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Self-Acceptance: Don’t Make This Mistake

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m all about self-acceptance.

Not just me accepting myself, but you accepting yourself and everyone in the world accepting themselves with love and compassion.

So it might come as a surprise when I suggest there could be any “don’ts” with such an empowering idea.

The problem isn’t with the idea itself, but rather how it’s sometimes implemented.

Have you seen the following scenario, either in yourself, or with someone else?

Self-Acceptance Gone Awry

Let’s create a fictional character, and call her Jane.

Jane’s recently become aware of how critical she is of herself, and recognizes that it’s keeping her stuck in low self-esteem and under-achievement.

Hurray for Jane! She’s embraced the concept of self-acceptance and she vows to practice it.

But look what happens now. Not only does Jane accept who she is, but she goes beyond that and accepts all the questionable behavior habits she’s formed over the years.

As just one example, Jane is afraid of conflict. She avoids people and situations where conflict might occur, and in the past, this made her feel bad about herself.

In practicing self-acceptance, Jane decides that avoiding conflict is “just who I am.”

And her personal growth in this area stops there.

Embrace the baby, not the bath water

As long as Jane accepts her behavior as who she is, instead of recognizing it as just a habit, she’s settling for less than she deserves.

Avoiding conflict means Jane can’t have important conversations. She can’t speak up when her opinion differs from someone else’s, or when something’s bugging her. And because of these things, she can’t be true to herself — or authentic — in relationships.

Is that really the life that’s meant for her?

So how should Jane — and how do we — practice self-acceptance without accepting things that aren’t really us?

When practicing self-acceptance, focus on accepting feelings, not behavior

If you share Jane’s habit of conflict avoidance,

SAY THIS:

“I accept that I’m afraid of conflict at this moment in my life.” (Thumbs up! This is compassionate self-acceptance.) …

NOT THIS:

“I accept my conflict avoidance as a part of who I am.” (Thumbs down; not true!)

The first statement leaves room for future developments, including change. The second assumes you’re already operating at your maximum capability, and growth is therefore impossible.

If I am my conflict-avoidance behaviors, instead of just a person who’s feeling afraid of conflict and behaving accordingly, there’s nothing to change.

If you fear conflict to the point of avoidance, that’s an outcome of previous experiences with conflict. Your behavior (avoidance) is an attempt to avoid the feared outcome. That’s not a part of who you are; it’s a coping strategy.

Accept yourself by accepting your feelings (fear) about conflict, not your habitual behavior (avoidance) around it.

This is true self-acceptance, and it will give you the strength to do something about the avoidance if you choose.

Can you think of other things we mistakenly accept as permanent parts of ourselves? What about things we should accept in ourselves, but don’t want to?

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "Self-Acceptance: Don’t Make This Mistake"

  • stolenparanoia
    January 28, 2013 - 4:29 am Reply

    Hmmmnn.. this is true. I’ve viewed that as some kind of “double standard” in the matter, I guess I was wrong, behavior and feelings are different after all. This post has enlightened me. Thank you. 🙂

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