Why is self-acceptance important to your self-help journey?

Before starting your goals this year, I thought it would be great to understand why self-acceptance is important in your self-improvement journey. Self-acceptance and self-improvement are two terms you often hear as paths to a happier you. But if you’re like me, they sound like a contradiction or completely separate ways to choose. Doesn’t self-acceptance mean that I accept everything about myself, including my current situation? That makes sense, right? So why would I bother with self-improvement, then? But I learned that it’s not the case. You need both.

What motivates self-approval?

Some individuals 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 tell us which aspects of ourselves are acceptable and which aren’t.

We learn as children to accept only certain aspects of ourselves. We deem other factors unacceptable and suppress, reject, and attempt to conceal them. The issue is that these assessments are arbitrary. The values and priorities of your parents or guardians determine them.

A child’s self-acceptance is also affected by their parent’s parenting style. For example, your inner critic might have a strong voice if your parents were highly critical or demanding, or you may feel unworthy. On the other hand, those with more compassionate parents tend to show compassion toward themselves.

What does self-acceptance mean?

You accept yourself and all of your personality traits exactly as they are, no matter whether they are positive or negative. Your physical and mental characteristics are included. Your value goes beyond your attributes and actions, and that’s what self-acceptance is all about. It means accepting yourself unconditionally and without exception in every aspect. Self-acceptance can only be achieved when you get the parts of yourself that you view as negative or undesirable. It is also crucial to balance that by acknowledging and celebrating your positive qualities and achievements. Many of us have difficulty accepting ourselves because we hide, neglect, and reject the aspects of ourselves we think are unworthy.

The magic word is worthiness.

Self-acceptance is knowing your worth, leading to more confidence and less vulnerability to outside criticism. Building awareness of our shortcomings and your acceptance of them is the first step toward personal growth. However, accepting our negative qualities and giving up on changing them is not the same as self-acceptance. Rather than being tied to our shortcomings, self-awareness enables us to recognize them and improve our behavior.

Self-acceptance is recognizing all parts of you in a compassionate and forgiving way, which is essential to get on the right path toward self-improvement.

Why does self-acceptance have to come before self-improvement?

“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

I started my self-improvement path in my twenties, and at the time, I believed it was an opportunity to change everything I hated about myself. My lack of education and poor financial choices needed to be “fixed.” After almost a decade, I achieved my goals, but I bolstered the self-deprecating, self-critical conversation already in my head without realizing it. Because on the outside, I wanted to improve my confidence and independence, but I wanted to be more worthy. I tried to eliminate the shame of being less than or broken. Getting a college education would make me more (fill in the blank with every external validation imaginable), and this fact only led to anxiety and depression.

Self-acceptance is essential to your self-improvement journey. Self-improvement without self-acceptance is like trying to fix a house with a leaky roof by painting the exterior. You can make it look better on the outside, but the real issue will only worsen.

So what is your level of self-acceptance?

You are likely aware of how much self-acceptance you possess. However, if you are not certain, you may want to consider your upbringing. Were your parents harsh and judgmental? Did they criticize who you were as opposed to your conduct?

If you responded yes to any of these, chances are your self-acceptance is low.

To help you identify a lack of self-acceptance, here is a list of indicators:

difficulty accepting and discussing your shortcomings, flaws, and negative qualities;

a lack of self-love and a strong desire to be someone other than yourself;

A pessimistic outlook on life without any clear cause; a tendency to be extremely critical of yourself and uncertain of your identity.

If you experience one or more of these indicators, there is a good possibility that your self-acceptance is low. 

If you’re an adult, you are likely already on the path to self-improvement, so I hope after reading this, and you haven’t started your path to self-acceptance, that you start now. This article from Psychology Today may help you better understand self-acceptance. It also gives you six steps that you can put into practice right away.

Angela Atelier is a New Jersey-based portrait and personal branding photography studio empowering women everywhere to live their best life. Contact us to schedule your complimentary consultation.

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