Lee A Edwards, PhD

Psychologist, Austin Texas


This is hugely important!

By self-acceptance I mean being okay with yourself despite your being imperfect, human, fallible, etc. I think of two basic approaches to self-acceptance:

(1) Earn it. This is the popular viewpoint in America: you can accept yourself, but only after you become good enough. The problem is, typically people never get to seeing themselves as good enough. It doesn't seem to be enough to be good at taking care of others or to be impressive in life's competitions (business, athletics, attractiveness, etc.). If you make acceptance conditional, you'll probably never accept yourself.

(2) Just grant it to yourself. Take the attitude that an ideal mother might: "I love you and accept you when you're impressive, and also when you're messing up." Of course, you'd rather do well, but you're kind, compassionate, accepting even when you don't do well. This approach is bold in that it doesn't try to justify itself. "What makes you acceptable?" "Nothing specific. I just choose to be nice to myself." This one works much better than the "earn it" approach, but it takes a lot of practice. Why's it so hard?

Most of us are raised with the "earn it" approach crammed down our throats. We're told it's good to be ashamed. I remember listening to my football coach telling a player who didn't block well, "You are nothing!" Couldn't be more blatant. The coach, of course, was miserable and probably hated himself. If he had a son, I'd guess he and the son hated each other. The you-are-bad-until-proven-good approach makes people very unhappy on a very deep level. It's sad that it's so widespread.

So, specially, how do you adopt the "just be accepting" approach?

* First, commit to it. Make a conscious decision that you're going to start trying to be kind to yourself when you're impressive and when you're not.

* Talk to yourself (it doesn't need to be out loud ;-) ) about it when you do something poorly. For example, "I blew that, but I'm still okay. How can I help myself feel better? How can I help myself do better next time?"

* Practice the switch from judgmental to accepting about little things and big things. Practice a lot.

* I like to think in metaphors. Obviously I've got The Mean Coach as an example of non-acceptance, but I can also call up the one really kind and respectful coach I had. He would critique our performance, just skipping the hateful attitude; he would still tell us what we needed to change, then encourage us to work hard on it. Perfect! Another one is The Ideal Mother. I picture a big, round mama with a huge chest. When her child messes up, she says something like, "Come here, Sugar, I know that badly. Let me hold you a while, then we'll talk about how to fix it. But first let me just comfort you."

* Again, practice often. When you notice a harsh thought toward yourself, try to figure out what the alternative would be. Turn, for example, "I blew it...like I always do" to "I blew it...but I'm still okay in the big picture...and I'm gonna work on how to do it differently next time." Getting "better" is not the enemy, of course; it's just that it doesn't work to pin your worth on it. First accept yourself, then work on whatever you need to change; not the other way around!

You may also want to read the Shame and Guilt articles if this one is helpful.

Licensed psychologist, Austin

(512) 694-1322

4403 Menchaca Rd, Suite A, South Austin, TX 78745
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