What is it to truly accept yourself? To accept your strengths and weaknesses, to accept your past choices and behaviours, the good things that have happened and the bad and to accept you’re not superhuman or perfect? As many other people can be, I am often hugely self-critical and am rarely satisfied with what I’m doing. My inner critic is usually on overdrive and I always need a challenge to smash, even when it’s something that is not actually very beneficial to my life.
Lately, with my new found self-reflection skill learned on the MAPP course, I am slowly beginning to understand the pros and cons of living a life with a ‘everything is a challenge’ mentality. Whilst the ability to tackle challenges is sometimes a blessing in disguise, helping me through many pressure-filled periods of time it is ultimately not conducive to my happiness and life satisfaction. It is instead a symptom of a low level of self-acceptance that is now becoming obvious to me in that by taking on constant challenges I am in a cycle of constantly demonstrating my worth to myself and others.
Cultivating self-acc’Wea eptance over self-improvement
‘We As I did, many people can fall into the trap of thinking they have a good level of self-acceptance when in reality what they are doing is self-improvement. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to improve oneself but living a life on beliefs such as ‘when I achieve this I will be happy’ or ‘when this happens I will be happy’ are aimed at feeling good enough in the future and are not self-acceptance. As long as we are focusing on improving ourselves in this way we can never reach true life satisfaction due to the dependency on external goals. In order to feel good enough in the present rather than hoping for it at some point in the future we must start by increasing self-acceptance for who we are now. In that way self-improvement becomes what it should be, a journey of personal growth rather than an exercise in proving our worth to ourselves and the world.
Increasing self-acceptance through kindness
I am a huge fan of kindness in life and one particular tool I’ve been learning to use to help increase my self-acceptance is self-compassion, in other words, learning to be kind to myself. Dr Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as being a tool that changes the way we relate to ourselves, therefore something which can cultivate self-acceptance. Research is finding that people who are strong in self-compassion are more protected from depression and anxiety, are less self-critical and can lead happier lives. By talking to yourself as you would a talk to a friend, by pardoning yourself for past situations you assumed were all your fault, by reflecting on how you take care of yourself and your needs you begin to act in a self-compassionate way.
Ultimately, self-compassion is achieved by simply understanding that regardless of whether we feel good or bad, we deserve to treat ourselves with wholehearted compassionate kindness in the same way we would treat others. Safety procedures on an aeroplane state you should reach for your own oxygen mask first before helping others so why do so many of us struggle with being kind to ourselves? Even by taking baby steps and starting with something as small as going for a walk to clear your mind at the end of the day, by resting when you need to and through trying to figure out how to better take care of yourself increasing your self-acceptance is possible.
In increasing my levels of self-compassion I am finding interesting changes taking place. I am starting to increase my focus on self-care, slow down and acknowledge my day to day achievements. The daily gratitude journaling I once struggled with is now an instinctive natural part of my day, when I hear myself being self-critical I am beginning to challenge such thoughts and use encouraging words to remind myself that nobody’s perfect and we are all trying to do our best.
I now look after myself in a better way and am beginning to treat myself as someone important in my life, because let’s face it we are all important. Slowly but surely I can feel my levels of self-acceptance rising and with that my instinctive need to constantly fight challenges to prove my worth is finally easing away.
Kindness for myself, as well for others is definitely the way forward.
About the author: Emma Willmer
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’