If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard something like, “You can do anything!” or “You’re more powerful than you think you are!” or “You are incredible just the way you are,” I’d be a very wealthy person. As someone who has always been interested in self-improvement and designing happiness, I’ve taken in a lot of information (from books, TED Talks, keynote speakers at conferences, you name it) that relays that “self-positivity” message to me. So today, rather than add to the vast sea of information already available about this topic, I want to take a slightly different approach and talk instead about accepting yourself.
Do I believe that you can do anything? Of course I do. Do I believe that you are more powerful than you think you are? Absolutely. But as important as I think it is to believe in yourself, I think accepting yourself is even more important.
Let’s discuss why.
What does “accepting yourself” mean?
First, what do I mean when I say “accept yourself?” To me, accepting yourself means taking ownership of who you are—your personality, your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses. It means being okay with yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin. And it means not letting the opinions of others make you want to change what is uniquely “you.”
Sound straightforward? I wish it was. The truth is that accepting yourself should be simple, but for many people, it’s anything but.
A self-esteem crisis
Did you know that some experts estimate that 85% of adults suffer from low self-esteem? I’ll admit that I had never heard that statistic before, but I’ll also confess that it doesn’t surprise me. Judging from my own experiences and those of my friends, family members, and coworkers, everyone experiences low self-esteem at some point or another. Sometimes, it’s fleeting, tied to a particular event, circumstance, or perceived failure. Other times, it’s chronic, affecting people for years as they struggle with the ups and downs of life.
Either way, it’s safe to say that almost everyone you know struggles to accept themselves sometimes. You probably struggle with accepting yourself, too.
Why it’s hard to accept yourself
Being unable to accept yourself is undoubtedly a common problem. There are a few big reasons why.
- We have an intolerance for imperfection. As much as people decry perfectionism, the quest for perfection is something that is rewarded and encouraged by modern society. From grades in school, to followers on Instagram, it seems as though those with “perfect” abilities or appearances are the ones who become popular or successful.
- We are privy to our own flaws. Going along with the above point: we’re intolerant of imperfection, and it’s easy to see ourselves as imperfect people. We’re around ourselves all day long. We are well aware of our own flaws and weaknesses, and that makes it harder to accept ourselves.
- We fall subject to “shoulds.” Many of us have an image of who we “should” be, what we “should” be doing, and which paths we “should” take to get us to where we want to go. It’s difficult to accept yourself when you feel as though the life you’re living and the life you “should” live are dramatically different.
- We equate “acceptance” with “surrender.” Too many people feel as though “accepting” themselves would mean giving up on self-improvement. If you’re happy with who you are, why would you try to make yourself better? Some people resist the very idea of accepting themselves because they think it means surrendering to their weaknesses.
Of course, all of these points represent flawed thinking, in one way or another. But they’re all powerful thoughts that hold us back from accepting ourselves. As hard as it can be to accept yourself, however, it’s also vital to your happiness.
How accepting yourself can change your life
The happiest people I know are confident people who accept themselves. They aren’t arrogant or self-promoting. They don’t give too much weight to either their strengths or their weaknesses. These people know themselves and use what they know to create a happier, more fulfilling life for themselves, and for the people around them.
Accepting yourself can change your life for the better because:
1. You can apply yourself to what you’re really passionate about.
Accepting yourself means accepting and embracing your passions—even the trivial ones. You don’t try to hide your excitement around the latest video game release or that new superhero movie. You allow yourself to spend time and energy on the things you love. Sometimes, this even leads to a career you are passionate about. Whether personal or professional, you get a sense of fulfillment as you’re true to yourself and the things you love.
2. You are immune to the whims of others.
This doesn’t mean you don’t care about what other people think, or that you do whatever you want, no matter how it will affect other people. It simply means that you don’t let what other people think influence what you like, what you do, or who you are. When you accept yourself, you’re able to stay true to you, even if there are critics or naysayers trying to convince you that you’re wrong.
3. You can let go of “shoulds.”
Accepting yourself allows you to let go of what “should” be and embrace what “is.” I have a friend who is very much a night person. He likes staying up late, he has more energy at night, and so on. Of course, the majority of self-help advice on the subject centers around the “early to bed and early to rise” mantra. My friend has tried that. It doesn’t work for him. He has trouble falling asleep earlier, absolutely hates waking up earlier, and feels like it takes a long time to get his day going. Once he let go of the idea that he “should” be a morning person, and accepted that he’s actually a night person, not only were his nights more productive again, but he also saved himself the mental distress of constantly worrying that he’s not doing what he “should” be doing.
4. You are better equipped to set healthy boundaries.
Knowing yourself means knowing what you’re capable of—for better or for worse. When you accept yourself, you don’t fight against these capabilities. Rather, you allow yourself to set healthy boundaries that work for you instead of against you. The people I know that accept themselves are better at saying no when they need to, are able to prioritize more effectively, and are able to keep themselves out of situations that might make them uncomfortable or unhappy.
5. You become ready to grow.
It might seem counterintuitive, but accepting yourself actually sets the stage for healthy and positive growth and change. This is because when you aren’t judging yourself, you’re willing to take steps forward. Instead of giving in to a narrative centered around guilt and shame, you’re keeping a positive mindset, fully aware of what truly is, so that you can then help things become what they can be.
How to accept yourself
Accepting yourself is powerful, but like I mentioned before, it’s not always easy. Accepting yourself takes practice, vulnerability, and honesty.
Here are some things that might help.
We all judge ourselves. Some of us do it more than others. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and what we’re capable of. When you’re trying to learn to accept yourself, become aware of these stories. What words do you use to describe yourself in your head? Is that really who you think you are?
Feel the feelings.
Self acceptance means accepting your feelings. When something happens, whether good or bad, allow yourself to feel the feelings. Deliberately name them. Recognize how they feel in your body. Become familiar with them. Don’t fight them.
Talk to trusted friends or family members about your feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, and failures. Basically, work on connection. Feeling supported and loved by others—especially when you’re sharing the less-than-flattering parts of yourself—can help you feel more confident as you work to support and love yourself.
One of the most important steps of accepting yourself is forgiving yourself. We all make mistakes, and while it’s important to own those mistakes and take responsibility for your actions, it’s also important to recognize that you are, in fact, human, and that you’re allowed the occasional misstep, just like anyone else. Practice self-compassion to help you reach self acceptance.
Take pride in your strengths.
As I mentioned earlier, some people think self acceptance means surrendering to your weaknesses and not trying to improve at all. But accepting yourself means recognizing your strengths and your weaknesses. While it might be hard to admit your weaknesses, you should also be sure to identify your strengths and take pride in them. What are you good at? How does that make your life better? What do you love about yourself? Bonus: think about how you could leverage your strengths to help overcome your weaknesses.
Writing positive affirmations about accepting yourself can help you rewire your brain to think more positively about yourself. Here are a couple examples:
- “I am doing the best I can.”
- “I am worthy.”
- “My (insert quality here, e.g. strength, tenacity, work ethic, etc.) will get me far.”
- “I accept myself, and that’s enough.”
Accepting yourself may not come naturally to you, but it’s worth putting in the effort. When you accept yourself, you’ll be on the path toward happiness, fulfillment, and meaning.
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