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The path to self-acceptance, paved through daily practice

August 5, 2021 - 20 min read


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What is self-acceptance?

How does self-acceptance affect your day-to-day life?

What drives self-acceptance?

Self-acceptance quotes

Self-esteem vs. self-acceptance

What is my level of self-acceptance?

5 self-acceptance exercises

Let radical self-acceptance empower you

A lack of self-acceptance can hold you back in every area of your life. It affects your confidence and can prevent you from reaching your full potential.

People with high self-acceptance are more resilient to criticism. They understand that it’s okay to accept themselves while also working for continuous self-improvement.

But what is self-acceptance, really? And why are some people more self-accepting than others? How can it help you, and what can you do to cultivate more of it? Let’s find out.

What is self-acceptance? 

Self-acceptance is the act of accepting yourself and all your personality traits exactly as they are. You accept them no matter whether they are positive or negative. This includes your physical and mental attributes. 

Self-acceptance means recognizing that your value goes beyond your personal attributes and actions. This is sometimes known as radical self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance gives you more confidence in yourself and makes you less vulnerable to criticism. It means to deeply and totally accept every aspect of yourself unconditionally and without exception.

To achieve self-acceptance, you must learn to accept the parts of yourself you consider negative or undesirable. 

It’s also important to acknowledge and celebrate your positive qualities and achievements. Reviewing your goals and your progress on them reminds you of your strengths.

This is why so many of us struggle with self-acceptance. We tend to hide, neglect, and reject the parts of ourselves we consider unacceptable. We would rather change them than accept them.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, total self-acceptance can actually help us change the aspects of ourselves that we might be less fond of. Having an awareness of our limitations is the first step on the path of personal growth and is a sign of emotional intelligence.

Self-acceptance doesn’t just mean accepting our negative qualities and giving up on changing them. 

On the contrary, it means being aware of our weaknesses without having any emotional attachment to them. This self-awareness can help us improve our behavior and build better habits.


How does self-acceptance affect your day-to-day life? 

Research shows that self-acceptance is fundamental for overall mental health and well-being. The evidence seems to indicate a direct link between low levels of self-acceptance and mental illness.

But there are other ways that low self-acceptance affects your daily life, work, relationships, and well-being. Here are five examples:

1. Self-acceptance helps you control your emotions

A lack of self-acceptance can affect the part of your brain responsible for controlling your emotions. This can lead to mental imbalance and emotional outbursts as a result of elevated anxiety, stress, or anger.

A lack of self-acceptance limits your capacity for happiness. It also affects your psychological and emotional well-being. It keeps you focused on the negative aspects of yourself, and these negative thoughts create negative emotions.

By contrast, high levels of self-acceptance are linked to more positive emotions and greater psychological well-being. Self-acceptance can boost your mood and shield you from the effects of stress and depression.

2. Self-acceptance helps you forgive yourself

Learning to accept yourself helps you be less self-critical. It helps you create a more positive, compassionate, and balanced view of yourself. 

According to Dr. Srini Pillay of Harvard Medical School, acceptance and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. He says that the inability to accept and forgive ourselves causes us to split into different parts. 

These two parts — the one that needs to be forgiven and the one that needs to forgive — are at odds with one another. Self-acceptance can help you bridge the gap between them, enabling you to forgive yourself for your mistakes and move on.

This is essential for your well-being, as dwelling on the past will keep you stuck in the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions.

3. Self-acceptance gives you more self-confidence

Self-acceptance can give you more confidence in yourself. It helps you understand that your perceived negative qualities don’t define you or your worth.

When you are confident, you are more likely to take action in spite of your fears. In contrast, a lack of self-acceptance can hold you back and stop you from going after your dreams.

Self-acceptance helps you realize that failure doesn’t define you and is always a learning opportunity on the path to success.

Confidence can also give you greater independence. It allows you to make decisions for yourself without needing the approval of others.

4. Self-acceptance leads to self-compassion

According to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, self-compassion is more important for our mental and emotional well-being than self-esteem. 

She describes self-compassion as giving yourself “the same kindness and care you would give to a good friend.” And anyone who struggles to accept themselves will agree that we tend to be our own worst enemies.

Cultivating self-compassion can help you be kinder to yourself when you fail and make you more resilient to setbacks.

5. Self-acceptance helps you be yourself

When you lack self-acceptance, you’re constantly trying to hide, censor, or repress your true self. This can leave you feeling drained.

Self-acceptance can help you show up more authentically without worrying about others’ judgments of you. Essentially, when you accept yourself, you feel free to be your whole self.



What drives self-acceptance?

Some people are naturally more self-accepting than others. Have you ever wondered why that is? It’s because our childhood experiences affect our levels of self-acceptance as adults. 

Our parents or caregivers are the first ones to teach us which aspects of us are acceptable and which aren’t. 

As children, we learn only to accept the parts of ourselves that they deem acceptable. We judge the other parts of ourselves as wrong, and we reject, suppress, and try to hide them.

But the problem is that these judgments are arbitrary. They depend on the values and priorities of your parents or caregivers. 

For example, different emotions are considered acceptable in different families. If you grew up in a family in which anger was unacceptable, you might be unable to accept the parts of yourself that feel anger or rage.

Parenting style also plays a role in your levels of self-acceptance. Children take on board every criticism their parents level at them and accept them as truth. 

So if your parents were highly critical or demanding, the voice of your inner critic will likely be strong, too, and you may also have a fear of failure. On the other hand, those with more compassionate parents tend to show more compassion toward themselves.

Children also don’t know how to distinguish between their behavior and themselves. They think that if their behavior is unacceptable, that means they are also unacceptable.

Therefore, people whose parents were critical are more likely to struggle with self-acceptance. People whose parents were more positive and affirming are more likely to have higher levels of self-acceptance.


Self-acceptance quotes

So now you know why self-acceptance is important. But don’t just take our word for it. We’ve rounded up some of the most inspiring self-acceptance quotes from some of our favorite thought leaders. 

Save them somewhere, and refer to them whenever you need a little inspiration on your self-acceptance journey.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” ― Brené Brown, researcher

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ― Sharon Salzberg, author

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” ― Lao Tzu, philosopher

“I don't know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes — it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, 'Well, if I'd known better, I'd have done better,' that's all.” — Maya Angelou, poet and activist

“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” — Heath L. Buckmaster, author

“There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love! The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?” C. JoyBell C., Author


Self-esteem vs. self-acceptance

Don’t confuse self-acceptance with self-esteem, although people often use the two terms interchangeably. 

Self-esteem comes from evaluating our strengths in comparison to others in different aspects of our lives. These include:

Self-esteem is based on our perceived value and self-worth. Therefore, Neff argues, it encourages us to ignore or distort our negative aspects. 

She says that too much emphasis on high self-esteem can lead to selfish, toxic, or narcissistic behavior to make ourselves feel better. 

Self-esteem is also flimsy since it is conditioned by our behavior and achievements. Relying on self-esteem alone can make it harder to accept failure.

Self-acceptance is more complex and holistic than self-esteem. It encompasses every aspect of ourselves and allows us to see ourselves for who we really are, beyond our external achievements.

However, low self-esteem can be problematic, too. Cultivating self-acceptance can help you build more accurate and sustainable self-esteem, to healthy levels. Knowing and accepting all parts of yourself can help you stop judging and being hypercritical of yourself.

Self-esteem is subject to change depending on external circumstances. But self-acceptance is long-lasting since it does not depend on what happens in your life. 

Self-acceptance can help you have self-compassion even when things go wrong. It can help you maintain a balanced and objective view of yourself as a person. 

According to Neff, the advantage of self-compassion is that you don’t need to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. This is in contrast to self-esteem, which is based on comparison.

So self-esteem can give you a momentary boost when things are going well. But self-acceptance and compassion will free you of the need to compare yourself to others. 

Self-acceptance will bring you joy and contentment that is independent of external factors.


What is my level of self-acceptance?

You probably already know whether your levels of self-acceptance are high or low. But to get an idea, think back to your childhood. 

Were your parents or primary caregivers negative and critical? Did they focus their criticism on you as a person rather than your behavior?

If you answered yes to these questions, there’s a good chance that your self-acceptance is low.

Below is a list of signs that you may be lacking self-acceptance:

  • You have difficulty acknowledging and talking about your failures, weaknesses, and negative traits.
  • You lack self-love and have a deep desire to be someone other than who you are.
  • Your outlook on life is negative for no particular reason.
  • You tend to be hypercritical of yourself and unsure of your own identity.

If you regularly experience one or more of these signs, you likely have low self-acceptance. 

Meditation and other mindfulness practices can help you build your self-acceptance over time. This, in turn, will improve your mental and emotional well-being. 

Let’s take a look at five exercises you can do daily to build self-acceptance.

5 self-acceptance exercises

True self-acceptance doesn’t just happen overnight. Daily practice and self-care can help you gradually increase your level of self-acceptance over time. 

These self-acceptance exercises will teach you how to practice self-love and acceptance every day:

1. Practice gratitude

Every day, write down three to five things you’re grateful for. This can seem challenging at first, especially when you have a mental habit of focusing on the negative. 

But practicing gratitude every day can help you retrain your brain to focus on the positive.

Look for the silver linings of every seemingly negative situation. If you failed at something, be grateful for the lessons learned. Look for things about your perceived flaws to be grateful for, too.

2. Reframe your negative thoughts

Negative beliefs are the voice of your inner critic. They cause a lot of suffering and prevent you from reaching unconditional self-acceptance. 

Reframe your negative beliefs about yourself by writing them down. For example, if you believe you are a bad person for something you did in the past, write it down.

Once you’ve written your list, go through each belief and reframe it. Start by challenging each statement by asking yourself: “Is this true?”

Then, replace each statement with more positive self-talk. For example: “I am a good person, but I’m only human, so I sometimes make mistakes.”

3. Choose your support system

Make a list of the people you spend the most time with. Think about the way they speak to you — are they mostly positive or negative?

Identify those who are mostly negative and ask yourself if it would be possible to spend less time with them. Perhaps you could even eliminate them from your life completely. 

This is not always possible, such as in the case of a close family member. But try to remove as many negative people from your life as possible. Surround yourself with positive people who appreciate you and lift you up.

4. Meditate

A regular meditation practice can help you detach from your negative self-talk. This can improve your mood and lead to more positive emotions.

The goal of meditation is to become aware of those thoughts, observing them without identifying with them. 

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, increase psychological well-being and promote inner peace. This helps you reduce self-criticism and improve your self-image.

5. Forgive yourself

Forgiveness for past mistakes and regrets is an essential step toward self-acceptance. 

Use this self-forgiveness exercise to overcome past mistakes. It will remind you that you’re only human, and you did the best you could. This will help you let go of regret and move on.

Think of a situation, action, or mistake for which you would like to forgive yourself. Identify any judgments of yourself relating to that situation, and write them down.

For example, you might write, “I shouldn’t have done X. I’m so stupid.”

Next, forgive yourself for that belief. Write down something like: “I forgive myself for believing I’m stupid for that. The truth is…” and fill in the blank.

Think about what a compassionate friend might say to you. It could be something like, “I was stressed because…” or “I was hurting and made a bad decision.”

writing-in-journal-self-acceptance - credit

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Let radical self-acceptance empower you

To accept yourself is to step into your power. When you cultivate self-acceptance, you no longer need to look for external sources of validation. Learning how to accept yourself is a stepping stone to how you take care of your mental health, too. 

You become sure of who you are and learn to own both your strengths and your weaknesses. 

Working with a coach is a highly effective way of building your self-acceptance. Discover how BetterUp’s expert coaches can help you today.

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Published August 5, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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