All of us are searching for deeper fulfilment in life, to be content and have a good life. There are many ways to get there, but self-acceptance is one of the main pillars of ultimate joy.
There are several layers to self-acceptance but before we continue, let’s first define what it isn’t. Self-acceptance does not mean that you think you’re perfect or better than others or that you believe you don’t have any faults or weaknesses. It means that you understand you are human, with all strengths and weaknesses and you have had and will continue to have failures and successes.
Self-acceptance begins with self-awareness
Before accepting who you are, you need to have an ability to observe and accurately identify your thoughts, feelings and impulses, and determine whether they are grounded in reality or not. That is called self-awareness.
You can’t learn to accept your flaws and celebrate your strengths if you’re not aware of them. So to take the first step in accepting yourself, you need to spend some time becoming self-aware first.
Here are a few ways that can be done to start to become more self-aware in your everyday life
- Write things down. Keep a journal, write notes on your phone, send emails to yourself, and scribble in a notebook, however you do it. Writing is a lot like meditating with an active brain component added in. You don’t have to write beautifully in order to get the benefit of this. The simple act of organising your thoughts is often enough to give you more clarity about your thoughts and feelings.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply the practice of observing what is going on in your mind, body and environment.
- Begin observing your behaviour on a daily basis. Watch how you talk to yourself and others and how you frequently act. How do you behave when you’re happy? How do you act when you’re sad or going through a challenge? Write down reactions to different events, especially the difficult ones. All the good and the bad go into this category.
- Study your personality closer. Write down who you are as a person with all of your traits that come to mind. Are you kind, a good listener, lazy, disciplined, honest, or dishonest? Don’t worry, nobody will see this except you.
- What are some things that you hear frequently about yourself from others? Do you agree or disagree with them? Why?
When you explore your behavior, it includes the past as well. A common feeling is regret for past mistakes or perceived failures. Let that regret be the reason for positive change and fuel for new endeavours. Regret can both be an ally and an enemy.
How to be compassionate towards yourself doing this self-acceptance exercise:
Self-compassion is the key prerequisite for self-acceptance. Remember that everyone has something that they don’t like about themselves.
This is simply a way for you to observe. Imagine that you are watching yourself outside of your body, looking at yourself from above. You are simply a curious observer. Tell your mind that anything you don’t like can be changed and that you’re doing this to learn. It helps you to judge yourself less.
Make a conscious decision to offer yourself forgiveness. We can’t blame ourselves for things we didn’t know or were not aware of before, even if we are aware of those things not.
It is important to learn from our mistakes, but it is never helpful to keep punishing ourselves for regrets we may have.
Accepting all of your personality traits
You will find some things about yourself that you’re proud of and things that you find less attractive. That’s good because once you recognise what you don’t like, you are starting a process of growth.
Personality traits are not permanent and even if some take more time to change, it can be done. The best part about getting to know yourself better is that you get to choose what to keep and what to get rid of. Herein lies your power. It puts the ball in your court which is where you want it.
There is great freedom in the knowledge that you can choose who you want to be. Whether you want to become a more compassionate person or more ambitious, it’s possible. To balance the scales, take time to celebrate your good traits. Sit with them for a moment; write them down, and appreciate them.
Allow for your entire personality to the surface, even if it takes a few days or even weeks. Use your breath to take it all in. Self-judgement can be replaced with a new opportunity to grow and new ideas for the future and about who you want to become.
The third layer: Accepting your emotions
The third layer of self-acceptance is related to emotions. You might have heard the term “emotional intelligence” before, but what does it actually mean?
Most people haven’t been taught how to deal with their emotions or even name them properly. According to Brené Brown’s research and the book “Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience”, there are 87 human emotions. When asked in a large study, most people could only name 3. This explains a lot about our knowledge and relationship to our emotions.
In order to accept our emotions, we need to be more aware of them. Many times we are more aware of our thoughts and did not really pay attention to how we feel. Through mindfulness practice, we can learn to be more aware of our emotions and increase our understanding.
What researchers have found is that emotions are temporary and usually only last for about 60-90 minutes. It can be longer if you stay in them and involve your thoughts, which can prolong the time by triggering new thoughts that produce more of the same feeling.
Suppressing your emotions
Accepting your emotions means that you allow space for them in the first place. Many people have learned to suppress their feelings – particularly the “negative” ones. For example, if your emotional experiences as an infant were confusing; threatening or painful, it is likely you’ve tried to distance yourself from your emotions.
There is therefore often a great gap between us and our emotions. This means that there is a longer path to walk between you, and actually feeling your feelings.
As a result, the term and behavior “toxic positivity”, has emerged. Although having a positive mindset and training your brain to focus on the good is hugely beneficial to your health and well-being, suppressing your emotion is not. It is when you suppress what you’re feeling that it becomes harmful. You don’t release, but instead, you add layers of emotions and store them inside.
Researchers have found that there is a huge connection between stuck emotions that you haven’t worked through and disease. Therefore, a big part of holistic healing is focused on emotional release which is something more people are embracing today.
A few ways to practice emotional self-acceptance on your own:
- Pay attention to yourself. Notice any physical changes when you feel intense emotion.
- Move your body. Moving your body helps you release emotions and helps you gain new, positive ones. You can do this by dancing, exercising, running and walking.
- Remind yourself that emotions are what makes you human. They are a part of your biological nature. You didn’t have much choice when they were given to you.
- Become curious about your emotions. If you find it difficult to accept anger or sadness, for example, know that they are messengers bringing you important information. Explore the anger, judgment, or sadness, and find out what that information is.
- Understand that your emotions wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have a purpose. There are situations that call for a “negative” emotional response. If you’re grieving, it’s normal to feel sad. If somebody hurt you, it’s normal to feel angry. Or when life doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s okay to feel disappointed.
All of your emotions are valid. Practice treating them as friends even if you don’t like them at first. Begin finding ways in which you can be kind to both your feelings and yourself.
If you need help with emotional healing and acceptance, reach out to a professional healer or therapist that can help you.
The fourth layer of self-acceptance: Beliefs and desires
If you’ve ever felt ashamed for having certain beliefs or desires, you are not alone. When our beliefs contradict what is considered “normal” in society, it’s common to feel shame around it. If your beliefs aren’t hurting you or anyone else, it is perfectly fine to have them.
It’s when they hold you back from living the life you want or stand in the way of your own joy that you want to question them. The same goes if they are hindering the growth and health of your relationships.
Beliefs and desires also tend to change over time. At least some of them. It’s normal that as you grow older and evolve, your opinions on things change. Values will strengthen or weaken and get replaced with new ones and different things become more or less important.
Whether it is your spiritual beliefs, your preferences in relationships or in sexuality, goals, or values, allow them to be there. It’s your life experiences that trigger your beliefs and desires in life, so explore them.
Learn to have an open mind and welcome new perspectives and challenge your beliefs. But at the same time, if you feel strongly about a belief and don’t want to let it go, that’s okay. Simply ask yourself if your beliefs and desires are contributing to you being content and if that’s the case then go ahead and keep them.
There are many ways to explore and re-evaluate your values. For example, you can take an inventory of what you believe in and what you don’t believe in. Write down your most important values and why you want to live by those values.
Your values system may include some of what you were taught growing up, but you may also make the conscious decision not to include some of what you were taught to believe in your family of origin. Your value system should only include what is right for you.
Lastly, there is no need to share our beliefs and the things we desire in life with others. Keep them to yourself if that is what seems right to you. If there is shame around certain beliefs, become comfortable with them on your own first.
However, it’s good to challenge yourself and ask yourself the reason why you feel ashamed if that’s the case. Did you learn growing up that certain beliefs are wrong? Explore different possibilities.
Self-acceptance leads to being content on so many levels
Ultimately, self-acceptance gives birth to many benefits that both you and others get to enjoy. That’s what makes it so important; it breeds compassion, authenticity and empathy.
Empathy can only occur in proportion to our own self-acceptance. It is only by accepting the flaws of our emotions and minds that we are able to look at the flaws of the emotions and minds of others, and rather than judge them or hate them, feel compassion for them.
This in turn leads to a deeper connection to other people and to yourself. It also plays a vital role in your emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
Taking the time to accept yourself can lead to tremendous freedom and many new possibilities. That’s what makes it worth it for the people who decide to do the work.