How many of us really accept ourselves for who we are, warts and all and are comfortable with this?
Does self-acceptance equal success?
By self-acceptance I refer to the subjective personal feeling of satisfaction with one’s being regardless of past mistakes, ill-advised behaviours, and bad choices. It’s about accepting your slip-ups, faults, the things you can’t change and appreciating what makes you unique as an individual.
Self-acceptance and being comfortable in your own skin isn’t always easy for everyone. While some people are able to generally accept situations they face, for some of us there is a self-critical voice we carry in our heads; the inner voice that often dwells relentlessly on our mistakes and short comings and wants us to believe we’re failures for not achieving certain things. This inner voice is usually disparaging of our life choices and where we have landed in matters of career, finances, parenthood, and physical looks amongst other things.
Why is self-acceptance easy for some people and yet difficult for others to achieve? There are several theories on this, but it is generally agreed that our self-image or the way we react to situations is particularly influenced by interactions with key people early in our lives who moulded us to create a perception of self, often with attributes modelled on the key people who were our early teachers and guides. Without the influences of our early teachers and guides, our self-image, or the way we react to situations would not have develop as it is, much like a tree will not grow without sunlight and water. Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers referred to this as the ‘Ideal Self’. In earlier years of life, creation of the ‘Ideal Self’ is generally connected to our parents or primary care givers. In adulthood, the ideal self can be modified to imitate people we view as influential and successful, such as movie stars, models, and businesspeople. According to Rogers the ‘Ideal self’ eventually morphs into a ‘self-Image’ reflecting how you view yourself functioning as an individual. When the ‘Ideal Self’ and ‘self-Image’ are in alignment, personal satisfaction with oneself irrespective of past behaviours, choices, and perceived shortcomings kicks in. On the contrary, a mismatch between one’s self-Image and perception of the ‘Ideal Self’, can lead to low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with oneself.
External stimuli like financial accomplishment, good looks, high flying careers, being a celebrity or so-called influencer are measures that are often used by society to describe success and acceptability. These attributes can create considerable pain, self-doubt, low self-worth, and frustration for those who strive and fail to attain self-acceptability based on such perceived measures. Instead of creating a self-image based on external determinants like financial accomplishments or other materialistic attributes, could intrinsic measures of success provide a more authentic reflection of the self and therefore self-acceptance? I believe deep down, irrespective of whether it’s in alignment with society’s measure or not, each of us have unique traits which determine our yardstick of success and self-acceptability as human beings.
I have struggled with the concept of ‘the grass is always greener’ in my quest to achieve my learned perception of success. I grew up with the belief, shaped by the society around me, that my acceptability depended on a stellar career, lots of money and having children. I set out to become successful based on those measurement standards. I had not developed a mechanism of accepting and loving myself as a successful human being, no matter the circumstances of my life. Therefore, when I failed to meet the expectations set by others, I ignored all my good qualities and instead loathed, punished, and refused to accept myself. I developed a victim mentality sustained by self-judgement and unforgiving thoughts fuelled by falsely perceived internalised failures.
The harder I strove to fulfill my aspirations, the more frustrated I became as the bar kept shifting. The kind of fulfilment I was aspiring for was mentally unattainable and blinded me to the many successes in my life. Through self-reflection, I started recognising that perhaps I was chasing someone else’s idea of success and using a misguided yardstick to measure my own success. I became curious about why I did not recognise and be satisfied with my achievements. What would it take for me to be acceptable in my own eyes? Was I really a failure or was I trying to live up to some idealisation of success and subscribing to a never enough illusion? Is success a one size fits all?
By gradually turning my perception to gratitude for my life achievements, I came to realise I hardly ever recognised and acknowledged my own achievements. My measure of success was predicated on self-comparison with others. No matter what I did and did well, it was never good enough because I thought it did not measure up when compared to others.
I suspect I’m not alone in this aspect. Many of us grow up internally believing we’re failures and driven by an inner critical voice that refuses to acknowledge and validate us for the many seemingly significant successes that we achieve daily. We have adopted measures of success that are outside our own personal sphere and dismiss our successes if they are not in tandem with what others believe or expect of us. For instance, getting through a tough day is a valid measure of success, and yet for many of us, it’s not even worth noting. We just ‘get on with it’. It is this constant self-dismissal and ignorance of ourselves that leads to lack of self-acceptance. If done regularly enough, the self-dismissal of our achievements becomes an internal habit and eventually creates a belief that we’re not good enough.
I have found self-acceptance extremely important and critical for my emotional and spiritual growth and well-being. Exploring the following questions led me to self -acceptance:
- What relationship have I got with myself?
- Do I accept myself? How?
- Am I my own best friend?
- How do I encourage myself?
- Do I truly believe I am self-sufficient without admiration and validation by others?
- How do I measure my own success? and if all the material attributes like money and career status were removed today, would I still consider my life a success?
- Are my physical, emotional, and spiritual energies harmonised?
These questions were not easy for me to answer and are still a work in progress. However, as I get more comfortable with tackling them and exposing the obscured, shadow parts of myself, I accept myself more and I become more joyful. Taking responsibility for my happiness and well-being is liberating and lifts the burden and stress of trying to live up to others’ expectations and setting unrealistic standards for myself. It brings my life more in alignment with my internal values alongside society’s. Accepting ourselves for what we are leads to better care of not only our physical but our emotional health as well, resulting in healing and growth. We realise that we’re not lacking human beings but are simply living to the best of our ability in the moment, with the resources available to us. We should let go of the negativity and suffering and embrace our unique individual qualities or attributes.
I practice daily gratitude for everything I have and believe in my power and ability to achieve my dreams. I find balance by embracing the self. This is self-acceptance. Everyone’s journey to self-acceptance is different. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. Below I share some of the common pathways that help me promote self-acceptance in my day-to-day life:
- Embracing my uniqueness by being aware of what makes me special
- Accepting the inevitable and letting go of what I can’t change
- Identifying my strengths and doing things I love to do
- Practising self-compassion and self-love
- Setting realistic goals and creating a plan for gradually achieving them
- Creating affirmations to reinforce my self-worth
- Not comparing myself to others and believing in the equality of all, irrespective of status
- Having an open mind and embracing views that don’t align with mine
- Harnessing the support of family, friends, and like-minded people
I wish you the best in your life and encourage you to journey inside yourself to discover and celebrate the talents and successes you have achieved and will continue to achieve in your life, no matter how small or insignificant you might think they are. Cumulatively they make up and showcase the miracle that you are.