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.