“No amount of self-improvement can ever make up for a lack of self-acceptance.” — Robert Holden
Few of us were fortunate enough to be raised in an environment free of unhealthy judgement or criticism—an environment where we were accepted just as we were.
When I was a kid, emotions such as anger, sadness or frustration were met with disapproval. I would regularly be scolded for not behaving as a ‘good boy’ should.
As open and innocent kids, we inevitably interpret this to mean, “there’s something wrong with me.”
For our own self preservation, we learn to suppress the ‘undesirable’ emotions and behaviours and begin to act as we believe we SHOULD.
We disown the parts of ourselves that get us into trouble and start to view them as shameful or unacceptable.
Lack of self-acceptance is pretty much universal and probably the greatest barrier most people face to living a happy and fulfilling life.
To address this, we seek to improve ourselves through therapy, training or spiritual practice. We strive to become the acceptable person we believe we ought to be.
But the truth is, no amount of self-improvement will ever be enough as long as we don’t address the underlying belief that we are unacceptable as we are.
So, how to become more accepting of yourself? How to love yourself more?
Here are 7 ideas that might help:
1. Accept Your Inadequacies—Everybody Has Them
Do you feel needy, fearful or insecure at times?
Of course you do.
Imperfection is the human condition. Each one of us is a work in progress. We’re all, as Jean Paul Sartre put it, “spectacularly flawed.”
Self-acceptance comes from:
- recognising that everyone, without exception, is messed up in some way or other (if anyone claims they’re sorted or in charge of their life, they’re kidding themselves!).
- acknowledging and accepting your perceived ‘failings’.
- realising that being imperfect isn’t shameful. Having flaws doesn’t make you unworthy.
Stop judging and resisting the things you don’t like about yourself—the things you’re ashamed of. The more you accept them, the freer you become. Don’t waste energy presenting a promotional video of yourself to the world.
Come out of the closet. Be real. Be the quirky, imperfect, beautiful and unique being that you are. The more honest and authentic you are, the freer you become.
Celebrate every part of who you are—the good, the bad and the ugly
2. Practice Self-Compassion
“Self-compassion starts with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections we don’t even want to look at.” — Pema Chodron
Most of us find it easier to be kind and empathetic towards others than to treat ourselves with love and compassion.
What would you say to a close friend who was feeling fearful or insecure? Or who had made a mistake or a bad decision?
You’d probably say something like, “Stop being so hard on yourself. You’re only human. Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody’s perfect”.
You certainly would’t see them as a bad person because they’d made a bad decision. You wouldn’t think there’s something fundamentally wrong with them.
How would you respond to a little kid who is screaming or having a great time throwing lego bricks around the room? You’d understand that he’s just being a kid— just doing what kids do.
Understand that when your inadequacies surface—when you screw up or make a mess of something— that there’s nothing wrong with YOU. You’re just being human. Be kind to yourself.
Your worth is not conditional on passing feelings or actions.
3. Bring More Awareness To Your Experience
Learn to step back and watch your thoughts, feelings, emotions, self-judgement and pain objectively—as if you were a curious and compassionate observer.
There’s a great mindfulness practice called the Rain Practice you might find helpful.
As you bring more attention to the steady flow of thoughts, feelings and emotions that pass through your awareness, let everything be just as it is.
Sit on the riverbank, dispassionately watching the stream flow by.
When negative thoughts or feelings come along (as they will), know that it’s OK. It’s just part of what every human experiences.
Don’t give them energy by judging them, don’t push them away, don’t try to turn them into positive thoughts.
Just watch. Acknowledge they are there and let them be. The less you get involved, the more peace you will experience.
4. Practice Forgiveness—For Yourself And Others
Recognise that you’ve always done the best you could, given your human-ness, your circumstances and your understanding at the time.
Don’t be like the guy on the long distance train who spends the entire journey carrying his heavy suitcases on his head. Set them down beside you. Or, better still, let go of them altogether.
Past is past. It serves no purpose to carry it around with you.
Can you forgive yourself for your past mistakes or (perceived) shortcomings, just as you might forgive someone else?
Recognise that when your mother projected her own inner pain onto you or your ex-partner couldn’t give you the love you needed, that they were trying their best too. We all have our inner struggles to contend with.
Journalling is a great tool for letting go of negative judgements. From a place of compassion and self-forgiveness, you may want to write something along these lines:
“I let go of all the guilt and suffering I’m feeling about……. (fill in the blank). I choose to forgive myself and everyone else for what happened. I did the best I could. I’m not going to beat myself up any more over this.”
You might like to check out “The Self-Acceptance Summit”, a fantastic collection of resources from some of my favourite teachers and authors. (This is an affiliate link which means I’ll earn a small commission should make a purchase. It won’t cost you any extra!). Click on the banner below.
5. Question Your Beliefs And Assumptions
“An unquestioned mind is the world of suffering.”- Byron Katie
Beliefs and assumptions are topics I go into in detail in my book “Kick The Thinking Habit.”
So much human suffering is caused through blindly believing what the mind tells us or making unfounded assumptions about ourselves and others.
Get into the habit of questioning EVERYTHING the mind tells you. It’s a bigger liar than Pinocchio!
If you believe, for example, that you are unloveable or that nobody cares about you, ask yourself the following:
“Do I know for absolute certain that this is true?” (the answer will almost always be no).
Look for evidence to support the opposite belief, that “people love me.”
Do your children love you? Your family? Your friends? Has anyone ever told you you’re great?
Most negative beliefs crumble with just a little scrutiny.
6. Stop Comparing Yourself With Others
Are you in the habit of measuring yourself against others in terms of looks, popularity, money or success—of asking yourself, “how am I doing in life compared with everyone else?”
In our superficial society, where ‘success’ is measured in terms of salary, looks or the car you drive, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself unfavourably with others and concluding that you’re failing in life.
But the truth is, we have no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s life. The guy across the street with the big, flashy BMW could be suffering from chronic stress, anxiety or depression.
“Some people are so poor that all they have is money.” _Patrick Meagher
What constitutes a successful life anyway? I’d put a peaceful mind and an open heart at the top of my list.
Money or looks won’t give you either.
We are all exactly where we are meant to be in life. No matter what you think of yourself, you are special beyond measure—so special that there’s only one of you in the whole universe!
Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. It’s a game you’re never going to win.
7. Self-Acceptance In the Bigger Picture
Unconditional peace (or full self-acceptance) comes from discovering who we really are— beyond the ever-changing thoughts, feelings and emotions that come and go—beyond the apparently solid person we take ourselves to be.
Your character and personality may well be flawed, but who you are beyond the mind—the unchanging awareness that was present in you as a one-year old and will be there when you are ninety— is pristine, flawless and ever-perfect.
True self-acceptance comes from knowing that, however things appear on the surface level, you are perfectly created—flaws included.
The small, limited self will never be fully acceptable. It will always be a work in progress. The real you, the true Self, cannot be improved upon.
How to access this place of unconditional acceptance within?
Regular meditation practice (affiliate link) can help you, over time, to break the identification with thoughts and emotions. Your true nature is what remains when the mind is still.
It’s the part of you for which the question of being acceptable or not doesn’t even arise.
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