Self-acceptance can be difficult, especially if life experiences taught you to alienate yourself.

Do you accept yourself as you are? Those who do are more likely to experience good mental health than those who do not.

Self-acceptance is about accepting that you are who you are, flaws and all. Accepting your full self might seem simple enough, but it’s easier said than done. In fact, self-acceptance can be difficult for many of us.

Self-acceptance is not the same as self-esteem or self-confidence. While your self-esteem might rise and fall based on the way you perceive your worth, self-acceptance remains consistent no matter how you view yourself.

The good news is that self-acceptance can be learned. Learning to accept yourself can improve your mental well-being and help you cope with life’s ups and downs.

Accepting yourself is easier said than done. We often receive messages from the world — the media, family members, teachers, religious teachings, and so on — that imply our inferiority. This can make it hard to accept ourselves.

For instance, your upbringing might make a difference. A 2016 study based on 236 young adults in Turkey found that participants were more likely to experience self-acceptance if they remembered their parents accepting them in their childhood.

Discrimination can also make a difference: it’s hard to accept yourself when the world tells you you’re inferior. A review published in 2020 found that LGBQ+ individuals had lower levels of self-acceptance compared to heterosexual participants. This could be because they were more likely to experience discrimination.

Self-acceptance can be particularly hard if:

  • your parents or caregivers didn’t make you feel accepted
  • you’ve experienced trauma that affects the way you see yourself
  • you feel guilty about past events
  • you’ve been taught to see yourself as inferior because of your race, gender, orientation, or another aspect of your identity

However, it isn’t impossible to practice self-acceptance just because you’ve experienced trauma, neglect, or discrimination. It may take time, but practicing self-acceptance can be helpful to you in the long run.

Self-acceptance is linked to mental health. Research from 2019 suggests that people with a negative self-image and low self-esteem may be more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

A 2019 study noted that “unconditional self-acceptance” is a better predictor of mental well-being than self-esteem. Self-esteem is about how you perceive yourself — whether you feel you’re worthy and good, for example — but self-acceptance is about accepting yourself regardless of whether you feel worthy or not.

Why is it so hard to accept yourself when you have depression? It might be because depression can affect the way you view yourself. Feelings of worthlessness and low confidence are common symptoms of depression. These feelings can make it harder for you to feel positive about yourself.

However, it’s possible to learn to accept yourself when you have depression. Self-acceptance is about accepting your flaws, even when your confidence is low and when you feel unproductive, unworthy, or unhappy.

Learn about practicing self-compassion when you have depression.

Self-acceptance is when you accept all aspects of yourself, positive and negative. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re resistant to growth, but rather that you accept yourself instead of fighting against the parts of your personality that you dislike.

Signs of self-acceptance can include the following:

  • Even in difficult circumstances, you accept yourself.
  • You acknowledge your flaws and weaknesses.
  • You feel comfortable being your authentic self.
  • You’re able to take (kind) criticism without feeling attacked.
  • You feel like you’re on your own side.

Self-acceptance is not about:

  • believing you are perfect or flawless
  • avoiding growth and self-improvement
  • feeling 100% confident all the time
  • always believing you’re right

A lack of self-acceptance can look like:

  • experiencing self-loathing or self-hate, especially in difficult circumstances
  • taking drastic attempts to avoid honest introspection
  • feeling ashamed of your flaws and weaknesses
  • denying or ignoring your flaws because they make you uncomfortable
  • getting defensive whenever someone confronts or criticizes you

What is self-love?

Self-love is about being compassionate and kind towards yourself. It’s about prioritizing your needs — not in a selfish way, but in a way that acknowledges your humanity.

Positive psychology often focuses on nurturing self-acceptance and self-love. Most approaches to psychology focus on addressing dysfunctional behavior so that people are able to function better. But positive psychology takes it a step further: it focuses on helping people thrive.

Positive psychology suggests that all of us, whether we have a mental health condition or not, can benefit from learning to love ourselves, work on self-improvement, and practice healthy habits. There’s a strong focus on promoting happiness, gratitude, and stress-management skills.

Positive psychology methods for self-love can include:

  • trying mindfulness and guided meditations
  • engaging in creative hobbies
  • practicing gratitude
  • journaling free-style or using prompts
  • cultivating healthy relationships with others
  • identifying harmful patterns and addressing them
  • nurturing healthy habits

Self-acceptance doesn’t come naturally to all of us. If you’ve been exposed to messages that say you’re unworthy or inferior, you might find it harder to accept every aspect of yourself.

However, it’s possible to nurture your self-acceptance and learn to meet yourself with compassion and care. Positive psychology and therapy can help you learn to accept all of your parts — the good, the bad, and the ugly — so that you can have a healthier relationship with yourself.