Finding complete self-acceptance is the best treasure hunt you can put yourself on. All the outcomes could improve your life experience exponentially. The possibilities include recovery from addiction, improved mental wellbeing and freedom from being bullied. You might gain renewed relationships, connection and love. Complete self-acceptance does not require loving yourself or even looking after yourself better but these are both probably outcomes from it.
Self-acceptance does not require self improvement or self help. Self-esteem and confidence can stem from self-acceptance. It does not mean not changing yourself. It just means starting from seeing things exactly as they are.
Self-criticism comes naturally to most human beings. This is because we do not start to form a separate sense of self from our parents or caregivers until the age of around 8 years. Most parents, particularly in Western society, follow traditional forms of reward and punishment guidance to teach their children good from bad.
Why do we beat ourselves up?
As Leon F Seltzer Ph.D wrote in Psychology Today in 2008, “As a result of what most mental health professionals would agree reflects a subtle form of emotional abuse, almost all of us come to regard ourselves as only conditionally acceptable.”
It turned out that children who received conditional approval were indeed somewhat more likely to act as the parent wanted. But compliance came at a steep price. First, these children tended to resent and dislike their parents. Second, they were apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to a “strong internal pressure” than to “a real sense of choice.” Moreover, their happiness after succeeding at something was usually short-lived, and they often felt guilty or ashamed.
Leon F Seltzer Ph.D also says: “Very few parents are enlightened enough, or sufficiently skilled, to carry out the kind of “loving correction” that doesn’t end up making us hypersensitive—and therefore over-reactive—to criticism. As a result, negative judgments we receive as adults can automatically remind us of the inadequacies we so keenly felt when criticized as a child.”. (“Why Criticism Is So Hard to Take,” Part 1, Jan. 30, 2009)
The result in an adult, as Francesca Harris writes in her Tiny Buddha blog, might be: “A voice in my head pretty regularly reminds me that I am not smart enough, funny enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, or anything enough in this life, so why bother trying.”
Where do we go from here?
Francesca Harris continues: “The next time the mean bully in your head tells you that you aren’t smart enough, funny enough, pretty enough, or thin enough, challenge what you are hearing. Change your story. Instead of comparing your “behind the scenes” with everyone else’s “highlight reel,” yell back at the bully and tell him or her you are awesome because you are you.”
The first step would be to find out what about yourself you do not accept. What do you resist? What relationships are not going well? What makes you stressed? What makes you angry or upset? What disappointed you? It is good to make a note of these to come back to later.
Is this an experience you can relate to? “Can you see the utter madness in this? Something “bad” happens, and rather than accepting it and changing your actions accordingly, you instead get angry, frustrated or annoyed at the perceived injustice. Instead of accepting what has already happened, you resist internally by mentally labelling the situation “wrong”, and then create negative emotions and unhappiness inside to prove your point.” (Personal Development Planet)
Hearing our own inner judgments
After something bad happens, do you hear a voice in your head? Does it judge or criticise you? What does it say? What do you think other people do not understand about you? What do they do not know about you? Why do you think they are being unfair? What happened? Has it happened before? What are the similarities with last time? Why do you think they did not accept you during that incident?
You might also want to consider your dreams at this point. It is easier to see links between your inner voice and your dreams with hindsight. However, why not take a look.
Recurring dream themes
Here is a personal experience. I began having dreams in which my mother would not listen to me. Or she would be unfair, tell me not to sit near her or criticise me. I would try to speak but could make no sound. I would hear myself explaining why I was inadequate. I wanted my struggles to be understood.
In other dreams, a woman I did not know would criticise me or stop me speaking. I would try and speak but could not make a sound. I would wake up frustrated because I could not explain myself.
This carried on and I did not understand it. Until I had a disagreement with a friend. I felt dominated. I felt as if I was not heard or understood and was being dominated in the coversation. I felt treated as if I was invalid, wrong and that my best was not good enough, that my lack of confidence was irritating and annoying and I couldn’t break out of it so it became a vicious circle.
Self acceptance breaks the vicious circle
I woke up feeling bad and at first thought my friend didn’t accept herself. I started to think about self-acceptance as I had many times before. I thought I accepted myself so I searched for an article and found Francesca Harris’ blog on Tiny Buddha. The article was about her journey from life-long perfected self-loathing to complete self acceptance.
At the beginning I thought, this will help my friend. I accept myself. I don’t loathe myself do I? Do I? Then I read:
“For as long as I can remember, weight and body image have been an issue for me”.
I too had a life long issue with weight and body image. I had read and searched for resasons for this: was it the heavy feeling from undiscovered food intolerance? Was it peer pressure? I read as much as I could to try and find out, changed my diet and tried to avoid high glucose carbohydrates and dairy. Not much changed.
The moment of revelation
Then the thought came: “This article is about complete self acceptance. The author has shared about weight and body issues. If I don’t accept my weight, i don’t accept myself completely”
This led me back to the dreams and the argument. What was the injustice? What did people not understand about me? What did I struggle with? What did I think people didn’t accept about me? What caused the “utter madness”? What made me ” create negative emotions and unhappiness inside to prove my point”.
It all adds up
Why not have a look at what upsets you in dreams and in real life to find complete self acceeptance. Anything that upsets you is in your own way. It is stopping you realise yourself independently of all others. If you can see something as it is you can accept. You could even embrace it.
It is a great start if you can put your finger on what you most criticize yourself about. When something “bad” next happens, such as an argument, have a listen to what you tell yourself. Do you start thinking about your struggles or setbacks. We literally do not remember how we felt before we decided there was something wrong.
Positive Psychology’s website says: “Accepting reality for what it is, does not necessarily mean you like that reality. In the same way, accepting yourself for who you are and acknowledging what you have done does not mean you must like, appreciate, or celebrate every aspect of yourself. In fact, accepting those less savory aspects of yourself is the first and most important step in removing, adapting, or improving that which you don’t like about yourself.”
- I’m angry because …
- I’m sad because …
- I’m ashamed because …
- I’m disappointed because …
- I’m scared because …
- I feel guilty because …
Self Acceptance for Recovery
Articles on recovery from any kind of addiction are mentioning self-acceptance, for example:
Acceptance is so important because those who abuse alcohol or other substances (or struggle with any other kind of addiction, like gambling or sex) are often prone to using denial as a coping mechanism to avoid facing their problems. They may minimize, rationalize, forget, deceive themselves, or even repress the memories of their behavior. While this coping mechanism can be helpful in some situations, it’s never a good idea when you are trying to overcome and heal from substance abuse (Lancer, 2016).
In fact, self-acceptance shows us that every single person has some degree of an issue. It might have led us to a full blown addiction. In western culture, many of us smoke, dink regularly, comfort eat, gamble, take drugs or seek regular sexual gratification in our daily lives. Millions of dollars are made from these very desires to numb ourselves from our everyday problems.
That means complete self acceptance won’t just revolutionise every aspect of your quality of life, it could also save you a lot of money.
Choosing to Accept What Is Instead of Fighting It
Therefore, in conclusion I will share what I discovered for myself. I’d had dreams about not being able to make myself heard and being rejected by my mother and other people. I got upset when people wouldn’t let me speak or shut me out of a conversation. I lost my confidence because I couldn’t express myself. I wanted people to understand why I found it difficult to express myself.
Then the themes from the dreams reappeared. That my family had got impatient with me when I lost my confidence. I lost my confidence when I couldn’t express myself. People didn’t listen when I couldn’t express myself. I wanted them to understand that it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t express myself. I reminded them it was because I couldn’t hear what people were saying until I was 30 years old. Then I got disorientated due to dyspraxia. Why couldn’t people accept me as I was as I did my best?
Then it hit me. I didn’t actually accept myself at all. I didn’t accept a core part of myself. I had always been hard of hearing, struggled to join in conversations at times then lost my confidence and then found it harder to express myself.
All the criticisms, judgments, misunderstandings and feeling wrong and inadequate were going on inside of my head. These were from when I was very young and I had accepted the way I had been treated as a child and carried it on myself into adulthood.
Accept what I cannot fight
On seeing what I had been trying to push away, excuse, have better understood, allowances for and try and fix about myself, I realised I had another choice. I could accept it. I had not thought before that something that had been part of me for so long could budge. Therefore resistance was futile. I might as well chose to accept it all.
I accepted my hearing loss before I got a hearing aid. I accepted losing my confidence under pressure. I accepted times when I couldn’t express myself. I accepted how I felt when I couldn’t join in a conversation. I also accepted that struggling to express myself and losing confidence were irritating to other people. That was really liberating.
The result was that when a conversation got tense, I didn’t go under. I didn’t start criticizing myself in my head. I didn’t start telling myself I was wrong and not good enough. I stopped telling myself that other people didn’t care or understand.
If you’re not convinced, Personal Development Planet put it this way: “Acceptance isn’t passive – it is actually a reactive state. Acceptance isn’t rolling over to embrace everything bad that happens in your life – it’s merely letting the present be. If you want to change a situation, first accept that it has happened, and then take action if you can.”
If you cannot beat it – join it.