You’ve probably heard from self-help gurus and social media influencers to “accept yourself,” but when you really think about it, you might realize you don’t even know what that means.
Let’s take a closer look at that.
The illusion of perfectionism
Most of us think that we will accept ourselves once we achieve a certain goal, look a certain way, or fit an image of who we think we should be.
Ultimately, accepting yourself is about accepting all of you, as you are, right NOW. It’s not about accepting yourself ONLY when you’re “perfect”.
It’s throwing off our judgments about our worthiness or lovability based on our body’s appearance, our salary, the state of our relationships, or where we are in our journey with consciousness.
This is reality, and it’s the first step to moving forward.
Accepting ourselves as we are
The truth is, we will never be the kind of “perfect” that we have in our mind’s eye.
By telling ourselves that we will only accept ourselves when we are perfect, we’re telling ourselves that we’ll never be acceptable or worthy of love.
We don’t expect this kind of perfection or idealized humanness from others. Only ourselves.
For example, when we look at a baby, we don’t say “I’ll love you when you stop crying.” We can still dislike the crying and look forward to the day our baby sleeps through the night, but we don’t withhold love from the baby.
We accept that the baby is just being a baby and love it anyway. Why does it feel so much harder to do this for ourselves?
Refusing to accept yourself is counterproductive
Ironically, when we don’t accept ourselves, we often behave in ways we find even less acceptable.
A lot of us have harsh inner critics that tell us we’re bad and wrong, that we should have done this and we shouldn’t have done that.
It’s hard to feel very good when we spend a lot of our time criticizing ourselves. We don’t like it when other people criticize us, so it’s ironic that we so freely criticize ourselves.
The belief that we can shame ourselves into change is of no use, because it simply isn’t possible. At least not for the long term.
Shaming ourselves for doing what we do or feeling how we feel doesn’t help us change those feelings or behaviors but instead reinforces our feelings of unworthiness.
If you’re learning to drive a car and all you hear is “don’t do this” and “don’t do that,” you’ll have a hard time learning how to actually drive a car.
If you hear “don’t run into that pole,” what do you focus on? The pole! Which increases the likelihood that you will hit the pole.
Because of these “don’ts” and shame, we’re so busy focusing on what we don’t want that we don’t accept who we are.
Remember the Law of Attraction, which says that what we focus on grows stronger. When we focus on what we perceive to be our flaws and shortcomings, we see ourselves as unacceptable. We focus on what we don’t like and minimize the attributes we do like.
Accepting yourself is accepting reality (and choosing what to do next)
So let’s say we’re feeling angry and we say to ourselves “I’m not supposed to feel angry.” And then we feel angry at ourselves for feeling angry! You can see how this is like an infinity mirror that keeps compounding.
If you say you’re not supposed to feel something, it doesn’t help because you’re feeling what you’re feeling.
It’s futile to resist reality. Reality is what’s actually happening. When you fight reality, you not only have to deal with the original anger you didn’t want, but now you also have the stress of non-acceptance, which means, ironically, you’re more likely to act in a way you don’t want to act.
Accepting yourself as you are is an act of love. Accepting that we will sometimes feel things or behave in ways we don’t like is part of being human. And when we approach ourselves with compassion, we’ll see that’s part of being human.
When you accept where you are, you can choose to do something different. Or not. But you have to start with acceptance.
If you fall down and break your ankle, you can accept that you’re injured and get help. You can go to the doctor, get a cast, use crutches, and start physical therapy. When you don’t accept reality, your ankle will only get worse and more painful!
Reality is reality.
The less resistance you bring to a situation, the more open you’ll be to healing and growth. Isn’t that a less stressful way to live than constantly beating yourself up and staying stuck where you are?