From time to time, Integrity Counseling finds material from other sources which we feel compelled to share. We do not take credit for the creation of this valuable content, yet hope to use our blog to further ideas and approaches we fully endorse. This is one such article.
—The staff at Integrity Counseling
By Courtney E. Ackerman, MA.
originally published on PositivePsychology.com
Do you accept yourself?
It might sound like an odd question; after all, what does it even mean to accept yourself?
Don’t we all accept ourselves as a regular part of living our day-to-day lives?
As it turns out, self-acceptance is not an automatic or default state. Many of us have trouble accepting ourselves exactly as we are. It’s not so hard to accept the good parts of ourselves, but what about the rest? Surely we shouldn’t accept our flaws and failures?
In fact, that’s exactly what we should do! Read on to learn why we need to accept ourselves, the good and the bad, and to get some practical suggestions on how to do it.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself but will also give you the tools to help your clients, students or employees show more compassion to and acceptance of themselves.
You can download the free PDF here.
This article contains:
- What is the Meaning of Self-Acceptance?
- Self-Acceptance Theory in Psychology
- Using Self-Acceptance in Therapy
- 5 Examples of Self-Acceptance in Practice
- Using Self-Acceptance in Addiction Recovery
- 6 Worksheets to Help Build Self-Acceptance (PDF)
- 25 Exercises to Increase Self-Acceptance
- Self-Acceptance Activities for Adults and Groups
- Measuring Self-Acceptance with Scales, Tests, and Questionnaires
- The Self-Acceptance Project and Summit
- Recommended Books on Self-Acceptance
- 29 Quotes and Affirmations on Self-Acceptance
- A Take-Home Message: It’s a Process
What is the Meaning of Self-Acceptance?
Self-acceptance is exactly what its name suggests: the state of complete acceptance of oneself. True self-acceptance is embracing who you are, without any qualifications, conditions, or exceptions (Seltzer, 2008).
For an academic definition, we can turn to Morgado and colleagues’ (2014) working definition:
“[Self-acceptance is] an individual’s acceptance of all of his/her attributes, positive or negative.”
This definition emphasizes the importance of accepting all facets of the self. It’s not enough to simply embrace the good, valuable, or positive about yourself; to embody true self-acceptance, you must also embrace the less desirable, the negative, and the ugly parts of yourself.
If you’re thinking that accepting all the negative aspects of yourself sounds difficult—you’re not wrong! It’s not easy to accept the things that we desperately want to change about ourselves; however—counterintuitively—it is only by truly accepting ourselves that we can even begin the process of meaningful self-improvement.
In other words, we must first acknowledge that we have undesirable traits and habits before we start off on our journey to improvement.
To begin working on yourself, the first step is not just self-acceptance, but unconditional self-acceptance. It’s relatively easy to accept ourselves when we just did something great—won an award, fell in love, or started a fantastic new job—but accepting ourselves at our lowest and with our faults and flaws in stark relief is the real mark of unconditional self-acceptance.
According to therapist Russell Grieger (2013), unconditional self-acceptance is understanding that you are separate from your actions and your qualities. You accept that you have made mistakes and that you have flaws, but you do not let them define you.
“You accept that, as a fallible human being, you are less than perfect. You will often perform well, but you will also err at times… You always and unconditionally accept yourself without judgment” (Grieger, 2013).
When you practice unconditional self-acceptance, you can begin to love yourself, embrace your authentic self, and work on improving your less-than-desirable traits and qualities.
Self-Acceptance vs. Self-Esteem
Although self-acceptance is closely related to other “self” concepts, it is a distinct construct.
Its close cousin, self-esteem, is also centered on your relationship to yourself, but they differ in an important way. Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself—whether you feel you are generally good, worthwhile, and valuable—while self-acceptance is simply acknowledging and accepting that you are who you are.
As Seltzer (2008) puts it:
“Whereas self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more ‘esteem-able’ parts.”
Full self-acceptance can lay the foundations for positive self-esteem, and the two frequently go hand-in-hand, but they concern two different aspects of how we think and feel about ourselves.
Self-Acceptance Theory in Psychology
Although the ideas behind self-acceptance have existed for hundreds—if not thousands—of years, there is no unifying theory of self-acceptance in psychology.
We have studied self-acceptance and its relation to constructs like well-being, self-esteem, and mental health, but it is almost as if no field or sub-field has come forth to claim self-acceptance as its own.
As a result, we have a scattering of findings on self-acceptance and encouragement to build self-acceptance, and we can find self-acceptance in “pop psychology” and non-academic arenas, but we, unfortunately, know little about how it develops and the larger role it plays in our personality development and throughout the course of our lives.
We explore this further in The Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass©.
Using Self-Acceptance in Therapy
However, what we do know is that a lack of self-acceptance is related to lower levels of well-being, and perhaps even mental illness (Vasile, 2013).
If low self-acceptance causes (or results from) mental illness and low levels of well-being, it stands to reason that higher self-acceptance can act as a protective factor or a buffer against these negative experiences. This idea that self-acceptance can lay the foundations for positive mental health is what drives the inclusion of self-acceptance in therapy.
If you have ever visited a therapist, you may have discussed the importance of accepting yourself and your reality. Even if you didn’t use those exact terms, it’s likely that you and your therapist worked on your ability to acknowledge the good and the bad within you, to accept all aspects of yourself, and to learn to separate what you do from who you are.
This is a good place to pause and point out one very important thing to understand about self-acceptance: to fully accept yourself and all of your flaws and mistakes does not mean that you condone any bad behavior or accept and embrace unhealthy or harmful actions.
You do not need to condone or approve of your actions, traits, and characteristics to accept that you did engage in those actions and that those undesirable traits and characteristics are a real part of who you are.
This is an important distinction to make, as some clients in therapy have trouble with the idea that they must accept themselves when they have done terrible things (or feel that they have done terrible things, even if they haven’t). Accepting reality for what it is, does not necessarily mean you like that reality.
In the same way, accepting yourself for who you are and acknowledging what you have done does not mean you must like, appreciate, or celebrate every aspect of yourself. In fact, accepting those less savory aspects of yourself is the first and most important step in removing, adapting, or improving that which you don’t like about yourself.
A good therapist can help you learn how to accept yourself and give you a framework you can use to build up your self-acceptance and begin to focus on improving yourself. If you’re specifically interested in working on your self-acceptance, there is a type of therapy that may be perfect for you: self-acceptance training.
The Good Therapy website describes it as “an educational, alternative approach to traditional therapy” provided through group workshop trainings. In these trainings, workshop leaders facilitate a “hypnotic trance state” in participants to help them set aside their self-doubt, self-criticism, and negative self-talk. This state is believed to make it easier for participants to enhance their own awareness and accept all aspects of themselves.
This is an alternative approach and there is little evidence to determine whether it is as effective as other forms of therapy, but if it’s something that interests you there is no harm in trying it!
5 Examples of Self-Acceptance in Practice
Now that we know what self-acceptance is and how it can benefit us, we can move on to another important question: What does self-acceptance look like? How do we know when we have “reached” self-acceptance?
Marquita Herald (2015) from the Emotionally Resilient Living website puts it this way:
“Can you look in the mirror and truly accept the unique, wonderful work-in-progress person staring back at you?”
You will know that you have achieved your goal of self-acceptance when you can look at yourself in the mirror and accept every last bit of what makes you who you are, and when you no longer try to mitigate, ignore, or explain away any perceived faults or flaws—physical or otherwise.
Self-acceptance can look different for each of us, depending on what we have struggled with and which pieces of ourselves we’d rather not think about. Here are some examples of what self-acceptance might look like for a variety of people:
- A man going through a divorce who feels like a failure because of it might experience self-acceptance as acknowledging that he made some mistakes and that his marriage failed, but that does not make him a failure.
- A woman struggling with anorexia may accept herself as a human being with an imperfect body, acknowledge that she approaches her imperfection from a harmful perspective, and commit to working on this perspective.
- A student who works hard only to receive Cs and the occasional B in college could reach a point of self-acceptance in which he realizes that studying and taking tests is not his strong suit and that this is okay because he has other strengths.
- A girl with low self-esteem who actively ignores facing her self-doubt and self-defeating beliefs might experience self-acceptance through acknowledging and confronting her negative beliefs and cognitive distortions, and realizing that not everything she thinks is true.
- An employee who struggles to meet the goals set by a demanding boss may accept herself by accepting that sometimes she will fail to deliver, but that she can still be a good person even when she fails.
Using Self-Acceptance in Addiction Recovery
If you have ever found yourself in a group, therapy session, or even an institution focused on recovering from an addiction of any kind, the concept of self-acceptance is probably not new to you.
Acceptance of oneself and one’s reality is an essential building block of many recovery programs.
Acceptance is so important because those who abuse alcohol or other substances (or struggle with any other kind of addiction, like gambling or sex) are often prone to using denial as a coping mechanism to avoid facing their problems.
They may minimize, rationalize, forget, deceive themselves, or even repress the memories of their behavior. While this coping mechanism can be helpful in some situations, it’s never a good idea when you are trying to overcome and heal from substance abuse (Lancer, 2016).
Even when an addict recognizes that he or she has a problem, they may believe that they can control every aspect of their lives through simply wanting to change. This is a dangerous place to be since there is much that we do not have control over in our lives.
This is why acceptance is so vital to the recovery process; before they can make meaningful changes to their lives, those struggling with addiction must first accept:
- That they have a problem.
- That they do not have complete control over every aspect of their life.
- That they have limitations and flaws.
- The reality of their circumstances (Lancer, 2016).
Then, once the individual has learned to accept reality and themselves as they are in this moment, they can begin to work on changing the things they can change.
The aim is not to encourage self-blame and guilt; instead, the aim is to move from the perspective that says “I don’t like who I am” to “I’m going to be on my own side while I create change” (Rosenthal, 2015). This is the power of self-acceptance; you allow yourself to change for the better when you plant yourself firmly in your present reality and decide to help yourself instead of bury yourself under doubt, criticism, and blame.
Addiction expert Michele Rosenthal hits this point home when she says, “In recovery, when you accept who and where you are in the recovery process you appreciate the truth of what that means today while at the same time admitting that change needs to occur” (2015).
NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and Self-Acceptance
Although most people are probably more familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), there is another addiction recovery program that uses self-acceptance as its cornerstone: Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
According to the NA program, self-acceptance lies at the heart of an addict’s disease. Narcotics offer them a way to escape from the critical evaluation of themselves and allow them to remain in denial about their problem.
When an addict begins their journey to recovery, they are encouraged to focus first on self-acceptance:
“Self-acceptance permits balance in our recovery. We no longer have to look for the approval of others because we are satisfied with being ourselves. We are free to gratefully emphasize our assets, to humbly move away from our defects, and to become the best recovering addicts we can be. Accepting ourselves as we are means that we are all right, that we are not perfect, but we can improve” (Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1985).
To learn more about how self-acceptance is the key to addiction recovery, check out this PDF.
6 Worksheets to Help Build Self-Acceptance (PDF)
If you’d like to give self-acceptance a shot, there are several worksheets and handouts that you might find useful. Listed below are 6 of the most popular resources available to help you build your self-acceptance. For more worksheets, have a look at our selection of ACT Worksheets.
Building Self-Acceptance through Positive Self-Talk (Handout)
Although not technically a worksheet, this handout is a valuable resource for teaching, understanding, and embracing self-acceptance. Plus, you can always take notes on it—that makes it a sort of worksheet, right?
This handout will walk the reader through a description of self-acceptance, a discussion of what sets self-acceptance apart from self-esteem, and—most important of all—how to build your self-acceptance.
Some positive self-talk examples are listed, including:
- “I am a good and caring person and deserve to be treated with respect.”
- “I am capable of achieving success in my life.”
- “There are people who love me and will be there for me when I need them.”
- “I deserve to be happy.”
- “I am allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Repeat these statements to yourself, acknowledge them, and absorb them, and you will be well on your way to self-acceptance and self-love.
Click here to download the handout.
The Radical SELF Forgiveness/Acceptance Worksheet
This worksheet comes from Colin Tipping at RadicalForgiveness.com and offers a comprehensive and insightful way to work on forgiving and accepting yourself. There are 22 sections to this worksheet, making it one of the most info- and activity-packed worksheets I’ve ever encountered, but every bit of it can be implemented to set you on a path towards greater self-acceptance.
Note that this worksheet frequently refers to a Higher Power, Divine Order, and other spiritual concepts; this makes it an excellent choice for those in recovery, as it mirrors the most common recovery programs. However, if you are not religious or spiritual, you can still benefit from the worksheet—try filling in the blanks with things like “Nature”, “Reason”, or “Reality.”
The worksheet starts off with the vital first step of identifying the action you need to forgive yourself for:
“What I am blaming myself for and what I hear my judging self saying to me about it is…”
Next, you are instructed to describe how you feel about yourself in this context and rate your current self-esteem.
In the third and fourth sections, you will acknowledge and accept your feelings, commit to refraining from judgment of yourself, and rate the guilt and shame you are feeling.
In the next section, you will determine whether your guilt is appropriate or inappropriate and explain why.
The sixth section helps you realize that some of your beliefs and self-judgments are simply not true:
“As I really examine how I feel about myself, I realize that underlying my feelings of shame, there is a belief or a set of beliefs that I hold about myself that are not true. My self-judgments have been based in what others, particularly my parents, saw in me and taught me about myself. For example:”
Once you have listed an example of the beliefs you hold that you recognize as untrue, you will move into the next set of sections. For sections 7 through 15, you will read a statement about your current thoughts and feelings and rate how open you are to each one on this scale:
After rating your current state, section 16 will give you an opportunity to release yourself from worry, anxiety, or guilt over the problematic issues you identified at the beginning. Section 17 allows you to forgive those who implanted the faulty idea or untrue belief in you and identify them by name.
In the 19th section, you will encounter a loving statement of self-forgiveness that is ready for you to embrace—all you need to do is add your name and read it to yourself.
In the 20th section, you will affirm that you surrender to whatever higher power you believe in and embrace the healing power of love.
Section 21 gives you space to write a note to anyone that, upon completing this worksheet, you realize you have hurt or negatively affected in any way.
Finally, the 22nd section gives you the opportunity to write yourself a final note of forgiveness, and/or use the ready-made statement:
“I completely forgive __________________ for I now realize that you did nothing wrong and that everything is in Divine order. I acknowledge, accept and love you unconditionally just the way you are. I recognize that I am a spiritual being having a human experience, and I love and support myself in every aspect of my humanness.”
At the bottom of this section, you are instructed to rate your current level of self-esteem again. If you compare it to your earlier rating, you will likely see at least a small boost to how you feel about yourself.
To see this worksheet or download it for your own use or for your clients, click here.
Improving Self-Esteem: Accepting Yourself Workbook
This resource is a workbook with several self-compassion exercises, activities, and important pieces of information that can help you to become more self-accepting, improve your self-esteem, and enhance your self-compassion.
The workbook includes activities like:
- Focusing on the Positive You (listing a couple of your positive qualities)
- Positive Qualities Record (making a more comprehensive list of your positive qualities)
- Positive You Journal (jotting down past and present examples of your positive qualities)
- Acting Like the Positive You (committing to engaging in and using your positive qualities, as well as engaging in pleasurable activities, and recording what you did)
- Fun & Achievement Activities Scheduling (treating yourself to some fun and acknowledging your achievements)
Along with some helpful information, tips, and suggestions, these activities and worksheets can help you build a solid foundation and start to improve your self-acceptance and feel good about yourself.
This workbook is also available for download here.
What I Believe Worksheet
This worksheet from the Self-Esteem Experts (Susyn Reeve and Joan Breiner) will help you identify your core beliefs and realize where they came from, an important step in getting to know and accepting yourself. Once you have completed this first part, the worksheet can also help you evaluate the truth of these beliefs, determine how much they influence you, and decide which ones to elevate in your mind and which to scrap.
This worksheet lists six questions to guide you through this process:
- Write the beliefs you learned about yourself when you were young from your…
- Which of these messages continue to dominate your thoughts today?
- Which messages support and which messages detract from your confidence, happiness, and satisfaction?
- Are these messages truth or simply a belief (a thought that has been thought so often that you believe it is the truth)?
- Which messages do you want to change to improve your self-esteem?
- Write the new thoughts you choose to believe to support your positive self-esteem, confidence, and happiness?
Use this worksheet to get to know your true self, identify any positive or potentially problematic core beliefs, and commit to challenging those that are unhealthy and unhelpful.
Click here to download the worksheet.
Love & Admire Me Worksheet
Another great worksheet from the Self-Esteem Experts is the Love & Admire Me Worksheet.
There are two parts to this worksheet: one that you complete right away, and one that you implement daily for seven days.
Part 1 is to choose the characteristics, qualities, talents, skills, or abilities you admire in yourself and list specific situations in which you embodied them. (Remember: When you focus on the specific details using all your sense you automatically reinforce self-esteem building brain pathways).
There is space for you to list several positive aspects of yourself with examples. It might be hard to think of them at first, but give it a shot—you will likely find that it gets easier as you go.
In Part 2, the focus is on current ways you are using or applying the positive aspects of yourself. The instructions are:
“Each day, preferably in the evening before you go to sleep, make a list of the actions you took that demonstrate the qualities, gifts, and talents you admire in yourself. The more you practice seeing yourself through the eyes of admiration, the more you strengthen your self-confidence muscle.”
This worksheet is a great way to not only identify and start paying attention to the positive aspects of yourself (something that can be extremely difficult for those with low self-esteem and low self-acceptance) but to actually train your brain to notice your positive qualities and actions as you go.
You can download this worksheet by clicking here.
How to Love Yourself Worksheet
Finally, this third worksheet from the Self-Esteem Experts is the How to Love to Yourself Worksheet.
The point of the worksheet is to focus on the good things about yourself: the things you like, appreciate and implement in your life.
The instructions note that this is not just a list of things you like doing—although you will probably enjoy applying your strengths and talents in most cases—but a list of what you honor and appreciate about yourself.
Here is how the worksheet guides you into identifying and leaning in on the good aspects of yourself:
- List what you honor and appreciate about yourself—your gifts, talents, skills, and abilities. Here are some questions to consider while making your list:
a. What do I appreciate about who I am?
b. What are my strengths?
c. What do my friends appreciate about me?
d. What do I like about others? Which of these characteristics do I have?
e. How would people who love me describe me?
- When you have completed your list, read it aloud while looking in a mirror.
a. Begin each statement with the words, “[Your name], I love your…” (e.g., “Joan, I love your sense of humor! Joan, I love your willingness to help others!”).
b. Begin each statement with the words, “I love my…” (e.g., “I love my commitment to feeling good about myself! I love my openness to learn new things!”).
Completing this worksheet can help you start to open yourself up to the good aspects of yourself instead of focusing solely on the bad; self-acceptance requires acknowledging and accepting both the positive and the negative and maintaining a healthy balance in your attention to them.
If you’d like to see this worksheet for yourself or download it for your own use or use with your clients, click here to trigger the download.
25 Exercises to Increase Self-Acceptance
If you’re more of a “hands-on” learner and less interested in reading and writing to boost your self-acceptance, there are many other exercises, activities, and techniques that you can implement to start accepting yourself. A few of the best and most popular of these are listed below.
The SMART Recovery website shares a great exercise for working on your self-acceptance, no matter what issues you have been struggling with.
Follow these instructions to try the Self-Acceptance Exercise:
- To overcome your irrational thinking leading to low self-acceptance, complete the top half of the circle by filling in the appropriate spaces with pluses (+ ‘s) for the things you do well at work or school and with minuses (-‘s) for the things you don’t do so well. Then complete the bottom half of the circle by writing in things you do well and things you like about yourself, as well as things you don’t do well or don’t like about yourself.
- Rest of Life
To counter the tendency to put yourself down when things aren’t going so well, ask yourself the following questions:
● Does this bad situation (mistake, failure, rejection, criticism) take away my good qualities?
● Does it make sense to conclude that “I am totally hopeless” because of one or more negative things that have happened?
- Thoughts to Help Increase Self-Acceptance
● I’m not a bad person when I act badly; I am a person who has acted badly.
● I’m not a good person when I act well and accomplish things; I am a person who has acted well and accomplished things.
● I can accept myself whether I win, lose, or draw.
● I would better not define myself entirely by my behavior, by others’ opinions, or by anything else under the sun.
● I can be myself without trying to prove myself.
● I am not a fool for acting foolishly. If I were a fool, I could never learn from my mistakes.
● I am not an ass for acting asininely.
● I have many faults and can work on correcting them without blaming, condemning, or damning myself for having them.
● Correction, yes! Condemnation, no!
● I can neither prove myself to be a good nor a bad person. The wisest thing I can do is simply to accept myself.
● I am not a worm for acting wormily.
● I cannot “prove” human worth or worthlessness; it’s better that I do not try to do the impossible.
● Accepting myself as being human is better than trying to prove myself superhuman or rating myself as subhuman.
● I can itemize my weaknesses, disadvantages, and failures without judging or defining myself
● by them.
● Seeking self-esteem or self-worth leads to self-judgments and eventually to self-blame. Self- acceptance avoids these self-ratings.
● I am not stupid for acting stupidly. Rather, I am a non-stupid person who sometimes produces stupid behavior.
● I can reprimand my behavior without reprimanding myself.
● I can praise my behavior without praising myself.
● Get after your behavior! Don’t get after yourself.
● I can acknowledge my mistakes and hold myself accountable for making them -but without berating myself for creating them.
● It’s silly to favorably judge myself by how well I’m able to impress others, gain their approval, perform, or achieve.
● It’s equally silly to unfavorably judge myself by how well I’m able to impress others, gain their approval, perform, or achieve.
● I am not an ignoramus for acting ignorantly.
● When I foolishly put myself down, I don’t have to put myself down for putting myself down.
● I do not have to let my acceptance of myself be at the mercy of my circumstances.
● I am not the plaything of others’ reviews and can accept myself apart from others’ evaluations of me.
● I may at times need to depend on others to do practical things for me, but I don’t have to emotionally depend on anyone in order to accept myself. Practical dependence is a fact! Emotional dependence is a fiction!
● I am beholden to nothing or no one in order to accept myself.
● It may be better to succeed, but success does not make me a better person.
● It may be worse to fail, but failure does not make me a worse person.
Click here to see this exercise on the SMART Recovery website.
If you’re looking for practical, everyday things you can do to enhance your sense of self-acceptance, take a leaf from the book of several different psychologists and therapists in building your self-acceptance by following these 12 suggestions:
- Set an intention for yourself to “shift paradigms from a world of blame, doubt, and shame to a world of allowance, tolerance, acceptance, and trust.”
- Identify, acknowledge, and celebrate your strengths.
- Consider the people around you, and ask yourself these four questions: (1) Who speaks negatively to me? (2) Who reinforces negative self-talk? (3) Why do I allow such people to hurt me? (4) Are they just doing my own dirty work because I’m not willing to choose a different reality?
- Create a support system by distancing yourself from those people you identified in suggestion #3 and surrounding yourself with people who accept and believe in you.
- Forgive yourself, put your regrets in the past, and move on.
- Shush your inner critic with a realistic mantra like “I am only human, I am doing the best that I can and that is all I can do.”
- Grieve the loss of unrealized dreams; accept and mourn for the hopes you had that will never come to fruition, then get back to being the best “you” possible.
- Perform charitable acts and do good for others.
- Realize that acceptance is not resignation; accepting that there are some things you cannot control allows you to focus on the things you can control, facilitating positive change.
- Visualize and speak to your highest self to learn how to accept, empathize with, and love yourself.
- Be kind to yourself in order to enhance your self-compassion.
- Fake it ‘til you make it; act like you believe you are a worthy person, and eventually, you will come to believe it (Tartakovsky, 2016).
Leo Babauta (n.d.) from Zen Habits lists 7 other techniques you can implement to enhance your self-acceptance:
1. Practice relaxed awareness.
What is relaxed awareness? As opposed to constant distraction, or concentrated focus, relaxed awareness is a soft consciousness of our thoughts, feelings, pain, self-rating, and judgment, etc. It’s an awareness of our existence, and the stream of phenomena that is occurring at this moment, including thoughts and emotions and outside stimuli.
To practice: close your eyes for a minute, and instead of pushing thoughts away or trying to focus on your breath, just softly notice your thoughts and feelings and body. You might see negative thoughts or emotions — that’s OK. Just notice them, watch them. Don’t try to turn them into positive thoughts or push them away.
You can do this practice for 5 minutes a day, or up to 30 minutes if you find it useful.
2. Welcome what you notice.
When you practice relaxed awareness, you’ll notice things — negative thoughts, fears, happy thoughts, self-judgments, etc. We tend to want to stop the negative thoughts and feelings, but this is just a suppression, an avoidance, a negating of the negative.
Instead, welcome these phenomena, invite them in for a cup of tea, give them a hug. They are a part of your life, and they are OK. If you feel bad about how you’ve been doing with exercise, that’s OK. Hug the bad feeling, comfort it, let it hang around for a while. They are not bad but are opportunities to learn things about ourselves.
When we run from these “bad” feelings, we create more pain. Instead, see the good in them, and find the opportunity. Be OK with them.
3. Let go of rating yourself.
Another thing you’ll notice, once you start to pay attention, is self-rating. We rate ourselves compared to others, or rate ourselves as “good” or “bad” at different things, or rate ourselves as flabby or too skinny or ugly.
This is not a very useful activity. That doesn’t mean to let it go, but just to notice it, and see what results from it. After realizing that self-rating repeatedly causes you pain, you’ll be happy to let it go, in time.
4. Gratitude sessions.
Wake up in the morning and think about what you’re grateful for. Include things about yourself. If you failed at something, what about that failure are you grateful for?
If you aren’t perfect, what about your imperfection can you be grateful for? Feel free to journal about these things each day, or once a week if that helps.
5. Compassion & forgiveness for yourself.
As you notice judgments and self-rating, see if you can turn them into forgiveness and compassion. If you judge yourself for not doing well at something, or not being good enough at something, can you forgive yourself for this, just as you might forgive someone else?
Can you learn to understand why you did it, and see that ultimately you don’t even need forgiveness? If we really seek to understand, we realize that we did the best we could, given our human-ness, environment, what we’ve learned and practiced, etc. And so we don’t need to forgive, but instead to understand, and seek to do things that might relieve the pain.
6. Learn from all parts.
We tend to try to see our successes as good, and the failures as bad, but what if we see that everything is something to learn from? Even the dark parts — they are parts of us, and we can find interesting and useful things in them too.
7. Separate from your emotions
When you are feeling negative emotions, see them as a separate event, not a part of you, and watch them. Remove their power over you by thinking of them, not as commandments you must follow or believe in, but rather passing objects, like a leaf floating past you in the wind. The leaf doesn’t control you, and neither do negative emotions.
8. Talk to someone.
This is one of my favorite techniques. We get so in our heads that it’s difficult to separate our thoughts and emotions, to see things clearly. Talking through these issues with another person — a friend, spouse, co-worker — can help you to understand yourself better. Use the talking technique together with one of the above techniques.
Finally, psychologist Russell Grieger (2013) takes a slightly different tack than Babauta with these five great suggestions for working on building your self-acceptance:
- Give yourself a letter grade with regard to the degree to which you live by the principle of unconditional self-acceptance. Are you satisfied with your grade? What grade would you prefer?
- Name two situations in which you tend to judge your whole self. What could you tell yourself in these two situations to help you unconditionally accept yourself, despite any mistakes you may make or flaws you may possess?
- Make a commitment to spend two minutes six times a day (breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, supper, and bedtime) drawing the distinction between your self and your performances. Remind yourself at these times to not judge yourself – as either all good or all bad – from that time till the next rehearsal.
- Practice applying unconditional self-acceptance to others. That is, practice only rating their behaviors and traits as good or bad, but never them as a whole person. This is Unconditional Other Acceptance.
- Identify one person you know that could benefit from learning about unconditional self-acceptance. Plan where and when you could meet this person to explain it. Teaching others a truth helps us to learn it ourselves.
Self-Acceptance Activities for Adults and Groups
If you’re interested in activities and exercises you can do in a group instead of on our own, there are a few options you can consider. Check out a couple of sample activities listed below.
Developing Self-Acceptance/Examining Self-Measurement
This exercise from the Australian Department of Education and Training is a good one for older students, adults, and anyone else who is interested in building their self-acceptance. It’s part-lesson, part-exercise, making it an excellent fit for the classroom.
Follow these instructions to give it a try:
Setting the Stage:
To introduce the lesson, have the students find a space in the room away from others and have them do some stretching (standing up, legs slightly apart and stretching arms to the ceiling then gradually bringing them down by their sides and bending forward to finally release and shake the hands).
Do this 3 or 4 times, encouraging them to breathe fully and deeply whilst stretching. Students then return to seats. Explain that stretching is an excellent way to re-energise the body and to facilitate the release of endorphins (“the feel good” chemicals released from the brain during exercise) – which will always help in generally “feeling good” about yourself.
a. Ask students to cut or tear a piece of paper into 2 sections and on the top of one piece, write “NEGATIVE” and on the other “POSITIVE”. Next, ask them to spend a few minutes thinking about all the negative statements they tell themselves, then write these statements on the “NEGATIVE” paper (e.g., I’m hopeless at math, I can’t make friends easily).
b. Explain that things people tell themselves can make them feel bad or good and it’s important for people to examine these things to see if they are true and to work toward telling themselves positive things so they can feel good more often.
c. Ask students to spend another few minutes thinking about all the positive sentences they tell themselves or that they could tell themselves and to write them on the page headed “POSITIVE” (e.g., I’m nice, I’m a good friend).
d. Go around the group and have each student read at least one positive statement he or she wrote about him or herself. If a student has difficulty thinking of a positive statement, have another class member suggest one.
e. Now ask the students to examine the assumptions in the statements they wrote for both the NEGATIVE and POSITIVE papers. Is there a difference in the assumptions? For example, are their more “provable beliefs” in the positive or negative statements? Does the negative thought seem as real when it is written out as when they heard it in their head?
f. To finish, ask students to crumple up the NEGATIVE paper and place it in the rubbish bin and have them place the POSITIVE statements in the front of a much-used file/diary to remind them of these statements.
a. Now explain that there are some personal characteristics that a person can change and others that he or she can’t. Ask them to raise their hand if they believe that they can change the following:
iii. Color of skin
iv. How we express our feelings
v. The year we were born
vi. How we handle anxiety
vii. The size of our families
viii. The color of our eyes
b. Create a suitable scene related to school life (e.g., a student hates sport because he believes that he is “no good” at it). Have students discuss the scene and have them break into groups to come up with different assumptions this student can act upon—as opposed to the negative assumptions initially suggested.
c. Explain to the students that the assumption that the student was making to start with was, “It is awful and I must not accept myself until I measure up to everyone else in the sport class.” In reality, it is impossible to predict whether or not one will ever measure up to everyone else, also that using words like “must” and “everyone” are examples of generalizing and that it is stretching the truth to believe that it is awful if you don’t measure up.
d. Finally, a more “provable belief” should be suggested (e.g., “I can accept myself without having to measure up to anyone else”).
Ask students to practice during the week, self-acceptance and to not focus on “measuring up” to others.
To see this activity for yourself or download it for use in your classroom or group, click here.
Positive Focus Group
This is a great activity for you to try with friends, family, and other loved ones. It will not only help you realize the positive aspects of yourself, which can help you get a balanced perspective, it can also help the other participants come to the same realizations!
To give it a shot, follow these instructions from Zdravko Lukovski (2015) at Enlightenment Portal:
Bring together the group—whether that’s family members, friends, classmates, coworkers, support group members, or anyone else who you think could contribute to and benefit from the experience.
Break the group into pairs, then set a time limit. If there are only three or four people attending the positive focus group, there is no need to break into pairs.
Focusing on one person at a time, the rest of the group talks about all of the things they like about him or her. When the time is up, another person becomes the subject of the conversation – and this goes on until every person in the group has been in the positive focus.
It’s a very powerful technique, but some people are shy to do it. Don’t be, choose only the people that you feel comfortable with and explain to them why you are doing that. They will almost certainly gladly accept your invitation and be happy to help.
Self-Acceptance and Meditation
If the exercises, activities, and worksheets didn’t help, you may want to try meditation.
Meditation is an ancient art, but one with science behind it; a regular meditation practice can help you find inner peace, calm yourself when your emotions are running wild, and even lead you to greater acceptance of yourself.
Mindfulness meditation can facilitate the process of self-acceptance through its focus on observing but not judging.
This non-judgmental awareness can not only allow you to practice seeing yourself without heaping on blame, guilt, and self-doubt, it can also help you train your brain to respond differently to anxiety and stress (Pillay, 2016).
Research suggests that a regular mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation (or mindful self-compassion) practice can aid you in building self-acceptance through influencing the emotion-processing portions of your brain and perhaps through increasing the overall connectivity throughout your brain (Pillay, 2016).
To give mindfulness meditation a shot at increasing your self-acceptance, follow this guide from Rezzan Hussey (2017) at ArtofWellBeing.com:
- Begin by bringing awareness to your breath.
- Take a few very full breaths before settling into natural breathing.
- Focus on becoming aware of your breath, noticing as it flows in and out of your lungs.
- Open yourself up to awareness—of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and of your environment.
- When your mind attempts to drift off on tangents, gently bring it back by telling yourself “thinking, thinking” and returning your awareness to your breath.
If this exercise left you hungry for more, you might enjoy a guided meditation. Try these guided meditations to maintain or expand your meditation practice:
- Guided Meditation for Self-Acceptance from MindfulnessExercises.com (link)
- Guided Meditation for Self-Acceptance from Sara Raymond at The Mindful Movement (link)
- Guided Meditation for Unconditional Self-Acceptance from Alicia Cramer (link)
Measuring Self-Acceptance with Scales, Tests, and Questionnaires
If you’re thinking that it sounds like a difficult task to measure self-acceptance, you’d be right. It’s a bit of a tricky thing to measure something so nebulous—and something that’s often buried and unacknowledged—but there are a few ways to do it.
These four scales and questionnaires are some of the most commonly used methods to measure self-acceptance.
Related reading: The Self-Compassion Scale and Test (Incl. PDF)
Generalized Expectancy for Success Scale (GESS)
The Generalized Expectancy for Success Scale, or GESS, is perhaps the most commonly used scale of self-acceptance, although it measures a specific niche of the construct: an individual’s expectations of future success and failure for themselves. It was developed by Fibel and Hale in 1978 and consists of 30 items rated on a scale from 1 (highly improbable) to 5 (highly probable).
All items begin with the same stem: “In the future I will…” and end with a statement about the respondent’s belief in some future success or failure.
Example items include:
- In the future, I will find that people don’t seem to understand what I am trying to say.
- In the future, I will deal poorly with emergency situations.
- In the future, I will carry through my responsibilities successfully.
- In the future, I will not make any significant contributions to society.
- In the future, I will succeed at most things I try.
Initial validation of the scale resulted in high test-retest reliability and expected correlations with related constructs (e.g., depression, hopelessness). Later validation provided evidence that the GESS scores correlate highly with Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale, giving further support for its validity (Mearns, 1989).
Expressed Acceptance of Self and Others
One of the foundational scales of self-acceptance was created in 1952 by researcher Emanuel M. Berger. It is called the Expressed Acceptance of Self and Others scale.
This scale consists of 64 items, 36 for the self-acceptance scale and 28 for the acceptance of others scale. All items in the self-portion are rated on a scale from 1 (not at all true of myself) to 5 (true of myself).
A higher score on the scale represents greater self-acceptance.
Unconditional Self-Acceptance Questionnaire (USAQ)
The Unconditional Self-Acceptance Questionnaire, or USAQ, is the most recently developed scale on our list. It was created by researchers Chamberlain and Haaga in 2001.
This measure consists of 20 statements rated on a scale from 1 (almost always untrue) to 7 (almost always true). Sample items include:
- I avoid comparing myself to others to decide if I am a worthwhile person.
- I set goals for myself that I hope will prove my worth.
- Sometimes I find myself thinking about whether I am a good or bad person.
- When I am criticized or when I fail at something, I feel worse about myself as a person.
Some items are scored normally (1 = 1 point, 7 = 7 points), while others—like the second example item—are reverse-scored (1 = 7 points, 7 = 1 point). Higher scores on the USAQ indicate greater unconditional self-acceptance.
Scores on this measure were found to correlate negatively with depression and anxiety and positively with happiness and general well-being.
Click here to read about the development of this scale and to see the scale in full.
Self-Acceptance Subscale of the Scales of Psychological Well-Being (SPWB)
Although the full scale (the Scales of Psychological Well-Being, or SPWB) provide a measure of overall psychological well-being, it is broken into six dimensions with six different subscales to measure each:
- Positive relations with other people
- Environmental mastery
- Purpose in life
- Personal growth
The self-acceptance subscale measures an individual’s ability to accept and embrace all that makes her who she is. A high score on this subscale indicates a positive attitude toward the self and acceptance of both the good and the bad, while a low score indicates that the individual likely feels negative about herself and is troubled about or in denial of the negative aspects of herself.
The SPWB consists of either 84 (long-form version) or 54 (medium-form version) items rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).
An example item from the self-acceptance subscale is:
- I like most aspects of my personality.
The SPWB has been validated and re-validated several times over, and remains one of the most reliable and methodologically sound measures of well-being, which indicates that the self-acceptance subscale is also a strong measure.
The Self-Acceptance Project and Summit
If you’re interested in learning more about self-acceptance and/or contributing to the cause of educating people about self-acceptance and encouraging its growth in others, you should check out the Self-Acceptance Project and the Self-Acceptance Summits.
The Self-Acceptance Project is intended to teach people how to be kind and compassionate towards themselves in any situation.
Author and self-acceptance expert Tami Simon created a series of online videos for this project in which she discusses self-acceptance with experts in psychology, spirituality, and creativity in order to learn more about what self-acceptance really is, how it develops, how we can foster our own self-acceptance, and how we can silence, neutralize, or perhaps even learn to live with our inner critics.
Expert guests include some of the big names in research that you might recognize, including Kristin Neff (renowned self-compassion expert), Brené Brown (leading expert in vulnerability research), Kelly McGonigal (Stanford health psychologist and expert in stress and success), Tara Brach (prodigious writer on the topic of self-acceptance), and Steven C. Hayes (expert in Relational Frame Theory and developer of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [ACT]).
Recommended Books on Self-Acceptance
If you’d like to learn more about self-acceptance with a smaller investment of time and money, there are several books that can help you get familiar. Some of the best books on the topic include:
- The Gift of Imperfection by Brené Brown (Amazon)
- Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love That Heals Fear and Shame by Tara Brach (Amazon)
- Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (Amazon)
- How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism by Stephen Guise (Amazon)
- Self-Acceptance: The Key to Recovery from Mental Illness by Victor Ashear and Vanessa Hastings (Amazon)
- Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary (Amazon)
- The Self-Acceptance Project: How to be Kind and Compassionate Toward Yourself in Any Situation by Tami Simon (Amazon)
- 50 Mindful Steps to Self-Esteem: Everyday Practices for Cultivating Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion by Janetti Marotta (Amazon)
29 Quotes and Affirmations on Self-Acceptance
Sometimes all we need to keep making progress or get back on the metaphorical horse after falling off is a good quote or affirmation. A simple sentence can make a world of difference when you take it to heart!
If you’re interested in using affirmations to help you on your self-acceptance journey, you can make your own or give some example affirmations a try.
To make your own, follow these instructions:
- Make two columns on a sheet of paper; call the first column “Negative Beliefs about Myself” and second column “Affirmations.”
- Come up with somewhere between five and ten negative beliefs that you hold about yourself (e.g., I’m fat and unattractive, I am not lovable, I can’t do anything right).
- In the Affirmations column, create a positive belief that you can use to confront the negative belief and implement as an affirmation in your life (e.g., I am okay just the way that I am, I am worthy of love, I accept myself exactly as I am).
- Once you have an affirmation for each negative thought, say your affirmations out loud at least once per day to help them stick.
You can also use some sample affirmations if you’re not sure your own are on the right track. For example, you might say:
- My uniqueness is my blessing.
- I am not my circumstances.
- My wants have worth.
- I am open.
- I teach others to believe in me by believing in myself.
- Fear of failure does not control me.
- Being who I truly am is my divine right.
- I act for my future not because of my past. (Yahne, 2016)
Although reading self-acceptance quotes doesn’t exactly constitute a regular practice, they can still be helpful when you’ve hit a rough patch or need some motivation. Check out these 15 quotes and see if any resonate with you and your feelings about self-acceptance.
I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.
No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.
The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.
You can succeed if nobody else believes it, but you will never succeed if you don’t believe in yourself.
William J. H. Boetcker
Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.
The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.
To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.
E. E. Cummings
You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.
It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine.
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
Believing in our hearts that who we are is enough is the key to a more satisfying and balanced life.
Ellen Sue Stern
I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.
Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
Dalai Lama XIV
A Take-Home Message
I hope this piece gave you a good overview of self-acceptance and provided you with some new techniques and exercises you can use to boost your own sense of self-acceptance.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this piece, it’s that self-acceptance is at the core of so many positive states (including self-esteem, well-being, happiness, recovery, etc.). If you are struggling to accept who you are at a fundamental level, it’s tough to love yourself, love others, or make positive changes in your life.
Feel free to refer back to this piece if you ever find yourself in a place of denial, self-criticism, or guilt and shame. If you find any of this information helpful (and I hope you do!), please let us know in the comments section!
Thanks for reading, and I wish you nothing but the best in your journey to self-acceptance!
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