Accept yourself

Tips for finding inner peace, self-esteem and happiness

Accept yourself

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, September / October 2014

Self-acceptance is one of the main ingredients of a happy and satisfying life, yet it is a practice that most of us struggle with from time to time.

Self-acceptance means accepting ourselves as we are, including our imperfections, limitations and weaknesses. Self-acceptance is unconditional, meaning that in order to truly accept oneself, a person does so without conditions and not only when they achieve a certain standard.

As young children develop, their sense of self is shaped by the messages that their caregivers give them. After the age of eight years, children develop their own sense of self-acceptance; however, it continues to be shaped by these early experiences.

Unfortunately, many of us received negative messages as children such as messages that we aren't smart enough or nice enough, etc. We may have a difficult time letting go of these negative messages which can erode our ability to accept ourselves.

Society also puts a great deal of pressure on people to achieve unrealistic standards of success and beauty (whatever that currently means), which can also pull us further away from accepting who we are.

At its extreme, a lack of self-acceptance can lead to self-loathing or self-hatred. By not accepting who we are, we miss out on an important aspect of life satisfaction. Self-acceptance can lead to a greater sense of inner peace, contributes positively to self-esteem and is a habit most often associated with happiness.

When we are not able to accept ourselves, we live with the weight of constant self-criticism, and for some people, a great deal of self-blame and guilt. Self-acceptance doesn't mean that a person does not take responsibility for their actions or that they simply say, "This is who I am, take it or leave it," regardless of their behaviour. Self-acceptance is about doing the best you can, striving toward personal growth and change but also accepting the fact that it's okay to be imperfect. 

Unrealistic and perfectionist standards undermine self-acceptance and rob us of energy that is spent on judging ourselves or "beating ourselves up" over things we may not have control over. It is easy to fall into a trap of constantly comparing ourselves to others and feeling as though we never measure up. Being kind to ourselves and having some self-compassion helps to quiet the inner critic that plays over and over in our minds. Having self-compassion means being encouraging, gentle and forgiving with ourselves.

Rather than feeling like we are the only ones who are struggling, self-compassion helps us to see that it is human to feel inadequate at times and that we may not always live up to our own and others' expectations. Recent research demonstrates that self-compassion is linked to decreased depression and anxiety as well as increased resilience.

Practicing self-acceptance and self-compassion begins with an awareness of the thoughts we have about ourselves. What do you say to yourself when you fall short of your expectations? Do you harshly criticize yourself or constantly put yourself down? Do you take responsibility or blame for things that are out of your control? How kindly do you treat yourself?

Coming to accept ourselves fully is a mindful process. It means taking a realistic look at ourselves and challenging beliefs that undermine our self-concept. For example, when acknowledging mistakes made, try to focus on what can be learned from the experience and not on how bad a person you are for having let the mistake happen. Ask yourself what would be a more useful and more productive thought process than self-blame. Developing this shift in thinking so that it becomes a habit will take some time.

Another strategy to build self-acceptance is to recognize that everyone, including yourself, has strengths and weaknesses. You probably acknowledge this in others but may fail to include yourself in that assumption. We often evaluate others more generously than ourselves.

Think about your strengths; consider the things you are good at or personal qualities you possess that you feel good about. Aside from things you do and qualities you have, what values do you hold that shape who you are? What are some of the things that you consider to be weaker areas? Rather than viewing these as a fault or deficit, you can view them as part of the balance of being human - developed in some areas more than others. These less developed areas could also be viewed as a source of inspiration and motivation for future goals.

The people around us can also contribute to our sense of self-acceptance. If you recognize that others are constantly putting you down and focusing on your weaknesses, ask yourself about the value of these relationships in your life and what can be done to create a more balanced perspective. A strong and healthy support system of people helps us to see the good in ourselves and helps us to accept who we are at the present moment. Positive supports help us to see ourselves in a more accepting way.

Helping others such as through volunteer work can help to shift our thinking from only seeing the negative in ourselves to seeing how we can be a positive influence in the lives of others.

When your inner critic starts to take over your thoughts, stop the chain reaction
and challenge yourself to think about an alternative thought process that would be more loving and helpful toward yourself.

Lastly, choose a phrase or mantra to help you focus on a positive frame of self-acceptance. "I'm doing the best that I can, and that's all I can ask of myself right now." Understanding the role of self-acceptance in life satisfaction and happiness can give us the awareness to make small changes that add up to big improvements in how we view and value ourselves every day.

Laurie McPherson is a program specialist in mental health promotion with the Winnipeg Health Region.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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