Unconditional self-acceptance is a foreign concept to some, but learning how to accept yourself is one of the best ways to improve the overall quality of your life.
Self-acceptance is linked to happiness, self-confidence, stronger emotional resilience, better relationships, and overall well-being. People who accept themselves unconditionally also tend to suffer less stress and anxiety than those who live in a perpetual state of self-doubt and criticism.
In this post, I’ll talk about what self-acceptance is and, just as importantly, what it isn’t. You’ll learn why self-acceptance is so important and discover the obstacles preventing you from fully accepting yourself.
Plus, I’ll walk you through self-acceptance activities and exercises that will help you begin the self-loving practice of accepting yourself starting today. I’ll also teach you how to start cultivating self-awareness, so you experience more joy in your life. Ready? Let’s dig in.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be considered medical advice nor used to diagnose or treat medical conditions; if you need professional help, please seek it. Also, this post contains both affiliate links featuring recommended resources from which B&C might receive a modest fee and non-affiliate links. Learn more.
Unconditional self-acceptance definition
Unconditional self-acceptance is the act of fully embracing yourself for who you are, quirks (so to speak) and all, without reservation of any kind. It’s honoring your uniqueness, your humanity, and your intrinsic value. Self-approval, self-respect, self-compassion, self-kindness, and self-love are all associated with self-acceptance.
Why loving and accepting yourself matters so much
You will be in a relationship with yourself your entire life. Why make that relationship antagonistic, combative, self-sabotaging, and self-critical?
You deserve better. You deserve to be in love with yourself. Not a vain, conceited pseudo kind of love, but a wholehearted, genuinely caring love that elevates you each and every day of your life. You deserve unconditional self-acceptance.
Why do you struggle with self-acceptance?
Situations and circumstances from your past may have prompted you to believe that you should not accept yourself. Many of us grow up believing that feeling good about ourselves is wrong or inappropriate.
When you were young, there may have been people in your life who told you that you were not good enough, and unfortunately, you took that message to heart. Today is a great day to start releasing those self-doubts. Right now is the perfect time to start looking at yourself through a far more accurate, positive lens.
What self-acceptance is and what it isn’t
Self-acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t want to change. Quite the contrary, it often leads to dramatic change as you give up the limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviors that you’d adopted trying to be someone you’re not.
The secret to finding the happiness and peace you seek in your life is not in trying to figure out what’s wrong with you; instead, your aim is to explore the truth of who you really are.
Being Kind and Accepting Yourself Does Not Turn You Into a Self-Indulgent
I grew up secretly believing that I had to be humble; otherwise, I would be considered an arrogant jerk. True humility is fine. Genuine humility is admirable. My version of humility was a brand of self-deprecation that was more akin to self-loathing.
Unconditional self-acceptance is not a form of arrogance; it is the ultimate act of self-compassion and healthy self-love.
This analogy might help you better understand self-acceptance
Imagine your vision is getting blurry, so you go to the eye doctor and get a prescription for a new pair of glasses. The lab makes a mistake, and the lenses you receive are far too strong; the glasses make your vision worse and give you terrible headaches.
Once you realize there’s a problem, you return to the optician and get a new pair of glasses with the correct prescription. The world appears sharper, crisper, and more beautiful with these new lenses. You see the world around you more clearly.
Self-acceptance is like putting on that wonderful new pair of glasses with the perfect prescription for you. You see every action and thought you have in a new light—the way it really is rather than how you’d once imagined the world to be (the world you saw through the lenses that weren’t right for you .. the world that give you headaches!).
With these new glasses, you’re able to see more clearly, so you’re able to let go of past patterns that you now see were always wrong; you start embracing the authentic you. You accept yourself, you love yourself, and your world becomes rich with a sense of peace and happiness that may have eluded you for years.
When you accept yourself and love yourself, your life improves in many ways.
As Henry David Thoreau once said, “We are constantly invited to be who we are.”
There are plenty of people who will knock you down–don’t be one of them
Other people can be awesome, and they can be awful, and the truth is that a person who acts “awful” is not necessarily the problem: the real problem is whether you believe what they say or not.
The same goes for the person who is awesome to you: it’s nice to hear nice things about yourself, but if you give too much weight to those nice things and they disappear, you’re in store for a big letdown.
What others think of you has little (if anything) to do with who you are.
It’s the opinion that you hold of yourself that determines the trajectory of your life.
Your internal dialogue reveals your opinion of yourself more precisely than just about anything else.
- Do you ever find yourself ocean-deep in negative self-talk?
- How does nit-picking over everything you think is wrong with you make you feel?
- What emotions arise when you’re criticizing your weight, your nose, your skin, your income, your social skills, your current employment situation, etc.?
These self-critical thoughts don’t lift you up; they keep you down. So why keep clinging to them?
Five practical self-acceptance activities you can start now
Remember that self-acceptance is a journey, and if you’ve been self-critical all your life, be prepared for the change to take time; you can’t grow a mighty oak overnight. Be patient and kind to yourself.
Here are five activities you can start today:
- Be kinder to yourself: Treat yourself with the same gentleness and compassion you would offer to a dear friend.
- Challenge negative thoughts: Pay attention to the negative thoughts you have about yourself. Merely observing critical thoughts can help reduce them.
- Learn to forgive yourself: Forgive yourself for past mistakes and try to move forward. (Quick read on Oprah Daily: How to Actually Forgive Yourself)
- Engage in self-care activities: Take care of your physical and emotional well-being through self-care activities such as exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep.
- Spend time with positive people: Surrounding yourself with positive people who support and accept you for who you are is a great way to recognize ways to love and accept yourself.
If you’ve been struggling with self-acceptance and loving yourself for a while, and it’s crippling your self-confidence and diminishing the joy you experience in life, you may want to try therapy or counseling. Working with a mental health professional can help work through underlying issues that may be preventing you from accepting yourself.
You can accept yourself and still want to change
Michael J. Fox says, “Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation.” This is so true.
Somewhere along the line, a lot of people, myself included, got stuck in the notion that self-acceptance means never changing. That can’t be further from the truth.
Self-acceptance is saying, “this is who I am right here and right now, and I’m fine with that.” I don’t reject myself. I don’t rebuff my current situation. I don’t hide in pretense and denial.
Self-acceptance means I hold myself in compassion as I acknowledge who I am, knowing that where I am is just the starting point of more great things coming into my life.
You don’t have to beat yourself up anymore. You don’t have to knock yourself down. If there’s something in your life that you’re unhappy with and you can change it, then put an action plan in place.
If there’s something you’re not happy with that you cannot change, it’s time to make peace with whatever you’ve been fighting. Arguing with reality is never productive.
Why practice self-acceptance
When you begin to accept yourself, your self-esteem soars. You’re far more likely to be happier when you feel good about yourself.
There’s scientific evidence that people with a non-pretentious, healthy self-concept treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Hurting people hurt people.”
When you don’t accept yourself, you might as well be placing daggers in your heart, metaphorically speaking, of course. Self-rejection is painful. Self-acceptance is exhilarating.
Do yourself and the world a favor: make self-acceptance a priority in your life. It’s a decision you’ll never regret!
The inner critic: the villain in your self-love story
Left unchecked, your inner critic will thwart your efforts to accept yourself and embrace self-love. Once you learn to recognize that critical inner voice, you can stop it before its self-destructive behavior and before it does any more harm.
The best book I’ve ever read about how to tame your inner critic is Playing Big by Tara Mohr. If you haven’t read it, I suggest grabbing a copy.
Self-acceptance and psychology
In psychology, self-acceptance is defined as a state of being in which individuals accept and value themselves, despite their flaws and imperfections. It is seen as the foundation for healthy self-esteem and self-worth.
Accepting yourself for who you are can make you happier
Accepting yourself will allow you to be more present in the moment and less focused on striving for an idealized version of yourself. You’re kinder and gentler with yourself, which has been linked to lower levels of stress and anxiety and greater emotional resilience.
When you lovingly accept yourself, you are likely to feel comfortable and authentic in your own skin. Feeling more comfortable and free to express your true self can, in turn, lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships with others. Several studies confirm that strong social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life.
When you accept yourself, you’re not afraid of failure, which in turn may lead to you to focus on self-improvement. You achieve more, and you’re happier and more fulfilled by the process of personal growth.
Of course, self-acceptance is not a single-ingredient recipe for a happy life. Yet, it’s hard to be happy if you don’t have a loving relationship with yourself.
When you truly accept yourself, your life just works better
Think of the ways your life would change if you started to accept yourself. The possibilities are endless!
Are you still doubting you can love and accept yourself? Then let me assure you: there’s nothing wrong with you! It is safe to love and accept yourself as you are right now.
Let me repeat that statement one more time so you can take it in more fully: There’s nothing wrong with you. How does that concept make you feel?
Maybe it filled you with a sense of relief; it may have affirmed that you’re okay, which made you feel better.
Or, maybe your mind flat-out rejected the idea that “there’s nothing wrong with me,” saying something like, “Baloney! There are lots of things wrong with me—you don’t know me, and you don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Perhaps it was a blend of these responses or something else entirely.
You are good enough and worthy enough as you are
So many of us are walking around in life feeling broken or weary or wounded in some way … thinking we’re not good enough or we’re not worthy enough. We count our faults and use them as proof that we’re defective.
We work on improving ourselves, certain we must reject who we are to become the person we’re capable of being. We’re looking for a fix to make everything better.
But what if … I urge you to open your mind to this idea for just a moment … what if there’s nothing really wrong with you after all?
Your body may not be functioning at 100%; I’m not denying the existence of illness. Yet, our bodies are not “who we are,” but rather are the vessels that carry our souls in this life on earth.
Who we are … who we truly are … arrived on earth with everything we need for our life journey. We came complete … whole … there was nothing inherently wrong with you from day one, and there is nothing you can do can change that. You ARE a person of worth; believe that!
But … I make mistakes
So do I. Our behaviors can be wrong. For example, it is wrong to deliberately hurt another person.
Can our thinking be wrong? Well, I’m not sure “wrong” is the correct word, but certainly, we can perceive things in a way that brings us stress instead of peace.
Still, who you are at your core is who you are meant to be; in that sense, there’s nothing wrong with you.
So dear open, stop resisting accepting yourself. You deserve the peace and joy that unconditional self-acceptance will bring into your life!
If you’ve been struggling with self-acceptance for a long time, you may need a little more help to overcome the unhealthy patterns that have emerged in your life. For that reason, I’ve added a couple of self-acceptance practice activities and exercises here to get you started.
Self-acceptance exercise one: observe your “inner critic” for a full week
Consider your actions carefully this week. Observe all the times when you criticize yourself or hide your true nature for fear someone else will judge you for being who you truly are.
Ask yourself these questions:
- In what areas am I most critical of myself? How does that make me feel? Does it ever help me rise or is it just keeping me down?
- In what ways am I unloving towards myself? What alternative behavior can I choose to demonstrate that I truly do love myself?
- How do I reject my true self by pretending to be someone I’m not so others will like and accept me?
- What am I doing because I think others want me to do it, not because I think it is the right thing to do for me?
Whenever you feel yourself moving away from self-acceptance, choose instead to align your actions with what you know deep down is truly right for you.
Paying attention to your thoughts and actions takes time and practice. The benefits in terms of peace, joy, happiness, and more are well worth the effort!
Self-acceptance exercise two: practice self-loving affirmations
Whenever you notice that you’re self-critical, change your voice from unloving to self-affirming. I often use the following afffirmations from Louise Hay: “I love myself just the way I am.” and “I love and accept myself.”
Here are a few more affirmations that will help may be helpful on yourself-acceptance journey:
- I accept myself unconditionally.
- I release self-doubt and embrace self-confidence.
- As I practice self-acceptance, miracles unfold in my life.
- I love and accept myself even though I’m not perfect.
- I send only love to my inner critic.
- Self-acceptance is my superpower.
- As I accept myself unconditionally, my struggles ease, and my mind rests.
- I unconditionally accept myself and release all lingering harsh thoughts about myself now
- Accepting myself is both right and easy.
These above affirmations are adapted from our post, 99 Life-Changing Self-Love and Self-Esteem Affirmations. We share even more in our post, 29 Affirmations for Overcoming Self-Doubt.
When you change your thinking, you will change your life. Practicing affirmations regularly may be the catalyst you need to permanently change the self-doubting inner voice that’s been keeping you from loving and accepting yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) about unconditional self-acceptance
Believing in yourself and accepting yourself go hand-in-hand, which is why we get a lot of questions here at Believe and Create about self-acceptance and self-love. Here are our answers to the most FAQs we’ve had on these subjects.
What does accepting yourself unconditionally mean?
Accepting yourself unconditionally means that no matter what you do or say—even if you’ve made a big mistake or failed at something—you remain kind, compassionate and loving toward yourself. There’s simply nothing you can do that would change the fact that you love yourself.
What is an example of unconditional self-acceptance?
An example of unconditional self-acceptance is when you still approve of and love yourself, even though you fell short of a goal you set for yourself. Instead of being harshly self-critical, you acknowledge you tried your best and never use setbacks or shortcomings as a reason to withhold love or compassion from yourself.
How do you gain self-acceptance?
You can gain self-acceptance by focusing on your strengths, releasing self-criticism and negative self-talk, and practicing self-kindness and compassion. Acknowledging that everyone has flaws is another way to accept yourself, despite your own personal flaws.
What causes a lack of self-acceptance?
Lack of self-acceptance is often caused by how we perceive ourselves in relation to what we think we should be. Comparing yourself to others and cultural pressures to meet certain standards may contribute to self-acceptance resistance. Childhood experiences, trauma, and mental health conditions can also contribute to a negative self-image and low self-acceptance.
What is the key to self-acceptance?
Calming your inner critic and listening to your inner encourager are keys to embracing unconditional self-acceptance. Engaging in self-esteem-building practices and embracing self-compassion are additional keys that can help you become more self-accepting.
Best books on how to practice unconditional self-acceptance.
I’ve done my best here to give you a thorough review of essential self-acceptance topics, but frankly, the subject is so broad and deep that I barely scratched the surface. If you struggle with loving and accepting yourself, please consider reading one or more of the books I’ve listed below. My absolute favorites here are You Can Heal Your Life, Radical Acceptance, and Playing Big. If a teen in your life struggles with self-esteem, be sure to check out The Ultimate Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens.