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The Importance Of Self-Acceptance

Monday, 16th May 2011

The Importance Of Self-Acceptance

When you accept yourself (and everything about yourself) unconditionally, you give yourself as person a sense of value and allow yourself to achieve your goals.

I recently spoke to the daughter of a friend who was in a state of distress. When I asked what the problem was, I received the reply ‘I’m a loser’.

When I enquired further as to what this rather harsh self-judgement was based on, she explained that because she found it difficult to make friends, she felt worthless as a person. Half an hour later I had ascertained this so-called worthless person spoke 3 languages, wrote poetry and even had a black belt in karate (I kept out of ‘roundhouse’ range). She was obviously neither a loser nor worthless, but had simply made the made the mistake we all make of judging her entire self as a person against a single measurement criterion, in this case social skills. 

Humans have survived and prospered as a species by being both co-operative and competitive. Being competitive is part of our DNA, (whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all competitive about something) and it’s therefore natural that we judge our performances in life against the performances of others. I’m a keen golfer and my handicap is a good indication of how I rate in that sport. But, whilst my golfing performances are important to me, they are not a measurement of my worth as person (and sometimes they’re not much of a measurement of my ability as a golfer). No matter how hard I try or how well I play, there will always be lots of people who are a lot better than me. I don’t particularly like it, but I accept it.

So how do you rate a human being? 

By how clever they are? By how successful they are in business? By how good they are at sport? By how kind or generous they are? By how much money they have? By what they weigh or what they look like? There are lots of ways you can rate human performance in a specific area like sport, or intelligence or strength, but can you accurately and objectively rate the entity that is a human being?

Probably not. How would you set the measurement criteria? The reality is that people are far too complex to be rated as... people.

As REBT founder Albert Ellis argues, each person consists of literally millions of acts, thoughts  and traits during their lifetime. Logic suggests that it is impossible to accurately assess all these at any one point. Not only that, trying to do (as Ellis also argues) is likely to make you anxious, unhappy and ineffective.

And yet, that’s exactly what we have tendency to try to do – judge ourselves as people using inappropriate measurement criteria. Not surprisingly therefore, self esteem (i.e. how people rate themselves) is right at the core of many people’s problems.

People who are good at business or sport often dislike themselves because they’re not popular. People who are kind and generous regard themselves as failures because they have no money. Many people even base their self-worth on their physical appearance.

Most of us accept that in many areas of life other people have better skills than us, which is why we pay to be entertained by people like sports stars, singers, dancers and actors and why we admire doctors.

Not being as good or successful as our heroes and heroines doesn’t seem to matter too much, because such people live in a different world and we’re not constantly comparing our lives to theirs.

Problems tend to arise much closer to home when we rate ourselves against our peers, i.e. people we live near, work with or even go to school with.

These are people we feel we should be able to compete successfully with in life. So, when everyone else but us seems to have something that we want (e.g. money, a husband, a family, a good body shape, a good job, nice clothes, etc, etc) we can start to think we’ve failed.

The particular skill or attribute or possession that we would like to have but don’t have can quickly become the one we define our whole selves by e.g.

 ‘I must be slim and attractive/be successful in my career/be popular and if I’m not it’s terrible and it means I’m a failure as a person’.

So what’s the answer? The starting point is to accept that we are who we are and we can’t be anyone else.

In life we all get dealt a hand of cards. Some people get good cards and some people get not so good cards. It’s not fair but that’s just the way it is.

 It’s not about what we’ve got, it’s what we do with what we’ve got.

 Just like in cards when the player with a weak hand out bluffs the player with the strong hand, history is littered with examples of people who’ve squandered great advantage and people who’ve overcome great disadvantage and adversity.

 When you accept yourself unconditionally you’re more likely to:

    Value yourself as a unique human being

    Be at peace with yourself

    Realistically appraise your skills and abilities

    Set yourself challenging and realistic targets

    Work hard to achieve your targets

     dentify and obtain any additional resources you need to help to achieve your targets