Remember that scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary where the character played by Colin Firth sheepishly confesses to Bridget “I like you – very much. Just as you are”.
That lovely moment is a pure expression of acceptance. And whilst many of us do accept the people in our lives unconditionally, it’s a lot rarer to feel that way about ourselves.
Learning to accept yourself is life-changing. For starters, you stop being so surreptitiously focused on securing acceptance from others.
But how do you learn to accept yourself, especially if you’re a person who sets high standards for themselves?
Here are some of the questions I’ve had about that over the years, and what I have discovered.
Q: What does it mean to accept yourself?
A: I find that it helps to think about how you behave towards someone you feel unconditional love for. You accept their positive and not so positive qualities, and when they mess up, you can easily contextualise their flawed behaviour.
When you accept yourself, you have that same level of grace.
Q: Why bother to learn to accept yourself?
A: As I mentioned in the beginning, there are a lot of reasons. In addition to the benefit I mentioned in the introduction, accepting yourself makes it possible to connect with other people in a deeper way.
Connection happens when we feel like we can be ourselves, and not be judged by the other person. When you think about it, only those who have accepted themselves can accept you.
This benefit alone is a reason to learn to accept yourself. Experiencing a greater sense of connection is a pretty reliable indicator that you’ll enjoy a happier and more fulfilling life.
Q: How do you know you accept yourself?
A: You know you accept yourself when you easily reach a perspective regarding your mistakes, mishaps and negative qualities.
In fact, the best way to know whether you accept yourself is to notice how you respond when you screw up.
Q: Are there any pre-conditions to accepting yourself?
A: You have to be able to understand yourself deeply – your hidden, underlying motivations and drivers. Without gaining an understanding of these things, I don’t see how you can learn to accept yourself. You will judge yourself overly harshly.
Understanding is what leads to acceptance.
For that reason, the most important step towards accepting yourself is knowing yourself. (I’ve written a book dedicated to answering the question of how to know yourself, which you might want to check out.)
Q: Why is it hard to accept yourself?
A: Accepting yourself is a tall order for pretty much everyone. That’s because we all learned early on that certain aspects of us weren’t acceptable. As I explain in this article, we spend our lives trying to hide those qualities and traits from others and ourselves.
Then there are the other reasons we don’t accept ourselves: for example, unfavourable social comparison, or not being where you expected to be in life. Our egos insist on having us measure ourselves up against others constantly.
We also make the mistake of confusing approving of ourselves with never changing or getting better, and not getting what we want in life.
In reality, the two aren’t related: you can accept yourself and change yourself at the same time.
Q: Will accepting myself as I am stop me from improving?
A: When you accept yourself, you love yourself. You will act in your own best interests, which will lead to positive change. It’s a myth that acceptance leads to resignation.
Think of acceptance as letting go of the things we cannot control. This way, you can focus your energy on that which you can control, which is empowering.
Q: Is lack of self-acceptance more of a problem for some personality types?
A: I personally believe that some personality types are more challenged in accepting themselves.
Learning your unique personality type using the Enneagram and Myers Briggs will help you to know where, how and why you unconsciously draw lines around self-acceptance. It’ll allow you to develop some self-compassion (internally directed kindness) for yourself.
Q: How do we cultivate self-acceptance
A: There are five practices that I would highlight.
Understand yourself. This is absolutely key. Once you understand why you do what you do (and there is always a ‘why’ underneath our behaviours), then you will naturally begin to accept yourself. Set the intention to improve your self-awareness.
The second most important thing is to deliberately focus on your strengths, which helps to counter our tendency to focus on our flaws. The most essential thing for me has been learning my Myers Briggs type. I’m not sure why, but this has helped me to truly recognise my personality strengths more than anything else I’ve done.
Forgive yourself. Past regrets can keep us from accepting ourselves. Whether it’s about something you’ve done or a personality quirk that has created problems for you, it’s important to accept that can’t change the past but you can learn from your earlier mistakes.
Practice mindfulness as a way to notice the voice of the inner critic when it arises, instead of being lost to it. Practising mindfulness is an absolutely key life practice for multiple reasons. Read this guide to why and how to establish a mindfulness habit.
Be working on your goals. Many of our problems with self-acceptance come from knowing that we aren’t acting in our own best interests. For more on that idea, read this article about how to like and love yourself.
The suggestions I have made are easier said than implemented. However, with daily awareness and consistent effort, you can learn to accept yourself.
Focus on understanding yourself first, and the other things should fall into place.