Self-Acceptance: The Secret To Being True To Yourself
Self-acceptance is hard. Nowadays, as we all tout the “be yourself” modus operandi, and self-love is emphasized more than ever, it seems silly to admit that I have no idea how to be myself. I used to blur self-esteem and self-acceptance, believing that I just needed to value myself more and validate myself by playing to my strengths. However, as my self-esteem waxed and waned, I learned that self-acceptance is a much more important step in learning to be yourself.
The Importance Of Self-Acceptance
Self-acceptance differs greatly from self-esteem. Self-esteem is how much value you place on yourself, and is often based on achievements and accolades. Self-acceptance is the ability to recognize both your positive and negative attributes, while still feeling great about being yourself.
Growing up, I needed a healthy dose of both self-esteem and self-acceptance, but self-acceptance was undoubtedly more urgent. I was, and still am,
I hated my quietness and my inability to talk to strangers. I hated the way my heart would jump out of my chest every single time I spoke in class. I hated the way teachers and eventually my peers would tell me to “project”, forcing me to repeat my words until I blushed a violent shade of red. I had been taught that I was lesser, that my quiet was my defining negative characteristic.
Oh, how I hated being myself! Thus began an intense, lengthy, and hateful inability to accept who I truly am. The time and energy it took for me to mold myself into an “extrovert” left me emotionally and mentally drained, yet my outgoing friendliness was contrived and inauthentic.
I wish I had realized what Dr. Carol B. Low explains in her article for the Center for Conscious Living: that behavior is not an indication of the “good” or “bad” in a person, and that acceptance is the first step to achieving tangible, effective change. We must accept ourselves fully — the good, the bad, the shameful, the amazing — and realize the separation between our behaviors and our person.
We are not bad people for getting poor grades, being overweight, or not talking to strangers. Once we realize that actions we take do not reflect upon our entire being or confine us to labels of “good” or “bad”, we are less afraid to take responsibility for our choices and more likely to make lasting changes.
Self-acceptance is a crucial part of a healthy, well-balanced life. As this article writes, it means to “forgive [ourselves] for not being perfect” without being held back by “irrational limiting beliefs”. In order to grasp life fully and revel in its oscillations, we must first wholly accept who we are.
The Root Of Our Concept Of Self
As we grow up, our concept of self and identity emerge first from our parents. According to Dr. Leon Seltzer, we only begin to form a clear sense of self after age eight, and everything that we accept about ourselves is transferred from our parents/guardians. If our parents give us the message that we’re not good enough or smart enough or pretty enough, then we’re primed to believe that we’re only “conditionally acceptable” as we grow older.
If our parents don’t communicate that all our aspects are acceptable, we are led to believe that only certain behaviors, actions, and traits are okay. Everything else we do is bad, and that automatically means that we are bad people. Thus, there is only conditional acceptance and love. If we could learn to unconditionally accept all of ourselves, poor behavior and all, we would be much more comfortable with ourselves and our perceived shortcomings.
How To Increase Self-Acceptance
- Have some self-compassion! Instead of labeling a behavior as wrong or bad, learn to understand why you did it and just resolve to act differently next time. There is no use in beating yourself up (figuratively and literally) over a perceived mistake.
- Don’t categorize your “failures” and “accomplishments”. Instead of seeing your achievements as “good” and failures as “bad”, try to recognize that everything is an essential part of your quilt of life. View everything as a learning opportunity.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. This is a tough one, especially with social media advertising everyone else’s “perfect” lifestyle. But learn to live for yourself and yourself only. Don’t do things to be like someone else, because you’re only rejecting yourself more. There is no happiness in forcing yourself into an ill-fitting box, only a growing hatred for who you were born as.
- Embrace the negatives. In a society where an emphasis is placed on being positive, it can seem counterintuitive to embrace the negatives, but recognizing your flaws is the first step in correcting them.
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