One of the first rules of developing healthier self-esteem is self-acceptance. Learning self-acceptance can be quite a challenge. You have to unwind years or even decades of subconscious conditioning in the form of negative self-talk and automatic self-criticism.
There are however some simple steps you can take which, over time, will allow you to rewire your brain and take yourself on the journey towards self-acceptance.
Step 1. Stop being so hard on yourself.
In order to develop self-acceptance, you have to be kind to yourself. You have to develop deep-rooted compassion towards yourself in the way you would others.
When I work with my clients, it never ceases to amaze me that most of them forgive others or excuse others for acts that are far worse than their own yet they never treat themselves with that same compassion. They are far less forgiving. They also have a habit of taking on other people’s poor behaviour and blaming themselves for it.
If you are stuck on something that happened in the past, understand that you did the best you could at that time, acknowledge that you can no longer change your past failures and mistakes, and then move on. If you are reflecting on a situation that didn’t go very well, or a relationship that failed, acknowledge your part in it but also acknowledge the other person’s. You can’t be responsible for someone else’s poor behaviour. Don’t take on their ‘stuff’. It’s their issue, not yours and is not a reflection of you or your value.
Step 2. Stop comparing yourself to others.
In the ever-increasing world of social media, comparing ourselves to others is habitual. We know it’s not good for us. We know the images we are looking at on social media sites are likely to have been touched up, taken at a deceptively flattering angle, filtered beyond belief and pretty much removed from reality yet still we compare ourselves. And we feel bad when we don’t stack up.
Comparison is the thief of self-esteem. If you compare yourself to someone who is, by your definition, better than you, prettier than you, more glamorous than you etc etc etc., you will always feel bad about yourself. When I talk to my clients about comparison, I gently remind them of a couple of things. When it comes to social media, it’s not real. I am not telling you something you don’t already know. Countless articles tell us this and we’ve seen enough before and after photos to know the truth. You will never stack up when compared to a fantasy and filtered, airbrushed images are just that, a fantasy. It’s a battle you can’t win so why put yourself through it?
Secondly, you have to learn to appreciate what you see around you without making it about what you lack. Remember that true self-acceptance is unconditional and doesn’t depend on your perceived success compared to your peers. Your life is uniquely your own and at the centre is you. Because of that, it will always be valuable to you.
When you stop comparing yourself to others, you begin to journey inward and focus on yourself. External assurance matters less. You begin to look to yourself for validation. This is a crucial part of self-acceptance and the start of resilience and self-empowerment.
Step 3. Perfect Schmerfect.
Thinking that you must be perfect is one of the biggest impediments to self-acceptance.
As human beings, we inevitably make mistakes and develop flaws. If we have low self-acceptance we don’t always own up to our flaws and we may even avoid situations where we could fail. Then we end up not fulfilling our potential and not reaching for the stars because of our fear of failure.
When I first started writing my website’s blog I used to spend hours (and I do mean hours) trying to get the posts ‘just so’. I obsessed over content, grammar, and cadence. Were my posts expertly written? Were they interesting or unique enough? Were my sentences too long? Were they too short? It was exhausting and a massive drain on my time. Now I write what I write because it’s what my readers want to hear about and if the occasional sentence is a bit clunky then so be it. I’ve also concluded that there is no such thing as perfect. My version of a perfect article may well be different to yours. I can only do the best that I can do. When you start to think like this, it can be liberating.
Also, understanding that your imperfection makes you unique and that failure is a part of life will help you be more accepting of yourself. One of my favourite quotes is from the character Aunt Frances in the 1998 film Practical Magic who says: “My darling girl when you are going to realise that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.”
Imperfection = unique. Unique = interesting.
When you let go of the need to be perfect. When you embrace your quirks and idiosyncrasies. When you recognise that your mistakes have made you who you are, it’s easier to be authentic and accepting of yourself.
Step 4. Be your own coach.
Negative self-talk is invariably at the subconscious level. It has usually become so ingrained that we aren’t even aware when we are doing it. One of the advantages of being a coach is that I can see it immediately when my clients do it. So, learn how to be your own coach by doing the following.
Take some time to listen to your thoughts and feelings. Do you get anxious when you think about a particular area of your life? Which parts do you feel you aren’t getting right? Which parts make you feel uncomfortable or possibly even ashamed of? Which parts do you stick your head in the sand on and try not to think about?
These can be challenging questions but answering them will open your eyes to the parts of yourself that you find most difficult to accept.
Spend time reflecting and if it works for you write these down in a journal. The act of writing something down makes it real and will allow you to reflect on what’s happening for you. Unhelpful behaviours and thought patterns are often more obvious when you see them in the written word. Reflect on what you write, notice where the unhelpful patterns are and start to change them.
Step 5. Provide yourself with the right environment.
Surrounding yourself with people who accept you for who you are and who love you for who you are is critical if you want to learn to accept yourself. This is not about seeking external validation; it’s about recognising what you need and what is good for you. You need to be mature enough to give yourself a positive environment where you thrive and you grow. Equally, you need to remove yourself from unhealthy relationships, people and situations that are not serving you well.
Take these steps, little by little, day by day. Be kind to yourself. You will develop a much healthier relationship with yourself if you do.