“Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself." ― Nathaniel Branden
There’s this widely held, toxic & misguided belief in our society that self-acceptance makes us lazy and unmotivated to learn, improve or grow to our full potential. The assumption is that accepting ourselves as we are means giving up—that it removes any motivation to learn, change or grow.
We think that self-criticism and judgment are the only things keeping us from being lazy, complacent, and screwing up—we think it keeps us in line.
This is especially true of people who battle their weight. We think that accepting our bodies means we’ll start sitting around all day doing nothing but gorging on brownies because we won’t have any motivation to “control ourselves” or “be good” with food.
There are a few problems with this theory not the least of which being that our species is hard-wired for belonging so rejection is deeply destructive to our physical and emotional health – whether that rejection comes from ourselves or others is immaterial. Either way, it’s damaging.
When we don’t believe we are enough as we are or deserving of belonging and goodness, we tend to treat ourselves poorly and not believe we are capable or deserving of doing, being or achieving more.
Further, the perpetual cycle of needing approval through doing and achieving creates a lifelong battle of chasing external validation.
“I’ll be good enough when I get there. But I’ll never achieve those things unless I reject who am right now.”
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. ~Dalai Lama XIV
But the thing is, we believe the things we tell ourselves so if we're spending our lives telling ourselves that lazy screw-ups who quit or fail everything—we believe it and live accordingly.
Self criticism and judgment create low-self worth and are a couple of the most guaranteed ways of going through life in an adversarial relationship with yourself, your body and well, life in general.
If you were to tell your child there was something wrong with them, that they were a bad person, fat, ugly, stupid, lazy, and didn’t deserve goodness a thousand times a day, CPS would be on your doorstep for emotional abuse and rightly so.
If it’s emotional abuse to do it to someone else how did we come to believe that eliciting change required that we do it to ourselves?
There’s no amount of self-improvement that can make up for a lack of self-acceptance. ~Robert Holden
So then how do we remain motivated to continue growing if we accept ourselves exactly as we are in this moment?
First by understanding that self-acceptance and self-improvement are not mutually exclusive -- they can and do occur together.
Self-acceptance starts with the knowledge that it’s not about being good or bad, a success or a failure, perfect or flawed; rather, it’s about honoring and surrendering to all aspects of who you are right now, where you are and how you got here. It’s an understanding that we do the best we can with what we know and when we know better we do better.
Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t mean not wanting to continue to grow.
We have to start doing a better job of parenting ourselves. Think about how we help our children grow. When they start crawling, we don’t tell them they suck because they’re not walking yet and try to shame them into skipping everything they need to learn while crawling. No, we accept and celebrate this new stage of their life knowing that in praise, they'll gain confidence.
So, we praise and celebrate them.
Does that acceptance, praise and celebration cause them to never want to walk?
Of course not. Our acceptance of where they are actually helps them keep moving towards the next level.
Self-improvement is about where you’re going – like that baby who’s crawling today. They’re proud and excited about their new skill. We accept that right now they’re crawling but with gentle guidance, practice, love and encouragement (rather than judgment, criticism, and forcing) they are motivated to take bigger steps.
The same is true for us.
Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not an either or thing. It’s not that we either we accept ourselves and quit trying to improve OR we continue to move to the next level.
Self-acceptance isn’t about throwing in the towel and saying this is as good as it’s ever going to get.
It’s not about never trying to walk if right now you’re only able to crawl.
It’s about understanding that crawling is a prerequisite to walking and that only when we have learned everything we can from the crawling stage, may we learn to walk.
And most importantly, it opens up more possibilities, trust and peace because you aren’t hating, judging and fighting yourself along the way.
If you don't believe me, let me ask you this: how has not accepting yourself been working for you? Maybe it's time to try a radical new approach. ;)
If you need help or this resonates with you, I'd love to hear from you. Reach out to me here.