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6 Steps to Self-Acceptance

The best gift you can give yourself.

Key points

  • Self-acceptance means that you understand you are human, with all your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Self-acceptance does not mean you’re perfect or better than others.
  • Accepting yourself will help you become more accepting, and less critical, of others.

“We only become what we are
by the radical and deep-seated refusal
of that which others have made of us.
” — Jean-Paul Sartre

‘Tis the season for gift giving. It’s also the time of year when people ask you what gifts you want this holiday season. As you think about what you might want a loved one to give you, why not consider the most important gift you can give yourself? I believe that the most valuable gift is self-acceptance.

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We hear a lot about the importance of self-love and self-compassion, but I have found in my clinical work that developing self-love is more difficult unless you have first worked on self-acceptance.

What is self-acceptance?

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.

Self-acceptance means that you understand you are human, walking this universal journey of humankind, and that, of course, you have strengths and weaknesses. It means you accept that you have had—and will continue to have—failures and successes but that you are willing to engage in the ongoing process of self-growth. You realize that being imperfect is OK, and you make the decision to stop beating yourself up for every little thing you dislike about yourself; instead, you accept your imperfections as a part of being human. Self-acceptance doesn’t mean you won’t work on certain attributes for your own personal growth, but it does mean that you relinquish the unrealistic notion that you’re flawed if you’re not perfect.

Many of us grow up in family environments and in a culture in which we are valued for what we do and how we look, rather than for who we are. We tend to define our success by doing and image rather than being. We can get easily caught up in worrying about what others think of us rather than what we think about ourselves.

We not only worry about being criticized or judged by others, but our inner critic incessantly criticizes and judges us—never shutting up! That inner negative voice constantly reminds us that we are not good enough, no matter how hard we try. Sadly, a client of mine who was struggling with accepting her mistakes and flaws initially told me that she wanted this engraved on her headstone: “She tried and tried and tried… and then she died.”

We have to wonder why so many of us are so severely critical of ourselves. But if we have the power to beat ourselves up, we also have the power to stop beating ourselves up.

6 steps to self-acceptance

1. Make a commitment to work on self-acceptance. This simply means you decide to address your level of self-acceptance and work on it. To begin, notice your self-talk and whatever you are beating yourself up for. Keep a self-acceptance journal and write down the messages you are sending yourself.

2. Assess and work on any past trauma. If you have trauma in your past, take note of it and write about it in your journal. Try to identify any trauma you have experienced and begin to process it. You may need to do this with a therapist.

3. Determine your own value system. 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 value 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.

4. Use your adult self to correct the negative messages you are sending yourself. Using your paternal or maternal adult self, speak to your inner child and correct the negative messages you’re sending yourself. Write to your inner child and talk to him or her as you would talk to any small child. Explain why the messages are wrong and decide how you want to correct them. For example, if the message is “I am not good enough,” explain to your inner child why you are good enough.

5. Forgive yourself for mistakes and failures. Make a conscious decision to offer yourself forgiveness. We can’t blame ourselves for things we didn’t know or weren’t aware of before, even if we are aware of those things now. It’s important to learn from our mistakes, but it is never helpful to keep punishing ourselves for regrets we may have.

6. Accept imperfection. No one is perfect, and no one can be perfect. Ask yourself: Who do I think I am that I have to be perfect, but I don’t expect others to be? Learn to accept yourself for all of who you are: your strengths, weaknesses, mistakes, and all.

Self-acceptance is the best gift you can give yourself this season, and it can take the form of your upcoming New Year’s resolutions. It's not a quick fix and will take some time, but it’s worth it. You are worth it. Being self-accepting will help with accepting others and with being less critical of yourself and others. A great goal for the New Year and this holiday season.


Additional resources are available on my website.

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