Develop unconditional self-acceptance

Learn how to develop unconditional self-acceptance?

Image of a brain saying reset your mind and develop unconditional self -acceptance
Develop unconditional self-acceptance — Image by Pixabay

As a mental health nurse with specialist training, I learned how to develop unconditional self-acceptance. And you can too. Of course, we all want to feel good about ourselves and feel more self-accepting. Fortunately, there is a way.

Do you accept yourself? Or are you full of self-loathing at times? Do you experience self-dislike or even self-disgust?

You wouldn’t be on your own. Unfortunately, as humans, we have these innate and learned modes of irrational, self defeating thinking. Worse, some of us are afflicted with a hefty dose of self-downing too.

I mean it’s not much fun, is it? Waking up with that horrible self-loathing in the pit of your stomach. Ugh! And disliking yourself is bad enough, but hating the fact that you dislike yourself is even worse, and it’s not healthy. It can, and often does, lead to depression and anxiety, and vice-versa.

What is self-acceptance?

Rough sketch of character holding up a red heart
Unconditional self-acceptance — Image by Nick Fewings at Unsplash

No doubt you’ve heard about self-acceptance from people that study or teach personal growth methods. So what is it? Self-acceptance is exactly what it says on the tin name: the state of complete acceptance of self. True self-acceptance is embracing who you are, without any conditions.

A recent post explained self-esteem and while it’s closely related, self-esteem is how we value and see ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves. Psychology Today wrote that “self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more “esteem-able” parts.

Unconditional Self-Acceptance

I've developed unconditional self-acceptance. Confident looking black female.
I’ve developed unconditional self-acceptance — Image by Unsplash

As such, self-acceptance is unconditional. We can recognize our weaknesses or limitations, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves.”

Unconditional self-acceptance (USA) is simply acknowledging and accepting that you are who you are. And you do not withdraw your self-acceptance if you do something wrong or make a mistake. You accept that you are a complex and fallible human being that gets things wrong and makes mistakes.

However, USA isn’t about giving into apathy or finding excuses for leaving everything as it is, and stay where you are. USA isn’t about resigning the self to the things we dislike about ourselves It’s more, we acknowledge that we have undesirable traits and habits before we start off on our journey to improvement. USA is said to be the first step to pursuing self-betterment in a healthy manner.

To begin working on yourself, the first step is not just self-acceptance, but USA. It’s quite easy to accept ourselves when we just did something amazing i.e. won an award, started a brilliant new job or got a First at uni. But accepting ourselves at our lowest, with our past bad behaviours, our faults and imperfections is the real mark of USA.

Conditional self-acceptance

Colour image of little boy wearing LGBT Rainbow flag, sitting on someones shoulders
Child not loved for person he is — Image by Max Bohme at unsplash

Conditional self-acceptance is where positive regard, praise, and approval, depend upon a child, for example, behaving in ways that the parents think correct.

Hence the child is not loved for the person he or she is, but only on condition that he or she behaves only in ways approved by the parent(s). 

At the extreme, a person who constantly seeks approval from other people is likely only to have experienced conditional positive regard as a child.

Develop unconditional self-acceptance

The goal of USA is to stop reproaching and condoning ourselves if we face failure or threat, even though we really dislike these negative situations. By removing any conditions upon which we determine ourselves, selecting USA lets us change and develop yet still acknowledging that we are fallible but worthy human beings.

“Big I, Little i” technique (Arnold Lazarus)
“Big I, Little i” technique (Arnold Lazarus), Journal of Human Development and Communication, Volume 7, 2018 [61-70] 63

While we looked at this technique in another post on improving your low self esteem, using it again here will serve as a reminder.

Imagine your boss asked you to complete a task by the end of the week and you miss the deadline. So, you’ve made a mistake. What normally happens to us when we make a mistake, is that we make an over-generalised self-appraisal of ourselves like “I’m useless!” That “I’m useless!” is a negative self-statement that implies zero value in all areas of our lives. We’ve crossed out the whole of the Big I.

However, we only made a single mistake so that’s one little ‘i’ but what we do instead of crossing off that one little ‘i’, is cross our whole selves out. Essentially we’ve crossed out the whole Big I.

This Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) technique, the Big ‘I’ and Little ‘i’ worksheet, acts as a tool to help you accomplish self-acceptance.

The Big I is you, in total. The hundreds of little i’s are all the various parts of you; your thoughts, actions or characteristics like your empathycompassion, kindness, honesty, and caring nature. The self refers to the millions of characteristics. It cannot be measured by fewer than all the traits which go to make up the self.

So whenever you make a negative self-appraisal, cross out only one little ‘i’. You can continue in this way all day and for every ‘error’, cross out another little ‘i’. I doubt you’d even be able to cross out a whole line of little ‘i’s let alone the whole Big I, which is you. So the Big I (you) remains intact because you’ve only crossed out one line of little i’s.

Healthy techniques to develop unconditional self-acceptance

Grey scale image of youth wearing a blue hat and grey hoody, sitting with his elbows on his knees, hands covering his face
Unconditional Self-acceptance — forgiving-sets-you-free Image by MotivateUs com
  1. Put yourself first — stop neglecting yourself. You won’t be much good to others if you don’t look after yourself. Learn to say an emphatic “no” to people and don’t let them interfere with your time and energy.
  2. Treat others with kindness, curiosity, forgiveness and gentleness, and many will respond in kind. If they don’t, understand that they’re not bad people, they’re fallible human beings who make mistakes. However, because you’ve developed your USA, you won’t allow them to put you down or abuse you.
  3. Accept yourself with your perceived failings if you can’t change them. Or seek support and guidance to help you reduce any flaws so that you can enjoy life without negative thoughts interfering. Be open to and prepared to improve your skills and weaknesses.
  4. Always give yourself the care and attention you would give your loved ones.
  5. Don’t let the world and his wife drag you down. You have your own perceived flaws to be getting on with.
  6. Take pride and be proud that you have the wherewithal and resources to fulfil your wants or needs, even with any perceived limitations.
  7. Be a role model, set an example of USA in yourself and help others develop unconditional self-acceptance.
  8. Remember, you can’t please all the people all of the times, it’s not necessary and it can be detrimental to your mental health. Not everyone in this world is going to like us or find us acceptable. Our demand that everybody must, creates a perfectionistic, unattainable goal. So we’re setting ourselves up to fail.
  9. Encourage your children to seek not perfection but unconditional self- acceptance.

As I’ve said many times when I’ve offered any self-help techniques, you must practice them, often. There is no point reading something once then putting it away, never to be seen or used again. I’m sure most of you wouldn’t pass your driving test if you only practised once.

Over to you

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I’d love to know if you think some of these self-help techniques would be useful and even more so, delighted if you tell me you’ve practised some of them. I’m really interested in how you get on. I’m looking forward to your comments and any questions.