What Self-Acceptance Is and What It's Not

Self-acceptance isn’t as well-known as self-esteem or self-confidence, but it is a precursor to both. Self-acceptance is an awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a realistic appraisal of one’s abilities, and a sense of satisfaction with one’s self, regardless of past behaviors and mistakes, and despite any flaws and foibles. In other words, self-acceptance is tolerating or making peace with being flawed, imperfect, and human.

Self-acceptance is not complacency or self-satisfaction ("I’m perfect! I have no need to change!"), nor does self-acceptance mean that you like every aspect of yourself. Self-acceptance doesn’t mean you stop trying to change and grow. Rather, by stopping the cycle of negative emotions surrounding your flaws and weaknesses, you free up the energy to make positive change. Just imagine the energy you would have if you were free of self-judgement and regret over past actions.

It Starts from Childhood

Self-acceptance can be built from childhood by parents who accept their children as they are. When children are very little, their sense of self is simply a reflection of how the people closest to them treat them. Unconditional acceptance of a child helps them learn unconditional acceptance of themselves. This isn’t the same as tolerating or ignoring bad behavior. It’s about loving and accepting the child, regardless of mistakes, or bad behavior (which the child can be taught to overcome). Simply put, it’s telling and showing a child: "I love you no matter what."

When parents withhold acceptance, or make love contingent on being pretty, smart, well-behaved, strong, or any other specific quality, children learn that they aren’t ok the way they are. To these kids, love is conditional, and their self-love becomes conditional, too.

Self-acceptance can be developed in adulthood too, but it can be a long journey.

How to Achieve Self-Acceptance

To achieve self-acceptance, a person must first develop self-awareness. You can’t accept your strengths and weaknesses until you first become aware of them. Many people are the first to acknowledge their own flaws but are reluctant to embrace their strengths. They feel like they can skip this step, but don’t.

At the same time, other people refuse to acknowledge their flaws and take responsibility for their own actions. In their minds, bad things happen because someone else was in the wrong. It’s also possible for a person to criticize and judge themselves in one area of their lives and be in denial of their flaws in another area.

The next step in self-awareness is letting go of judgement of those strengths and weaknesses. Accepting your strengths and weaknesses isn’t the same as liking them or approving of them. It simply means letting go of fighting against your own qualities, beating yourself up for your flaws, or judging yourself (or the world).

When you free up the mental energy used for fighting, judging, blaming, and so on, you also free up the energy to change what you truly want to change.