If I had a nickel for every time I or my clients shared a craving for deeper or more engaged relationships with their friends, family, and partners…I’d have a lot of nickels. What I’ve found, though, through self-development and discovery with clients is this: to create a deepened relationship with others, we must begin by creating a deepened relationship with ourselves.
In order to accept love, we must accept ourselves. Not to be confused with self-love, self-acceptance is the belief that you’re a good person who is deserving of love. It builds the foundation for and is crucial in creating healthy and engaged relationships. Self-acceptance isn’t tainted with the constant need for reassurance from your partner or the need to outshine your partner – it comes from within.
So how does one navigate their way to self-acceptance? First, we must understand it.
Psychology Today describes self-acceptance as what “allows you to feel good about yourself, even with the flaws, mistakes and failures that we all have.” Self-acceptance, unlike self-esteem, isn’t dependent on accolades, achievements, or recognition – it’s a truly positive outlook on who you really are inside.
Simple right? But, as with most self-work, simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy.
In general, self-acceptance takes a three-step process: Compassion, Forgiveness and Unqualified Approval. Let’s look at each one individually.
For all three steps, I think it can be helpful to look at an external example. However, as you read through these, ask yourself: How does this apply to me? Only when we apply the process to ourselves can we start to experience a true shift.
With that said, let’s talk about compassion.
Think for a moment about a child. When mistakes are made, we – as adults – are able to constructively assess the behavior being a result of:
- What is innate for the child at the time (i.e., what do they know)?
- What specific need is being experienced in that moment (e.g., acting out when they're hungry)?
- What does the child believe about themselves (e.g., if they believe they’re stupid, they’re not likely to be beating down the door to get their homework done)?
It’s easy to see all the factors that could be impacting behavior for that child and give them compassion (e.g., they didn’t know better, they’re really struggling, they don’t believe in themselves) – however it’s harder when we try to evaluate and show compassion for our own actions.
But, what becomes possible when we’re able to assess our own transgressions just as constructively?
- What did you know at the time?
- What were your needs in that moment?
- What did you truly believe about yourself in that chapter of life?
Processing through these three things is not meant to eliminate responsibility, but simply to create awareness and compassion for the external factors at play.
Think back to that child. When we understand the external and internal factors impacting their behavior, we’re better able to practice forgiveness toward them.
In thinking about forgiveness toward ourselves, Dr. Leon F. Seltzer references the “shadow self” – this is the self that only you know. This is the part of ourselves that we may have hidden or shunned. The part of ourselves that is gripped with guilt, anxiety, and possibly anger. It thinks the thoughts we never assign language to. As Dr. Seltzer explains, this shadow self can be to blame for many self-sabotaging behaviors. In order to release ourselves from the grip of our shadow self, however, we must first dig in to sympathetically understanding what caused it to be in the first place. Once we understand, just as with the child, we're able to forgive.
Consider for yourself: What becomes possible when you begin to acknowledge, accept, and forgive these broken off fragments of self that you’ve been hiding for so long?
Going back to our example, when the child knows their approval isn’t based on their GPA, there’s a sudden release of anxious behavior.
By that same token, when we stop grading and ranking ourselves constantly, we become open to experiences we didn’t even know were possible.
There are those that think they can only be successful, driven if they’re constantly beating themselves up. However, self-improvement doesn’t disappear when we practice unqualified approval instead. Some may even argue that self-improvement increases when we’re in the practice of unqualified approval.
If I know I’m valuable, approved of, and accepted ‘as is’ – it’s now safer for me to try something new to be better.
Our identity is so much more than our mistakes – practicing unqualified approval allows us to truly explore the depth and width of our identity without a shadow overcast of where we failed to “measure up.”
Self-Acceptance and Relationships
So here we are, completely ourselves, completely accepted, completely valued. How does this impact our ability to love and be loved? Because, when we’re no longer spending time hiding or hating ourselves, we allow ourselves to fully show up for the people we love without a constant need to outshine them or seek constant validation from them to feel complete in our relationship.
Imagine what could be – if we accept all of the things that we be.