Many of us don’t accept ourselves because we fear we’ll become stagnant and stuck — stuck doing unfulfilling work, surrounded by unfulfilling things, in a life that doesn’t feel right.
But the opposite actually happens.
“When we move from a place of acceptance, it frees up all the negative energy — that consumes thinking, behaviors, etc. — and allows us to have greater access to our own internal resources, which can be used towards what really matters to you, your important life values,” said Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, a therapist in Houston, Texas.
Eddins helps people find their inner worth, overcome emotional and food-related issues and find meaning and purpose in their careers and lives.
Below, she shared the small steps we can take to accept ourselves.
1. Create a self-accepting voice.
“This is the most important and helpful thing you can do to work on your self-acceptance,” Eddins said.
Specifically, pay attention to your automatic negative thoughts. Then pause and ask yourself: “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need?”
Focus on “creating the self-accepting voice that validates you and provides what you need in that moment.”
Let’s say your automatic thought is “I’m so stupid! I can’t do anything right!”
According to Eddins, the self-accepting voice might say:
“I hear that you’re feeling frustrated and inadequate and helpless. It makes sense that you’re feeling helpless; you’ve been working on this for so long and nothing seems to be working out right. It’s OK. I know how challenging this is right now, but I’ll help you get through it. Remember that this isn’t about you. Sometimes things are just hard and that can be really frustrating. You are capable. Remember how you … How about taking a break and letting yourself rest? You know how when you take a break often a new way to handle things comes to you. So give yourself permission to rest your mind.”
Pair your voice with a physical touch — a gesture suggested by self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff.
Hold your arms or your heart, Eddins said. “[Do] whatever feels soothing and comforting. The goal is not only to rewire your thoughts, but also to comfort and soothe your nervous system.”
2. Feel uncomfortable emotions.
“Sometimes our lack of acceptance is the unwillingness to feel or experience uncomfortable emotions,” Eddins said.
She gave the example of sadness and “feeling heavy” (different from depression). Some women say they can’t accept themselves exactly as they are because they feel too big or too heavy. Often these women are feeling the “heaviness of sadness,” and berating themselves just perpetuates their negative feelings, she said.
Connecting to that sadness and letting it go can lead to self-acceptance.
3. Revise unrealistic expectations for yourself.
“Adjust your expectations about what you can and should realistically achieve,” Eddins said. Unrealistic expectations lead to self-rejection.
Start with your accomplishments. Many of us with shaky self-acceptance tend to minimize achievements, which perpetuates self-criticism. Instead, start speaking more positively and realistically about your accomplishments — whether they involve day-to-day tasks or professional goals.
For instance, according to Eddins, instead of saying, “I should have gotten a new job last year instead of waiting this long,” say: “I’m proud of myself for getting this great job! I’ve worked hard for it.”
Instead of saying, “I only cleaned the house today; I should have been able to get the groceries and errands done,” say: “It feels great to have a clean house. I’m glad I got this done today. I can go to the grocery store tomorrow afternoon.”
Not sure if your expectations are realistic? Watch for these keywords to signify they’re not: “always/never statements, ‘shoulds,’ ‘it will never happen,’ ‘I can’t,’ [and] it’s too hard.’”
4. Revise unrealistic expectations for others.
Having unrealistic expectations for others also sabotages self-acceptance. “[I]t keeps us in a state of resistance, which is the opposite of acceptance and can reinforce those unhealthy core beliefs,” Eddins said.
Essentially, you can’t be accepting of others and be accepting of yourself.
Eddins shared this example: You expect your husband always to be there for you. Sometimes, he isn’t. If you accept this, you can meet your own needs. If you don’t, your inner dialogue may sound like: “My husband should love me more. He’s selfish. Then, I must be unlovable.”
So you might revise the unrealistic expectation of “my partner should always comfort me when I’m upset,” to “I know my partner supports and loves me and often is there for me, but it’s my responsibility to comfort myself.”
5. Practice mindfulness.
“Being mindful allows us to notice our thoughts, particularly the self-judging thoughts without being hooked by them,” Eddins said. She likened it to watching a movie: You notice the thoughts, but you’re not your thoughts.
Start by saying, “I’m having the thought that …” Then be mindful of your body, physical sensations and your breath, she said.
6. Forgive yourself for small slights.
“When we can’t forgive ourselves for our humanness, we can’t practice acceptance and we can’t grow and change,” Eddins said. She described true forgiveness as a deep process, which honors our loss and pain.
She suggested starting by forgiving yourself for small slights, such as overeating (some might experience it “as a mistake especially if perceived as a failure”), forgetting a friend’s birthday or hurting your loved ones.
Practice letting go. Consider what it feels like to let go, to let go of any fear or disappointment.
It’s also helpful to think of the most compassionate person you’ve ever met. “[I]magine what they might say about your ‘mistake’ or ‘shortcoming.’”
Finally, Eddins reminds us that “people are not math problems to be solved.”
Instead, we’re like sunsets: “We are perfectly imperfect just in the way you would admire a sunset and accept it just how it is.”