When one refers to the concept of self or self-image, one usually speaks of self-acceptance. Self-acceptance refers to the recognition and acceptance of the fact that we have strengths and weaknesses. Usually, there is an attempt to take advantage of one’s the positive, strong characteristics (and maybe takes them for granted), while the weak characteristics are often not only undesirable, but also a person might engage in a very hard struggle in order to correct them.
“When I behave irresponsibly and spend my money recklessly, I get angry with myself. I should not do that; I have to be more prudent.”
M., 23 years old
Too often people, especially those who have high expectations of themselves, experience frustration with themselves and unpleasant feelings when they do not live up to those high expectations. They find it difficult to accept themselves as an imperfect human being who can make mistakes or be weak, which is different from the ideal (usually strong, autonomous and independent) self they may have in mind. When this happens the person suffers, unable to incorporate into one’s self-image any of one’s shortcomings and of course enters into a frequently hopeless struggle to correct, fight or ignore them, without success.
But how much one accepts oneself is largely related to the experiences he/she has had in the past. The most common experience that people have had is that of “conditional acceptance”, that is, that one deserves to be loved when one meets the terms and conditions set by the important others in his/her environment. This model of one’s self love and acceptance is internalized and usually creates people who over time set themselves strict conditions upon them, thus creating distance from their real thoughts, feelings, needs and desires. In addition, conditional acceptance is often associated with the inability to accept the negative or weak characteristics of one’s personality.
“I do not want to have feelings. I become a weakling, which cannot defend itself.”
L., 21 years old
Usually, people who do not accept themselves hide behind the shield of power and independence and anything that threatens this image is a danger they must drive away. However, this is how they end up fighting themselves, something extremely burdensome. But how can this attitude towards oneself be changed? It certainly does not happen if a person continues to fight aspects of oneself, but one needs to recognize these weaknesses as parts of oneself. Of course, this does not happen overnight, but it is possible.
In accepting unlikeable aspects of oneself, separating between one’s image and behavior is really helpful. Making this distinction means:
- A person is not really bad, rather is a person who did something wrong.
- Making a mistake or showing weakness in some areas does not define someone as a whole.
- Behavioral weaknesses can be corrected with effort, without accusations or severe self-punishment.
This creates a feeling that the self as a whole is a person worthy of appreciation and love and that a mistake or omission does not mean that it is not worth loving, but simply is an inevitable parameter of being human.
A person who accepts oneself does not feel “lesser” than others because of one’s weaknesses and failures, nor does one feel “better” than others because of one’s strengths and successes. Self-acceptance is an element of a healthy relationship with oneself. It does not mean that the person does not evaluate his/her behavior. A person understands one’s behavior and is willing to make changes to improve it, but without believing that he/she is a bad person. When one realizes his/her weaknesses, he/she still experiences sadness, grief or frustration, without however, completely rejecting himself.
“I learned to forgive myself, not to judge myself or at least when I do it, to do it compassionately… I have a good time with myself.”
T., 22 years old