To start off season 3, which focuses on self-acceptance, I interviewed Claudia Ira Gan last week. Claudia and I discussed how some people have a skewed sense of self-acceptance, thinking that self-acceptance means stagnation and staying the same. That is not what self acceptance is.
Self-acceptance means knowing your strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, and seeing yourself as worthy of love, of dignity, despite your imperfections. It means accepting who you really are, not who you wish you should be or want to be. It has no judgement, only truth. This sets it apart from the related idea of self-esteem because self-esteem only focuses on the “esteemed” or the positive aspects of yourself. Self-acceptance looks at all of yourself and likes yourself regardless of the “flaws”, and it is essential before any transformation.
I’m really good at judging myself and others. A few years back, as I started to encounter podcasts and books by Brene Brown, Jodi Moore, Tara Brach, I realized that my judging mind is actually a form of entrapment. It narrows my vision with a focus on what is missing, ignoring what is right there in front of me. This is when I realized that self-acceptance is about being present to what’s right here.
When we find the things that we can celebrate, our strengths and abilities, we can act from a place of strength. We can start to increase our vibrational energy and approach changes and progress from that place. It does not hold us back as some people expect. In season 2 episode 5, Jesse says,
Self-acceptance allows us to access our creativity, our motivation, our joy so that we can have more of what we want in our life, so that we can make progress.
What affects our self acceptance?
Self-acceptance is easy when we’re young, before we get affected by societal conditioning. Then, we are subject to the judgement of our parents, our family members, our peers and other social groups. Over time, we start judging ourselves though those eyes. As other people start to highlight our shortcomings, or as we find them ourselves in comparison to others, we find it harder and harder to accept ourselves. We start to think of ourselves as acceptable only to the degree where we can behave the right way, wear the correct clothes, say the expected things. This starts with our parents with a variety of criticisms that we’re selfish, too loud, greedy, too emotional, too sensitive, etc. As we receive those negative messages from those around us, we internalize many of them and we start to heap on the self reproach and negativity as well. Claudia in the last episode, episode 63, explains the difference between self-acceptance and this external sense of belonging:
Why is Self Acceptance Important
The are some key other concepts that are closely related to self-acceptance. These include self-compassion, self-love, forgiveness, self-esteem. So if self acceptance is so transformational, isn’t it worth developing it in ourselves?
I found many articles quoting Carl Rogers but I chose a different quote as I have not red his book On Becoming a Person.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy in our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns. Entangled in the trance of unworthiness, we grow accustomed to caging ourselves in with self-judgment and anxiety, with restlessness and dissatisfaction.Tara Brach, Huffington Post
I mentioned earlier that self acceptance is crucial before any transformation can occur. This is just one benefit of self acceptance because we need to be honest about the current state of things before we can change them. Claudia reminds us that change is not in opposition to self acceptance:
However, self-acceptance is not the same as self-improvement. Self-acceptance is not conditional on changing anything about ourselves. It is about recognizing who we are in each moment, both our strengths and our weaknesses. It means being okay with who we are. That doesn’t mean we won’t want to make any changes or progress, but rather that we realize we are whole and worthy regardless of any changes.
Self-acceptance also leads to greater happiness. When you accept yourself, your actions align with your belief because you’re not trying to be someone else or pretending to be someone else. You act in ways that feel respectful of yourself and those around you. Then you can start to look for and find things that you appreciate or even love about yourself. You can start to focus on more positive elements of our life, savour the good and make small actions towards progress for the things you want to change. These actions of recognizing the good, gratitude, savoring and celebrating, those all contribute to increased happiness. Even more importantly, if you accept yourself, you’ll recognize that you are worthy of happiness and will be better able to access the emotion.
Ways to Build Self-Acceptance
The concepts related to self-acceptance provide some clues of the ways that we can build self-acceptance. To start, you can make a list of all the ways that you can show self-love, self-compassion. What do you need to forgive yourself for from the past? Journalling is a great way to explore these ideas and come up with some suggestions that are specific to yourself.
To accept yourself, it is necessary to forgive yourself for the choices that other people didn’t like, the ones you wish you hadn’t made. Life is a journey that is not linear, where we are tested and make mistakes, grow and make progress. We learn over time and it’s not helpful to judge our past behaviors from our new perspective. Often, we are not the same person making the judgement as the person who did the action. The fact that we feel guilty for past behaviors indicates a willingness to change that behavior. Can you find it in yourself to empathize with who you were, to show compassion and ultimately to release the guilt for your past mistakes? When you can do that, you can experience forgiveness and self-acceptance.
Try thinking about and journalling with these prompts:
- What does self acceptance mean to you?
- When and how did you develop your judging voice?
- How might you encounter situations with curiosity rather than judgement? Think up some scenarios of what you can say and do.
- In what ways and of what do you find yourself unworthy?
- What are all the things that you like about yourself, that you do well, that others appreciate about you?
- For the things that you don’t like about yourself, in what way(s) have they protected you, provided solace or tried to help you?
- What shame and guilt are you carrying around? How can you forgive yourself and let them go? Can you do it through empathy for your past self, by speaking to the people who were involved or by making amends?
- Who else do you need to forgive and what do you need to do that? This could be journalling, therapy or other healing practice.
- Everyone is imperfect and deserves forgiveness for past mistakes. Discuss this sentence or journal about it.
As we start to build acceptance through self-compassion and self-love, this opens us up to offer the same to the people in our sphere, to be generally more compassionate and more loving. The weird thing is that when we are our own worst critic, we tend to be critics of other people as well.
In season 1, I spoke with Sebene Selassie and she talked embodied awareness, about how we can show up for ourselves in any moment:
Here are 9 more ideas of activities to increase your self acceptance:
- Make a list of thing that you enjoy doing and make some time to do one of them each day.
- Come up with your favorite ways to be kind and tender to yourself. Practice them with your friends and family too.
- Write a letter releasing yourself of blame and regret, and to express forgiveness.
- Identity one friend who you trust and who you can talk to to receive understanding and kindness. Spend some time talking to them regularly.
- Explore your mistakes to see what you learned from them. Consider how you might be thankful for the lessons learned.
- What’s something that you’ve been putting off waiting for perfection? Can you remove the requirement for perfection and stop waiting?
- Work through some of the self-acceptance and forgiveness worksheets in the shownotes.
- Practice RAIN and other forms of mindfulness/meditation practice.
- Read and discuss Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.
I will end with this quote by Tara Brach:
Like a boundless sea, we have the capacity to embrace the waves of life as they move through us. Even when the sea is stirred up by the winds of self-doubt, we can find our way home.
Self-acceptance comes from meeting life’s challenges vigorously. Don’t numb yourself to your trials and difficulties, nor build mental walls to exclude pain from your life. You will find peace not by trying to escape your problems, but by confronting them courageously. You will find fulfillment not in denial, but in the victory.
~J. Donald Walters
- The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance, Psychology Today
- Accepting Absolutely Everything, Tara Brach, Huffington Post
- Self Acceptance, Positive Psychology
- Free tools for forgiveness and acceptance, Radical Forgiveness