You might hear the terms “self-acceptance” and “self-esteem” used interchangeably, but the two aren’t the same — and self-acceptance might be the harder goal to hit.
Self-acceptance is one’s satisfaction or happiness with oneself. It requires you to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses, while also understanding them and seeing it all as part of your worth as a person.
"[Self-acceptance] means knowing you are imperfect and always will be."
It might sound unrealistic to try to see the qualities you perceive as "bad" as something to accept, or part of what makes you a special person. But self-acceptance doesn’t mean that you never work on the parts of yourself that you want to change. It means knowing you are imperfect and always will be, and accepting yourself as you are now — not waiting for some future acceptable version of yourself to show up years down the road before allowing yourself to be happy.
As monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh said, "To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
Here are 10 tips for moving towards self-acceptance, wherever you’re starting from.
Self-acceptance and self-esteem are related but are not the same thing, writes clinical psychologist Leon Seltzer at Psychology Today. Self-esteem refers to our perception of our value or self-worth, Seltzer writes, but self-acceptance is about a wider affirmation. It’s great to appreciate the positive, or “esteem-able,” things about ourselves, but self-acceptance comes from embracing all of it.
Self-acceptance doesn’t just come out of nowhere; you’ve got to practice it and make a habit of fostering it. Research from the University of Hertfordshire found that self-acceptance is the “happy habits” that people practice the least, despite the fact that “acceptance” is the habit that most strongly predicts life happiness.
Stuart Smalley, from "Saturday Night Live," was on to something when he told himself, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” It might feel cheesy to look in a mirror and say aloud why you love yourself, but it can actually pay off. Research – including brain scans – shows that reminding yourself of the things you value in your life can boost feelings of self-worth.
"She lacks confidence, she craves admiration insatiably. She lives on the reflections of herself in the eyes of others. She does not dare to be herself.” Does that Anaïs Nin quote remind you of yourself? Think about the approval that truly matters to you, from yourself and others. Focus on paying attention to times when you feel you need outside approval and consider where that’s coming from.
You may find yourself continuing relationships and friendships that not only don’t bring any value to your life, but actively bring you down. If a friendship is making you feel badly about yourself, work on talking to the person to see if you can move forward in a healthier way. If that doesn’t seem possible, or if you can’t find a resolution, some relationships run their course and are better ended.
The Hertfordshire researchers found that when asked how often they were kind and accepting of themselves, people answered just 5.56 out of 10 on average. Additionally, only five per cent of people put themselves at a 10 on the “acceptance” habit. Given that we know that self-acceptance can improve your overall life, it makes sense to focus on this habit and extend the same forgiveness and acceptance to yourself as you do to your friends and family.
Self-regulation is one of the ways to increase self-acceptance, writes Harvard psychiatry professor Srini Pillay. On its surface, self-regulation doesn’t sound like a great way to improve how you feel. However, what Pillay’s referring to is regulating your negative emotions about yourself, like self-hatred. Work to reframe negative situations to see any positive aspects or opportunities, and work to reject unfounded negative emotions about yourself.
If you’re struggling to remember why you’re a valuable person, or just don’t know where to start with daily affirmations, ask someone you trust to remind you of specific reasons. This is one of the ways the Hertfordshire researchers recommend taking positive action in order to improve your self-acceptance.
Pillay recommends mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation as two ways to work towards self-acceptance. When you pay mindful attention to your emotions, you observe them instead of judging them, he writes, and it can lower your brain’s response to stress. Loving-kindness meditation can also help your brain become more attuned to processing positive emotions about yourself.
For some people, their struggle with self-acceptance goes back to childhood, Pillay says, and therapy could help you address some of the longstanding issues that are keeping you from truly embracing yourself. Therapy Canada can help you find someone to speak to, and this list of questions gives you a starting point for figuring out your needs.
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