genders.
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