How to Increase Self-Acceptance

“The journey into self-love and self-acceptance must begin with self-examination… until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.” – Iyanla Vanzant.

Weaknesses are a part of being human.

However, people differ in the way they think about their weaknesses.

Whereas some people think that weaknesses are a natural part of the human condition, others believe them to be serious flaws that devalue a person’s worth.

Because weaknesses are personal factors that reduce well-being, people tend to perceive them as negative, undesirable aspects of the self.

However, although having a weakness may be undesirable, it does not automatically devalue an individual’s worth.

The latter is a matter of perspective.

When people believe that having certain weaknesses means that they are “not enough”, and that the weakness reduces their worth, they are said to have a low level of self-acceptance.

In this blog, we explore the important relationship between beliefs about weaknesses and self-acceptance.

What is self-acceptance?

The thoughts you have about your weaknesses reflect the extent to which you accept yourself.

Self-acceptance then relates to the relationship you have with yourself. It is conceptualized as the acceptance of the self despite weaknesses or deficiencies.

Some scholars have added the term “unconditional” to the concept of self-acceptance to stress the fact that it's not based on self-evaluation against some standard, rather it’s on a relational stance in which you accept yourself at a very fundamental level, regardless of whether certain expectations or standards are met.

Unconditional self-acceptance means that you fully and unconditionally accept yourself whether or not you “behave correctly”, and whether or not other people approve of you.

A person with high self-acceptance doesn't feel “less than” compared to others because of their weaknesses and failures and doesn't feel “better than" others because of their strengths and successes.

Self-acceptance is the hallmark of a healthy relationship with the self (see table below).

It’s important to note that self-acceptance doesn't mean you refrain from evaluating your behavior.

You’re still reflecting on your behavior and you’re willing and motivated to make changes and improve your behavior, but your evaluation of the behavior is detached from an evaluation of the self.

In other words, you don’t feel less worthy when performing badly, but you’re still aware that you probably need to change your future actions.

The fact that evaluation isn't taken personally or perceived as a threat to your self-worth allows for a more open and less defensive attitude towards external criticism and feedback.

Below provides an overview of defining attitudes and characteristics of self-acceptance and what it means:

  • accepting oneself as one is, including personal strengths and weaknesses
  • not using standards to evaluate the self’s worth as a human being
  • being OK with being different
  • not feeling “better” than other people because of one’s strengths
  • not feeling “less” than others because of weaknesses
  • allowing oneself to experience any kind of emotion or feeling

Low-level vs. high-level self-acceptance

Scholars have identified several defining attitudes of self-acceptance.

Body acceptance, for instance, is the process of “expressing comfort with and love for the body, despite not being completely satisfied with all aspects of the body” (Tilka, 2011 p. 59).

Another attitude is self-protection from negative judgments from others. This entails "a lack of concern about the opinions and evaluations of others" (Carson & Langer, 2006).

A third attitude relates to feeling and believing in one’s capacities, "where one recognizes, appreciates, and develops positive thoughts and feelings about his or her capabilities" (Ghahramani, Besharat, & Naghipour, 2011).

At the cognitive level, low self-acceptance is reflected by thoughts that link weaknesses with self-worth. People with low self-acceptance believe that personal weaknesses prove they are not good (enough) and/or inferior to others.

In contrast, the thoughts of a self-accepting person allow the self to be as it is at that very moment. Rather than criticize themselves for being unworthy or for not being “good enough”, there is a willingness to experience whatever is experienced (see list below).

The following list provides example thoughts about weaknesses, reflecting low vs. high levels of self-acceptance:

Low-level of self-acceptance:

  • I am worthless because of this weakness
  • I am inferior to others because of this weakness
  • I am not good enough (yet) because of this weakness
  • This weakness proves that I am not enough
  • I am weak because of this weakness
  • I do not deserve to be loved because of my weaknesses

High-level of self-acceptance:

  • I am worthy despite this weakness
  • I am equal to others despite this weakness
  • I am good the way I am, even with this weakness
  • This weakness proves that I can grow
  • It is human to have this weakness
  • I deserve to be loved despite my weaknesses

What is the self?

This question has guided thousands of studies in Psychology and is one of the most popular areas of research.

These studies show that the view people have of themselves strongly influences their decisions, and explains much of their behavior.

This is why I believe “mindset is everything” because your mindset is a set of beliefs, and what you believe about yourself ultimately creates your reality.

While it’s beyond the scope of this blog to discuss all perspectives on the topic of “the self” and theories on personal identity, we will discuss two influential, yet fundamentally different, views on the self; the "self-as-story" and the "self-as-process".

I believe highlighting these two perspectives, in particular, provides valuable insights into the complex relationship between the self and well-being.

The self-as-story

The “self-as-story” view is based on the constructivist approach of the self.

In this view, you construct both a sense of who you think you are, and of the “reality” you live in.

Central to constructivism is the idea that your reality reflects personal interpretations of objects and events, not the objects and events in themselves.

Meaning, “we humans do not merely live in the world, we live in the world as we interpret it, construct it, view it, or understand it.” (Hayes’ p.181).

According to the constructivist approach, the self is best referred to as a mental construction. The self is the narrative you construct in order to easily define your individuality and that of others. In short, the self is who we believe we are; the “me story”.

The construction of our self-image is an ongoing process throughout our lifetime. A representation of this can be found in our internal dialogue (our self-talk) of ongoing private experiences; such as debating what certain experiences mean, evaluating whether they are good or bad, deciding what we should do with them, wondering why they happen, and so on.

This mental activity is an internal, verbal expression of whatever is being experienced, moment to moment.

For example, “I’m having a great time” or “I will never enjoy working out”. We are so used to experiencing this mental chatter that we become unaware of it; we begin to believe what we think, whether it is accurate or not.

Thus, what we call “the self” is a mental creation, rather than an objective truth. There are many different ways in which the construction of the self takes place. Here are a few examples:

  • We formulate our own life history. Based on the events that happen in life and our interpretation of these events, we build a story about our life history. Basically, it’s a subjective and general reconstruction of our past.
  • We define our dominant attributes. By comparing ourselves to others, we define our own dominant attributes. For instance, we describe ourselves as “intelligent”, “outgoing” or “extroverted”.
  • We evaluate our dominant attributes. For instance, we may feel good about ourselves because we believe we are “friendly” or “punctual”. Likewise, we may feel insecure because we are “impulsive” or “impatient”.
  • We construct cause and effect relations between events and attributes. For example, we may believe that a relationship ended because of a particular personality trait.

By applying the above-mentioned processes, we find “proof” for our self-image and strengthen it, regardless of whether our interpretations are true, partially true, or even untrue.

The self-as-process

An alternative view on the self is the so-called “self-as-process”. In this view, the self is the experiential being at the core of a person; that which sees, hears, dreams, thinks, feels, and so on.

The self-as-process is the part of you that is aware of thoughts, images, sounds, smells, etc. This perspective introduces a self beyond words; a self that is able to observe mind-made stories and is in direct contact with the present moment.

While the self-as-story is created through cognitive efforts, the self-as-process is not. Rather, the self-as-process emerges naturally, from moment-to-moment experiences.

You can connect to the self-as-process, but can never explain it. The self-as-process cannot be captured by words or symbols. Doing so automatically shifts you into a cognitive model of processing, which interferes with your direct experience of the present moment (which is at the core of the self-as-process).

To summarize, the self-as-story is a product of the rational mind, whereas the self-as-process results from the experience of the present moment. These are two important distinctions to keep in mind.

How to adopt "the self-as-process" mindset

Tuning into your "self-as-process" is relatively simple to do.

Choose something to become aware of in the present moment (ex: a sight, sound, smell, taste, sensation, thought, feeling, movement, body part, material object, etc.), and then focus on that one thing, observing it as if you were a curious scientist.

As you observe your chosen thing, do you notice who is doing the observing?

Who is hearing the sound? Who is noticing the thought? Who is becoming aware of bodily sensations?

The self-as-process is the part of you that is doing the observing. This is a quick and easy way to tap into this state of mind.

Observing thoughts

A self-story is basically a combination of thoughts about the self.

For the self-as-process to become stronger, you must learn to distance yourself from the thoughts that make up your self-story.

Observing thoughts means you’re able to take the position of a neutral, non-judgmental observer.

In regards to self-story, this means you’re able to notice when you’re generating stories about the self or telling others stories about the self.

Observing thoughts occurs from a different place than where thoughts are generated. You can’t observe thoughts by creating more thoughts. In order to observe thoughts, you must connect to a place of non-thinking.

A simple and direct way to enter the realm of non-thinking is by focusing your attention fully on something in the present moment. (This is why mediation and mindfulness is such a useful skill to learn and practice).

For instance, by paying attention to the breath, you’re able to notice when thoughts are pulling attention away from the breath.

By practicing this process of attending to the breath, noticing when thoughts are taking over, and then re-directing attention back to the breath, your ability to observe thoughts is strengthened.

How to increase self-acceptance

There are many positive links between self-acceptance and positive wellbeing.

Below we explore five different ways for you to cultivate a more self-accepting relationship with the self.

1. Setting intentions.

Like any process of change, cultivating a more self-accepting mindset begins with intention.

It’s vital that you set an intention for yourself to shift paradigms, from a world of blame, doubt, and shame to a world of allowance, tolerance, and acceptance.

You should not only understand the reasons for change but also experience the necessity for change.

The necessity for change can be written down in the form of an intention, promise to oneself, or may act as an important motivator and reminder for action.

A simple exercise is writing down your intentions of who you want to be. How do you want to show up in the world? Then, take action and act on those intentions.

I talk about this a little more in this youtube video.

2. Acceptance of experiences.

Some people have a hard time understanding the concept of self-acceptance, and how to increase it in themselves.

One way to cultivate self-acceptance is to allow internal experiences to be present.

Meaning, self-acceptance involves a willingness to let the self be exactly as it is, however that may be.

By cultivating an open, non-judgmental stance towards personal experiences, you start to “live” self-acceptance by creating space to be as you are, at that moment.

Having a consistent mindfulness practice (in which inner states are observed and accepted as they are) can be a powerful way to enhance self-acceptance.

Research findings reveal "a positive relationship between mindfulness and self-acceptance too, indicating that individuals who are more mindful have greater unconditional self-acceptance" (Thompson & Waltz, 2008).

3. Developing the courage to be vulnerable.

One important aspect of self-acceptance is the ability and willingness to let others see our true selves, including our strengths and weaknesses.

Rather than trying to cover up our imperfections and win the approval of others, self-acceptance requires the courage to show our humanness. It involves the willingness to acknowledge our struggles and admit to mistakes.

In this way, self-acceptance takes courage because we must overcome the fear of being rejected.

Paradoxically, however, it is this very ability (to be vulnerable) that serves as a great source of interpersonal connection.

By showing our human side, we open ourselves up to others, putting masks of invulnerability away, and showing that it’s safe to show up as our true selves.

The space created by the courage to be vulnerable allows people to connect at a deeper level.

4. Monitoring self-rating.

Low self-acceptance is characterized by negative self-rating when someone fails to reach a standard that is perceived as indicative of self-worth.

For example, when a person bases their self-worth on excelling at work, failing to do so may result in self-blame and negative self-talk. Rather than evaluating their behavior (“I did not perform well”), the person evaluates their whole self (“I am a failure”).

The first step in cultivating a more healthy and accepting relationship with the self is by increasing your awareness.

Awareness of what though? Awareness of internal processes that hinder self-acceptance, such as negative self-rating.

Without awareness, such internal processes continue to operate at an unconscious level.

This is important because the subconscious mind controls over 95% of your life.

Neuroscience has shown that most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depend on the 95% of brain activity that lies beyond conscious awareness, meaning 95% (or as much as 99%) of your life comes from the programming in your subconscious mind.

So by becoming aware of when self-rating occurs and how it affects feelings, thoughts, and behavior, you can start to take steps to reduce its impact.

For instance, you might learn to rate behavior, rather than yourself, or learn that there is a difference between doing something wrong and being wrong, or between acting badly and being a bad person.

By noticing self-rating, and replacing destructive self-judgments with constructive behavioral evaluation, self-acceptance is likely to increase.

5. Strengthening the “self-as-process”.

Conditional self-acceptance results from the belief that your self-worth is dependent on the degree to which certain conditions for “worthiness” are met.

By definition, conditions for worthiness are arbitrary because it’s impossible to objectively rate the worth of a human being.

The only way to rate something is by using a standard as a frame of reference. A standard is a story about how something should be.

The only way for you to compare yourself to a story about how something should be is by having a story about who you are.

Thus, you must have a so-called “self-as-story” (I will write about this concept in greater detail in the near future).

There must be a concept of the self (self-as-story) in order for this concept to be compared to a concept of “worth” (standard).

For instance, a person can only call themselves a “loser” (low self-acceptance), if they had already created a story of what a loser entails (ex: someone who is unattractive) and a story of what the self is (ex: “I am unattractive”).

Regardless of whether these stories are correct or not, they are at the heart of the self-rating process that characterizes low self-acceptance.

In sum, you must have a story about “the self” in order to rate “the story”.

An alternative view of the self is reflected by the so-called “self-as-process” (I will also write about this more).

From this perspective, the self is defined as momentary consciousness. It describes “the self” as “the observer” of the experience at this moment. (This is a major component of mindfulness).

The self-as-process cannot be judged as good or bad, or right or wrong, because all it does is observe. If you do “the wrong thing” or “a bad thing”, the self-as-process is the neutral observer that notices what you did. It’s not here to judge!

Meaning, the self-as-process will not judge or rate the self, simply because the self-as-process does not think.

The self-as-process sees things as they are, without judging, criticizing, or doing any of the other thinking processes that characterize self-rating.

Moreover, the self-as-process cannot be improved. There is no “condition” to be reached for this self to be enough. It already is.

While it’s possible to rate the self-as-story, it’s impossible to rate the self-as-process.

The observing self is always there, in every moment, working perfectly.

One could state that the self-as-process possesses all the characteristics of unconditional acceptance.

By connecting to the self-as-process, you not only refrain from self-rating but embody the qualities of self-acceptance through a non-judgmental, moment-to-moment, observing stance.

Final Thoughts

I'll leave you with this quote to ponder on:

“Being authentic begins with unconditional self-acceptance – imperfections and all.” – Azim Jamal & Brian Tracy

If you're interested in working with me 1-on-1 to dive deeper into your own psychology, visit our coaching page and fill out an application to see if we would be a good fit.

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