Self-acceptance is the key to feeling more confident, valuable, acceptable and whole just as you are.
We all feel the hot rush of shame from time to time, that flash of discomfort that makes us want to hide away and never face the world again. But when these thoughts keep recurring, or when our fear of making a fool of ourselves causes us to avoid situations, then shame can lead to paralyzing anxiety.
But feelings of shame can be overcome first by understanding what causes them, and then by learning to accept ourselves as good enough just the way we are. Self-acceptance isn’t easy but is essential to living a happy and fulfilling life where we no longer feel ashamed of who we are.
Shame leads to anxiety when we constantly reflect on our past and feel shame at occasions when we did or said something ‘wrong’. Often, the feelings of shame are because we feel we are not the same as other people and don’t really ‘fit in.’
We may also place high expectations on our own behavior, requiring ourselves to achieve perfection in everything we do.
The alternative to striving so hard to be perfect and to ‘fit in’ is to accept ourselves the way we are. Self-acceptance can help us because, when we truly believe that we are basically good, decent human beings despite, and sometimes because of, our inadequacies and flaws, we can let go of the fear that we will do or say something of which we are ashamed. Through self-acceptance, we discover that, although we have different feelings, desires and needs from those of others, we are valuable, acceptable and whole just as we are.
Why it’s difficult to accept yourself in modern society
Learning to accept ourselves as we are going against the grain of a society where hard work, striving, goal setting, and self-improvement are highly rated. We are encouraged to feel ashamed of our wrinkles, excess weight, lack of earning power, clothes, possessions and just about everything else we can think of. Our culture plays on these fears of not being good enough to sell us ‘cures’ for our pain. These cures come in the form of products from anti-wrinkle creams to diet pills, designer clothes to cars and gym memberships to self-improvement courses.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to learn new things, better our skills and improve our emotional and physical well-being, but this needs to come from a place of accepting ourselves fully as we are. A child does not learn to walk by being ashamed of crawling; a child learns to walk out of curiosity, determination and a desire to develop. Neither is there anything wrong with buying things we want as long as our consumerism is not fuelled by a sense of inadequacy. To buy a beautiful shirt or a stylish vase for the pleasure of using and enjoying them is completely different from buying products because at a deep level we feel inadequate without them.
How to gain self-acceptance
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix way to gain this sense of self-acceptance for many. This is a process that can be slow and frustrating. But just knowing that you have a choice, that you don’t have to hold on to shame and that it isn’t your duty to feel guilty for every minor misdemeanor, slip up or social hiccup, helps the burden of shame feel a little lighter.
To help move toward self-acceptance, when feelings of shame arise, try to relax and breathe through them and resist the temptation to follow negative emotions down a rabbit warren of self-analysis, condemnation and judgment. And when you find that you have, return your focus to the breath and try to relax once more. Keep relaxing through your sense of shame until it becomes second nature to react this way. Eventually, you will begin to accept yourself as good enough just the way you are.
What happens when we start to accept ourselves as we are
Imagine the relief, the weight lifted from our shoulders, if we could truly believe we were good enough despite the limited funds in our bank account, our inability to cook a risotto and the body hair growing in places we would rather it didn’t.
This wonderful wildlife is a gift to us and it is ours to spend as we will. We can choose not to spend our precious time, energy and attention on becoming what society deems acceptable. We can choose to reject the message from big businesses that play on our fears of not being good enough to sell us their products. We can choose to believe that our values, ideas and feelings are as valid as anyone else’s and release the sense that there is anything about us that is not acceptable. Of course, we must do all this while being aware that others also have that right.
In choosing to accept ourselves just as we are, it is a prerequisite that we honor others in the same way.
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