Health self-esteem is not possible without self-acceptance. When we accept ourselves, we decide to be our own friend rather than an enemy or adversary.
Be On Your Own Side
You know what it means to be on someone’s side or on the side of your favorite team. You root for them, cheer for them, and support them. You value them and make a commitment to them in some way. Doing these things for yourself is part of self-acceptance. Imagine accepting yourself as your best friend, even though you are flawed and imperfect (just like every other human being).
The reason self-acceptance is necessary for self-esteem to improve is because no growth can happen when we reject, hate, or continually criticize ourselves. If a self-critical nature is not reversed, no attempts at self-improvement will stick, things you learn will not be adopted into your daily life, and healthy self-esteem cannot be achieved. No important improvement can occur without self-acceptance.
Healthy self-esteem develops when we choose to value ourselves, treat ourselves with respect, and to stand up for our own rights to be alive and happy.
Self-acceptance includes being willing to experience our true selves. We acknowledge our thoughts, feelings, desires, dreams, and actions for what they are. We have done or thought whatever we have done or thought. We take ownership of all parts of ourselves. Whether we consider the past or acknowledge the present, acceptance means we face reality. We don’t deny our thoughts, feelings, or behaviors – we accept them and deal with them. We work to recognize negative thoughts and feelings, which can allow us to be fully conscious of them, understand that they are a part of us, and then decide what to do with them. We accept the reality of ourselves, but we don’t stop there.
For instance, if we acknowledge some negative aspect of ourselves that we are not thrilled with, we accept the reality of our experiences and our acknowledgement can be a starting point for change. We sit with what we know to be true, we experience these truths. Experiencing our feelings, rather than avoiding or denying them, has true healing power because we can think, talk, or write about what is bothering us and begin to transform it.
Self-acceptance is a prerequisite for growth and change. For example, when we make a mistake, we can either acknowledge it or deny it. By accepting that we have made a mistake, we can learn from it and create a better future for ourselves. If we never accept our short comings, we cannot use them to learn and grow as a result. If you do not accept the reality of where you are, you cannot begin to change.
What Acceptance Does Not Mean
Acceptance is not the same as liking, condoning, or enjoying. It does not say that what occurred is OK. It is simply becoming fully aware of the reality of a circumstance. When we stop fighting or denying reality, our personal evolution can begin. Unawareness or denial keeps us stuck.
Acceptance also does not mean that we rationalize, write off, or defend our actions. We explore our motives, and compassionately correct ourselves to foster growth and improve self-acceptance and self-esteem.
Be A Friend To Yourself
Sometimes we do stupid things. We make mistakes. Our friends make mistakes and do dumb things as well. How do we treat them? Are we harsh and critical, or supportive and compassionate? I hope the answer is supportive and compassionate. And that is how we must approach ourselves. We don’t deny that we have done something wrong – we accept it and explore our thoughts or actions. We recognize that we are human, and we are going to make mistakes or have flaws. By exploring the roots of the experience, we can understand why we did, thought, or felt what we did. We discover what prompted the incident so we can understand and move toward change.
There are things we do that we will not like. That does not mean that we condemn ourselves for being human. You can be a friend to yourself.
Seek Help for Self-Criticism
If you are aware of your self-critical nature – if you are you own worst enemy -- then counseling with a licensed therapist can be of tremendous help. Self-hatred is often rooted in experiences with our family of origin. Exploration and resolution of the past can diminish the self-hatred and enable you to embrace yourself and your future. Self-acceptance is so critical to your success in life that I ask you to please seek help if you are experiencing self-hatred or self-criticism.
Self-hatred and self-criticism are topics which I will touch on in future posts, but because these are such deep-rooted issues, they are best addressed through individual counseling with a therapist.
When it comes to improving our self-esteem, if we cannot accept ourselves, we are not on our own side, and healthy self-esteem will not develop. Future posts will examine how to develop self-acceptance. When we deny reality, we will experience mental distress, and we will not grow and change to experience the life we so desire.
Branden, N. (1994). The six pillars of self-esteem. New York: Bantam.