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Striving for Self Acceptance

This page added 2 September 2011

By Catherine Caballero, Psychologist.

Self esteem refers to an individual’s overall assessment and appraisal of their own worth and in many ways lies at the core of their personality.  Sadly there is a common misconception that an individual’s worth as a person corresponds to evaluations of their abilities, personal attributes and achievements.  Self esteem that is based on this misconception constitutes a major threat to an individual’s sense of worth and psychological well-being.  For instance, an individual whose actions are judged as wrong, incompetent, or disapproved by others, can wind up feeling “less worthy” as a person.

Low self esteem is typically considered unhealthy and is linked to depression and anxiety.  Interestingly, attempts to increase self esteem may also have some drawbacks.  Psychological literature suggests that individuals with extremely high self esteem are vulnerable because they are often characterised by excessive focus on evaluations, including social comparisons with other people.  The research also indicates that individuals with extremely high self esteem may be more prone to acts of violence, be less open to unfavourable feedback, and more emotionally vulnerable to criticism.  One explanation for this paradox is that any level of self-esteem, low or high, is characterised by conditional self-acceptance and reflects a dysfunctional habit of globally evaluating one’s worth, which is where the individual focuses on their (low) self-esteem as a whole and ignores more specific areas in which they have strong abilities and thus stronger self-esteem. According to this view, self-rating is seen as dysfunctional and irrational, as there exists no objective basis for determining the worth of a human being.  In addition to being illogical, self-ratings can predispose individuals to feel depressed when their current self-rating is low, or anxious when the rating is high.  This is because the concept of self-evaluation is such that a fall in self-esteem can result in response to criticisms, rejections or inabilities, and an increase causes the individual to perceive a pressure to maintain their current (perceived) high ability.

As human beings we are not perfect, and prone to making mistakes.  As we strive to achieve our goals in life, we are all continually faced with the struggles that are inevitably thrown our way.  Therefore, a healthier and more logical approach is to abandon the quest for self-esteem and self-ratings and instead work towards self-acceptance. Unconditional self-acceptance is a condition in which individuals’ fully and unconditionally appreciates, support and accept who they are as a person at this very moment, including the things they do like and don’t like about themselves.

To accept oneself is to be immune to the demands we place on ourselves for the approval of others.  Self-acceptance gives individuals greater freedom to take the best course of action, rather than what will gain approval.  The beauty of self-acceptance is that all of those things that you believe will make you happier will come to you once you let go of the need to have them in your life in order to live it to the fullest.

Self-acceptance fosters personal adjustment and wellbeing, and has been linked to increased happiness and life satisfaction.  So how does one strive towards self-acceptance?  Self-acceptance takes honesty and courage. Remember that you don’t have to like something to accept it. A great place to start is to feel good about yourself simply because:
* You exist      
* You are alive      
* You are unique      
* You are human and prone to mistakes, just like everyone else

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