Self-acceptance confirms how valuable and worthwhile a person you are. It builds on your strengths and empowers you to acknowledge and manage your weakness. Learning to accept both your strengths and your weaknesses makes you more comfortable with yourself and confirms you as a worthy and lovable person who deserves the best from life.
Unfortunately we need to stop rating ourselves against others which we do to bolster our self-esteem if we are to practice self-acceptance. The difficulty is that this is a deeply ingrained habit that is reinforced by the positive buzz we get when we perceive ourselves to be better than others. However the pain we experience when we find that others do better than us is a very debilitating sting in the tail as it were.
Myth of Self-Esteem
In his book The Myth of Self-Esteem, Albert Ellis argues that the problem with self-rating is that it leads us to directly link our sense of self-worth with our achievements. This self-defeating conditional as opposed to unconditional acceptance of ourselves leads to a serious loss of self-esteem when we come up short or something goes wrong in our lives as from time to time it inevitably does.
Most of us become hooked on self-esteem in our formative years when we perceive that the positive regard of our well-meaning parents and teachers depends almost totally on how well we behave. The downside of exposure to this type of nurturing and education is not the discovery that many of our behaviours are unacceptable, which in itself is an essential piece of learning, but our tendency to classify our short-comings as character flaws.
Based on this assumption we come to believe that we are only acceptable when we behave well in other people’s eyes. As a consequence we end up accepting only those parts of ourselves that impress others. Over time this habit leads to us distancing ourselves from our weaknesses, mistakes and personal foibles.
Becoming obsessed with our shortcomings we fail to understand the contribution that failure and adversity can make to our personal growth and understanding. We become too upset by the hardships, set backs and mistakes we make to see them as potential learning opportunities for shaping up and improving our judgement and ability to cope more effectively with life.
Moving up a gear
The fear that something is wrong with us, that we are deeply flawed, inhibits us from acknowledging and accepting our weaknesses. Even though we understand that everyone has both strengths and weaknesses even the smartest of us tend from time to time to disown our weaknesses. We leave them to lurk in the shadows of our lives like an enemy waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Speaking of enemies brings to mind Michael Corleone famous advice to his son in The Godfather Part II – “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”. Paraphrasing this to “Keep your strengths close, and your weaknesses closer” sums up what self-acceptance is all about. And its importance is underscored by Robert Holden the author of Happiness Now who claims “the more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you’ll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you’re worthy of”.
Accepting your strengths and weaknesses
You can identify your strengths by completing Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman’s VIA Classification of Strengths and Virtues Questionnaire at www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/questionnaires.aspx. To give you an idea of what to expect from this questionnaire it identified my top five signature strengths as 1. Love of Learning. 2. Hope/Optimism/Future-mindnesses. 3. Gratitude. 4. Loving and allowing myself to be loved. 5. Fairness and equity. For more background on this approach see my posts on Building Strengths in the archive on your right hand side of this page.
When I had identified and accepted my strengths I set about identifying my weaknesses. At first I was troubled at the seemingly overwhelming number of them and was a little uneasy about my ability to deal with them rationally. Fortunately I then came across a definition of weaknesses in Buckingham & Clifton (2004) which is “a weakness is anything that gets in the way of excellent performance”.
It gave me a whole new insight into the nature of the weaknesses that really matter. It also narrowed down the task to make it far more manageable. In fact I was quickly able to list the weaknesses that get in the way of me using my strengths. This list is: 1. Not scheduling sufficient time. 2. Doubts about importance and relevance. 3. Procrastination, 4. Negative thoughts, 5. Dwelling on past mistakes, 6. Inattention, 7. Skepticism, 8. Taking things for granted, 9. Planning, 10. Uncertainty about what to do.
Learning to be compassionate with myself and to accept these weakness as part and parcel of my make-up was a very humbling but useful exercise. As a result I now keep an eye out for them and am beginning to recognise when they come into play which enables me to take remedial action as necessary. Gradually I’m beginning to view them as old friends who have accompanied me on my journey through life rather than enemies waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to undermine my best efforts.
Ellis, A (2005) The Myth of Self Esteem, New York: Prometheus Books.
Buckingham M. & Clifton D. (2004) Now, Discover Your Strengths: London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.
Holden, R. (2007) Happiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good Fast, London: Hay House.
Seligman, M. (2002) Authentic Happiness – using the New positive Psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.