In his blog post on Greater Good, Srini Pillay defines self-acceptance as “an individual’s acceptance of all his/her attributes, positive or negative. It includes body acceptance, self-protection from negative criticism, and believing in one’s capacities.” He links improved emotional wellness to self-acceptance.
Though closely related, self-acceptance is different from self-esteem, as the latter refers to how worthwhile or valuable we see ourselves. The former, on the other hand, refers to a comprehensive affirmation of self. This allows us to accept all of ourselves, not just the good. We are able to recognize our limitations and weaknesses, but this by no chance hinders our ability to accept ourselves for who we are.
Many of us who have low self-acceptance try to suppress this by trying to accomplish great things. But this only serves as a Band-Aid approach to improving our self-esteem. Srini Pillay goes on to say that, “this only helps your self-esteem for a while. That’s because achievement is a poor substitute for intimacy.”
Open up: emotional well-being can be achieved with honesty
The truth is, if we want to improve our self-esteem and emotional wellness, we need to honestly explore all parts of ourselves that we've not come to terms with and that we have not fully accepted. It’s only when we stop being harsh critics of ourselves that we can develop a positive sense of who we are. This then explains why self-esteem naturally goes up as soon as we become self-accepting, which is crucial to our emotional wellness and happiness.
Much like self-esteem, we're able to become self-accepting as children to the extent our parents fully accept us. Scientific studies have shown that children who are younger than eight don't have the ability to create a distinct sense of emotional well-being other than that demonstrated by their parents or other caregivers.
Extreme parental evaluation goes further beyond critiquing certain behaviors. For example, a parent may convey the message that their child is ungrateful, not smart enough and so on, and this significantly affects self-acceptance. In short, most of us continue ‘parenting’ ourselves throughout our lives much like how we were parented.
“If we want to improve our emotional wellness, we need to honestly explore all parts of ourselves that we've not come to terms with.”
It's true that with little or no self-approval, our psychological well-being suffers, and even when we seek help, it's often less fruitful compared to other people in the same situation who are more self-accepting.
When we are low self-accepting, the brain sectors that control our emotions and stress levels have less gray matter compared to people who are self-accepting, meaning we physically have less tissue to work with in our brains which can trigger anxiety and stress.
So far we've seen that our parents and the environment around us have had a profound effect on our ability to become self-accepting. But, in truth, we need to let the past go and learn new techniques of accepting ourselves as we are.
A family affair: our parents influence our self-acceptance
For the sake of our peace of mind, happiness and overall emotional wellness, we first need to accept ourselves unconditionally. There are three main ways to boost our self-approval and acceptance levels and therefore our emotional wellness:
This allows us to shut down self-deprecating emotions such as not being good enough and focusing more on our positive attributes and restructuring negative occurrences, so we look at them as great opportunities that are meant to help us improve ourselves.
Sometimes, our self-accepting level goes further than our conscious level such that when we are not self-accepting, we essentially split ourselves and feel incomplete. That is, the part that needs forgiveness and the one that should forgive are at loggerheads. Self-awareness helps us understand what is happening at a deeper level.
This allows us to depend on things that are outside of ourselves to define who we are. That is, we turn to an unseen force that connects us with the world. Some of the ways we can become self-transcendent is by contributing to charities, helping the less fortunate, and so on. Self-transcendence has been proven to impact our brains positively by increasing the release of our feel-good hormones, that is, dopamine and serotonin which reduce our stress levels and give us emotional fulfilment.
Loving-kindness and mindful meditations can help us become more self-accepting. By loving ourselves more and not judging ourselves, we're able to lower our brain response to anxiety and stress. As we practise these, the activity in our brain regions that affect emotions will start to improve.
We're unique, and so not all of these methods work in the same way for everyone. The important thing is to affirm that you need to become more self-accepting and start doing what works for you. Take it one small step at a time, and you'll start seeing positive results. ●
Main image: Colorbox.com
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