A Coaching Power Tool created by Andrea Kamins
(Career Coach, UNITED STATES)
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. Siddhrtha Gautama
As the poet Alexander Pope once said,
To err is human, to forgive, divine.
This concept is often easier to practice in our relationships with others than it is to extend the same kindness to ourselves. We appreciate and care for our loved ones because of who they are, even though they are imperfect. If they make a mistake, we don’t beat them up or tell them we no longer love them. Yet all to often, we have a hard time accepting that we ourselves are deserving of our own self-appreciation and care despite our mistakes and imperfections.
Self-Acceptance means taking in the full picture of who we are, and accepting all of it: the good, the bad, and the “ugly”. It is a commitment to love and respect ourselves, even in moments when we make mistakes and demonstrate our imperfections to ourselves and to the world. The concept is simple, but accepting oneself can be difficult on several levels.
Some people can easily accept the things that are “good” about them, but are afraid to accept the things that they perceive to be “wrong” with them. If, for example, a person has a tendency to be disorganized, he may deny the problem exists even when others can plainly see it. He may show up late for meetings, lose important papers, forget deadlines, and still work to convince others that there is nothing problematic about his way of doing things.
Others have a hard time accepting even the “good” things about themselves. For example, if a person with this tendency is paid a compliment, she may feel uncomfortable, dismiss it, or even try to convince the compliment-giver that the kind words were unwarranted. In this instance, the person may be scared to accept her own strengths and good qualities because of a belief that is it arrogant to acknowledge herself, or a belief that there is truly nothing good about her.
Self-acceptance is critical to maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem. When we accept ourselves, we are acknowledging that we are enough, just as we are, and that we deserve to be happy, even though we may make mistakes and have flaws as all humans do. When we refuse to accept ourselves, we are in self-denial. When we are in self-denial, we convince ourselves that some parts of who we are do not really exist. We are pretending to be something we are not. We may be pretending to be perfect to try and prevent others from seeing our flaws and criticizing us. Or, we may be in a state of imagining that we are all bad and have nothing to offer, so that people won’t expect much of us and we won’t let them down when we inevitably fail.
The trouble is that denying parts of ourselves inevitably leads to “failure” in a certain sense. When we refuse to accept ourselves, we are setting ourselves up for a life of unhappiness. Living in self-denial causes us to be dishonest with ourselves and with the people around us. It prevents us from taking steps towards recognizing and taking the steps needed to achieve what we want out of life.
The Two “Selves”
In the book Finding Your Own North Star, author and life coach Martha Beck describes the two different selves that we all have: the essential self and the social self. The essential self is who we really are. It knows what we really want and need, and is not influenced by our past history or the opinions of others. The social self is only concerned with making sure that we appear okay to the outside world and, when left unchecked, can cause us to deny what we feel and believe deep down. It can make us overly concerned with other people’s perceptions of us, which can cause us to lose touch with the essence of who we really are.
While we all need a social self to help us function as part of society, we need to be aware of the limitations of the social self. When we only pay attention to our social self, the essential self (which is the same as our own inner voice) can get lost. The essential self holds our deepest desires and dreams, and can help guide us to the life we want, if only we are able to listen to it.
The Paradox of Self-Acceptance
Many people make the mistake of thinking that if they are dissatisfied with something in their lives, it is because something is fundamentally wrong with them. They feel they have to change who they are in order to start making changes to their behavior or circumstances.
People are often afraid to let go of the negative perceptions they hold about themselves because they believe that accepting themselves is the same as accepting, or settling for, their current set of circumstances. Someone in this situation may believe “if I accept myself as I am now, I won’t be motivated to…lose the weight, get a better job, start dating again after a divorce”, etc.
This perfectionistic point of view tricks people into feeling that they need to change something about who they are before they can love themselves. Ironically, the opposite is true. When we are able to accept and love ourselves just as we are right now, we become empowered to begin making meaningful change in our lives, the kind of change that comes from a place of extreme self-care, rather than self-abuse.
Wanting to lose weight is a good example of this. The false belief is that “who I am will not be okay until I lose the weight.” When we believe that something is wrong with us, this is a form of self-denial. As a result, we see the world through this filter. In his book The Feeling Good Handbook, Cognitive-Behavioral Psychologist Dr. David Burns explains how this perspective can become self-reinforcing. He explains that when we see life this way, everywhere we look, we begin to collect evidence that we are right in
thinking that the problem is who we are, rather than what we are doing.
When we seek to make a change, we need to identify whether we are motivated by external pressures or by something deep within us. When we try to make changes in our lives because of external pressures, we will often end up sabotaging ourselves and end up even more frustrated than when we started. When we are in full self-acceptance we can tune in to our own inner voice, which will guide us to make changes that come directly from our deepest wishes and desires. When we are in this state, we can experience self-care, self-love and self-compassion while at the same time working to change something that we are not satisfied with in our lives. In this way, we are taking responsibility for our circumstances, without judging and blaming ourselves.
Working with a coach can be a powerful way to help clients understand themselves better and recognize to what extent they are practicing self-acceptance. The coach might begin by asking questions about the client’s strengths and challenges. Does the client seem to take full responsibility for both without sounding apologetic about her strengths or making excuses for her weaknesses? The coach may ask direct questions about the extent to which the client feels she accepts herself fully for who she is.
One indication of self-denial is a client acting in a way that does not align with his deepest values. When a coach sees a client exhibiting behavior that is self-sabotaging, it is important to ask what is happening for the client at that moment. It may be that there is a belief in the client that they are unworthy of success, or that they have to be perfect before they will deserve to achieve their goal.
Questions to explore this might include:
- Why do you want to make this change?
- What would be the benefits to you?
- Do you believe you deserve those benefits? Why or why not?
- How can you support yourself through this transition, especially in challenging moments?
Coaches need to listen carefully for statements by the client indicating that they feel they are not good enough to achieve their goals, or that they can’t accomplish something unless they change who they are. If a coach detects this form of self-denial, there is an opportunity to give feedback to the client and help them understand that self-acceptance is empowering. It does not mean becoming complacent and giving up on making changes in our lives. Rather, it means supporting ourselves and believing that we are worthy of achieving success. Looking at life through a filter of self-acceptance is a much faster path to success than being stuck in self-denial. Questions to help clients make a shift to believing they are deserving of self-acceptance could include:
- Can you accept yourself exactly as you are, while still taking steps to achieve this goal? Why or why not?
- How do you feel when you hold the belief that something is “wrong” with you? What effect does that feeling have on you emotionally, mentally and physically?
- How do you feel when you accept yourself for who you are now? What effect does that feeling have on you emotionally, mentally and physically?
- Which feeling is more motivating? Why?
- Picture the person you most love in this world. If they were in your position, would you advise them to accept and love themselves for who they are, or would you tell them they are not yet worthy of selfacceptance? Why?
When clients do not follow through on actions they commit to, this can be an indication that there is some form of self-denial happening. When a client is making excuses for why they couldn’t complete a task, the coach should investigate whether the lack of action was motivated by some form of self-denial, such as a fear of unworthiness. The client may be afraid of accepting his strengths and/or his limitations. The coach can work with the client to identify both and help the client shift to a perspective where he can believe that he is worthy of success, flaws and all.
Beck, Martha, 2001, Finding Your Own North Star, Three Rivers Press, New York, NY
Burns, David D., 1999, The Feeling Good Handbook, Penguin Group (USA), Inc., New York, NY