The concept of accepting yourself may seem obvious - after all, we live with ourselves every day – but for many, it’s a real struggle to accept ourselves just as we are. Many of us hold negative judgments about ourselves in relation to others. We may be very aware of our flaws or engage in self-talk that is critical and disapproving.
Judging ourselves harshly comes at a cost, though. It can stop us from living fully. The more self-critical we are, the less able we are to manage our emotional ups and downs. Accepting who we are gives us freedom to make mistakes and worry less about failures. It also allows us to be authentic and live with compassion for ourselves, others and the world. Self-acceptance is an important part of our well-being.
So, how do we really accept ourselves? A first step in the self-acceptance process is to have an open curiosity about yourself. This is an opportunity to befriend yourself - to look at the qualities you like and the ones you might like to change. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge how your experiences have shaped the person you are now, and to look at your thoughts from the viewpoint of learning instead of judgment.
Suspending judgment about our qualities and experiences is important in order not to place conditions on ourselves (example, “if I could be more motivated, I would achieve more”). Instead, with curiosity, look honestly at your characteristics and decide what you cannot change and what you can work on. This process of self-evaluation is not about excusing your past missteps, nor is it giving yourself a free pass. Rather, it is accepting the reality of what you have done without criticism. Your past missteps do not make you a failure. They make you human with basic dignity just as you are.
Perfectionism needs to go Another important step in the journey to self-acceptance is to let go of being perfect. Mistakes, missteps and setbacks happen to all of us – what is important is how we learn and grow from those challenges. Avoiding situations and experiences because of fear of failure is one of the ways we hold ourselves back from living fully and growing into our true selves. We may miss out on rewarding experiences out of fear of not appearing competent. Imperfection is what makes us unique and acknowledging this fact also allows us to accept the same in others. When we understand ourselves from a place of compassion, we also develop our skills to feel that same compassion for others and their imperfections.
Mindfulness Mindfulness is another great tool for self-acceptance. Mindfulness is a way to sit with your thoughts and clear out those negative cycles and beliefs that hold you back from living fully. It’s an opportunity to explore the deeper feelings we tend to avoid - the parts of ourselves we find the most difficult to love.
This is where we need to allow space for whatever comes up, to learn and understand. As your thoughts come up, try not to place value judgments on them (i.e., good or bad). Journaling can be helpful to write down what your inner voice says. It’s also important to keep in mind that our inner voices speak opinion, not always facts.
Unconditional love and forgiveness Once you have taken an honest look at yourself and start to befriend those parts you haven’t liked in the past, it’s time to start loving all aspects of your being with unconditional love. This means forgiving yourself for past mistakes or perceived flaws, and embracing who you are now. It is a process of letting go of the person that you want to be, or a past version of yourself you liked the best and recognizing that the most important relationship you have is the one with your current self. It involves asking yourself questions such as:
What am I holding onto that keeps me stuck in certain thinking patterns?
What do I keep blaming myself for from the past?
What do I feel guilt (like I’ve done something wrong) about or shame (like there’s something wrong with me as a person) about?
Asking yourself questions with an open curiosity for the answers are ways to bring those personal judgments to the surface in order to heal and forgive yourself.
This is not an easy process. It takes time to change old thinking patterns. The key is to not place judgment on those thoughts so that you can begin to look at your thoughts and feelings from a more balanced place. Allowing space to feel all those feelings is all part of the process of unconditional acceptance. When we change our thoughts, we begin to feel better.
Connection is important On this journey towards accepting yourself, it’s important to take breaks from working alone and being in your own presence. Connecting with others is a great reminder of who we are - especially when making changes brings up heavy emotion. Spending time with others is also a chance to reinforce growth in this process. As you fully forgive yourself, suspend those critical self-judgments, and embrace yourself, your connection with others will grow as well. Self-acceptance will give you a better understanding of others’ personal challenges and why they behave the way they do. Your hard work will allow space for others to live more authentically, as you embrace your self-acceptance.
If you're struggling to find self-acceptance, connect with your EFAP for support. We're here to help.