The issue of self- acceptance is a complex one and there are a number of components to consider. First though, the negative affect of non-acceptance of one’s self can be dangerous to one’s health and wellbeing. Non-acceptance of self leads one to be highly self-critical, denying of their emotional needs, inability to learn from past mistakes, inability to set realistic goals, isolating and unable to form positive relationships, and being unaware and/or unappreciative of their strengths and positive qualities. It keeps a person in a negative space, could lead to depression and social anxiety and colours everything we do. Non-acceptance is addiction’s tool that serves to numb the feelings associated with negative feelings about self and behavior.
Self-acceptance is about accepting the self unconditionally, negative parts, and all. Now that is a large order and generally self-acceptance is a “work in progress”. It is challenging to be fully self-accepting and maybe in order to continue to grow as person, a person needs to accept the challenging parts but see them as things they are willing and able to change. Jung called the dark part of self, the shadow side. Knowing and accepting the shadow side is the work of personal growth.
The advertising industry bombards everyone with messages about “not being good enough”, not being handsome or pretty enough, not being thin enough or having teeth that are not white enough. Western individualistic values suggest that people should be self-sufficient, financially secure, coupled with a spouse, a fabulous career, and two children with a lovely home in the suburbs. If people do not see themselves as having this level of success then they feel they are “not good enough” and a failure in terms of society’s values. Models of beauty, wealth, and success that the media and other institutions portray are ways that society invites consumer behavior and a striving for success and serves as a method of social control. The dark side is that many people feel they do not measure up. Society as a whole tends to be self-depreciating and guilt producing (see blog on Guilt)
“Not being good enough” is synonymous with non self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is grounded in the feelings of belonging, worthiness, and competence. These feelings usually are core to a person’s being and have origins in childhood. If children consistently had responsibilities beyond what their age would dictate, they could feel overwhelmed and develop issues around competence. If children were told over and over that they couldn’t do anything right, they develop issues of competence. If children struggle in school they develop issues of competence. If they were pampered and not allowed to gain life skills by learning from their mistakes they could lack feelings of competence.
Belonging is an issue that is partly based in attachment with significant others, in feeling part of something greater than self, and of feeling connected to peers, the workplace, or community. A person can feel like an outsider based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical characteristics, financial state, or age if they are not part of the dominant group of their culture. Modern culture is increasingly fragmented and the nature of it can make people feel unconnected especially if they do not fit with the ideal model of success and worthiness.
Worthiness is, in part, connected with the feeling of deserving, of feeling like one has value as a person for whom they are, not necessarily for what they do for others or society as a whole. It is also connected with how we interpret the value that society places on particular attributes through our conditioning. Values such as being successful, being of the dominant ethnicity or gender or age, or sexual orientation and being worthy of being treated with respect, worthy of being loved, worthy of gifts or complements from another, worthy of having a safe environment, food, and shelter, a good job etc. Non-acceptance of self suggests to some that they do not deserve love, safety, and being treated with success.
Fostering self-acceptance requires unhooking from our conditioning and it is a process that requires an examination of how we became non-accepting, forgiveness of self and others, changing self-talk and even changing the people that are in one’s circle. It means being gentle and compassionate with one’s self, accepting one’s humanness and flaws, and even celebrating successes and strengths. I will elaborate more on these strategies in Part 2 of Fostering Self- acceptance.
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