Self-acceptance is a major hallmark of well-being. It is a process of seeing and embracing unconditionally who you are regardless of your flaws and mistakes. You realise that in you
r core being – rather than in what you do – you are lovable as you are. Your worthiness of love doesn’t come into question just because you failed or got it wrong. You belong.
The opposite of acceptance are those toxic voices of blame, doubt, regret, judgement and shame, which are manufactured by your inner critic. They take a heavy toll on your mental health. This inner critic debilitates you if you are not up to standard, hassles you about your flaws and continually checks on and threatens you with rejection if you are not aligned with the social norms. It makes you feel shame and stops you from being the free and authentic you. Tension is growing in your body until you eventually explode, either by hurting others, hurting yourself or trying to numb the pain. You often can’t make sense of why you act this way.
Self-acceptance is the antidote to this inner critic and is, therefore, your gateway to inner peace. However, arriving there—as you will see in a moment—requires a conceptual leap: recognising who is there to ‘do’ the acceptance.
What is hard to self-accept?
There are some core vulnerabilities that we all share as human beings yet struggle to accept. The personal meaning you assign to these common experiences shapes how you respond to them. I hope to normalise some of them for you here. Let’s see what happens when we don’t accept these vulnerabilities.
- Limits of power: You want things to go your way, but they often don’t. So, you try to control things—your body, habits, emotions, environment, family members and so on. You often fail at this. Needs and expectations are not met and you feel frustrated. The impact is a build-up of tension in your body. You may view yourself as powerless.
- Limits of knowing: Uncertainty provokes anxiety. You try to battle it by enhancing knowledge, by making sense so you can better predict the future. Yet, the more you know, the more you realise how complex life is. You fall into a deeper hole of anxiety. You may perceive yourself as not being smart enough or incompetent.
- Limits of abilities: You desire to get it right, even to be perfect. Yet, you are flawed, imperfect; you make mistakes, even embarrass yourself. You start to doubt yourself and feel a sense of failure and of being unworthy of love.
- Limits of connectedness: You desire to connect and belong, as this is part of your survival instinct, of what makes you feel supported and safe. We want to matter and to be noticed. Yet, others are preoccupied with their own issues and can’t help you with your private angst; at times, they even add to it. You see yourself as separate, alone and, sometimes, helpless.
Why is it so difficult to self-accept?
The self you wish to accept has become your identity. You are hypnotised by your emotions, stories, beliefs, expectations and memories. These are virtually involuntary brain circuits in action. They are wrongly perceived as being the real you. You are energetically so consumed by them that there is no one left home to ‘do’ the acceptance.
That self uses defences and control mechanisms to reduce anxiety—more doing, thinking, analysing, avoiding, arguing, resisting and fighting. In many areas of our life, these work! Yet, they are counterproductive when it comes to handling your own or others’ weaknesses. You need to accept them first before you can change them. In psychology it is known as the “paradox of change”.
The question is: who is there to do the acceptance?
What makes it possible to self-accept?
You don’t choose this self, just as you don’t choose your own skin. You can only choose to relate to self differently. This is the point at which you make the conceptual leap: by recognising yourself as relational, as the one with the ability to relate to self.
As long as you relate only from the self, you can’t relate to it. When you relate from it you see and think only through the unique filter of your conditioned brain. You remain within the loop. One part of you—the inner critic—reacts to the other parts. Tension starts to build up as a result of this internal war between the ‘positives’ and the ‘negatives’. People who embark on projects of self-improvement often fall into this trap.
When you relate from that self, everything becomes personal. You swing between your vanity and self-doubts. When you relate to it, you create some space between you and the content of your mind. You begin to de-hypnotise yourself from those judgmental voices. Your ‘identity’ is no longer that important. You can even be amused by its weird ways of operating.
Transformation will take place when you jump out of the loop, when you no longer identify with the content of the mind but see yourself from another vantage point, as the witness, or observer. That unique perspective is no further away than your present moment. When you are in the now, you are not possessed by stories about past or future. You anchor yourself in awareness.
Awareness is the ultimate perspective from which you can relate to self. Awareness is the whole, the place from which you see the parts—your social roles, past wounds, future worries, bodily pains and so on.
Awareness is where you are free—even if only for a moment—from your hypnotised self. Awareness is that millisecond space between action and reaction, between stimuli and response. It is the space where the law of karma is broken, and you don’t mechanistically react. Awareness notices how your filter interferes with perception and meaning. Awareness is the curious, open you. Awareness is the process of seeing and perceiving rather than reacting and judging. It is the ‘Ah’ not the ‘What?!’.
To gain this ultimate perspective, you need to keep coming back to present moment, to anchor yourself in your body and in the act of noticing. My clients always report a moment of feeling grounded and calm when they divert attention into their body.
Once you establish who is ‘doing’ the acceptance, your liberation is nearly complete. From the perspective of awareness, there is nothing to fight with. The mere fact of seeing things as they are is a well-known path to liberation from self.
What are the practices of self-acceptance?
- Noticing: The very act of noticing is an act of accepting. You want to zoom in. It will counter the defensive tendency to zoom out and deny our ‘ugly’ parts or project them onto others. To zoom in takes courage. The defensive self doesn’t like to see the flaws, the ‘bad’ feelings, such as fear, sadness, anger and shame, or the prejudices and stereotypes.
- Embracing: This is a more active attitude. You choose ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’. You are spending just another moment with what you notice instead of quickly avoiding or resisting it. This refers particularly to unpleasant body sensations. You want to stay with them, to allow space for them. As you do so, you make yourself greater than the experiences you embrace. You relate with empathy in the same way as a mother who just holds her crying baby. Validating emotional pains is an expression of self-love.
- Understanding: This is the opposite of judging. We make sense of behaviours or emotions and normalise them. We don’t condone them. For example, take a mother who has smacked her child. She could say to herself, ‘I lost it because I felt powerless; I didn’t know how else I could stop him’. Self-blame and heavy guilt will further damage her ability to relate to her child with compassion.
- Sharing: Your inner critic gets its power from the threat that if your flaws are exposed, you will lose love. The act of sharing is how you debunk this tightly held belief. You defuse the power of that threat. You then discover that people treat you pretty much as you would have treated them—with understanding and compassion, even a smile implying ‘we know what you are talking about’.
- Laughing: Self-deprecating humour is a powerful way to humble and tease that self. You hold the stories so lightly that they can easily fly out of your mind. You discover enough material for your own stand-up comedy. Self-deprecating humour can be regarded as a lighter version of exorcism.
- Accepting others: How we relate to others is often a mirror image of how we relate to self. If relating to self seems too abstract, this is a simpler way to start. Accept your family members as they are by seeing, embracing and understanding them. They will sense it. Ask them about how well they feel accepted by you, and let them give you feedback.
What about those destructive patterns? Should you accept them as well?
In your most natural state of being, you simply engage in learning and growing. You are not fixated on your self-image. If you are stuck in a pattern that leads, time and again, to painful consequences, this is a sign of resistance, when you are not aligned with the natural flow of life. The reason you resist a lesson that life is trying to teach is probably its potential consequence. Ask yourself what the lesson is that you are resisting and what the consequences of accepting this lesson would be. The lesson might mean letting go of something important, owning one of your flaws or acknowledging one of the vulnerabilities I mentioned earlier. This can be scary.
How do I know I am on the path of self-acceptance?
In your state of awareness and self-acceptance the guards of the self relax their hold over you. You begin to free deeper forces of your human spirit.
You have more energy, which otherwise would have gone to defending yourself. You focus energy on where you can make a difference. Emotional pains are met with letting go and sadness rather than resistance and anger. Lack of power is met with humility and gratitude; lack of knowledge is met with trust, faith and courage; lack of abilities is met with authenticity and sharing; and lack of connectedness is met with generosity and giving.
Your need becomes a resource, your vulnerability an asset.
You find others easier to get along with, because you accept them more and feel less anxious about being judged by them. You find yourself more flexible, adaptable and resilient.
With more yes to self comes more yes to others and more yes to life.