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Self-acceptance: The foundation for self-love and self-care

22.02.21 4 min. read

It’s up to us to deliberately choose to treat ourselves with more love and care. We’re in the position to determine our own priorities, pay more attention to our well-being and be kind to ourselves.

All of these things are in our power to decide.

Yet if we don't accept ourselves for who we are, sooner or later, it can feel like we're hitting a wall. Or like a door slamming in our face.

How are we supposed to love and care for ourselves wholly and unconditionally if we do not acknowledge our individual needs and idiosyncrasies? How can we ever feel whole if we embrace some parts of our personality but turn a blind eye toward others?

The freedom from typecasting ourselves 

Above all, self-acceptance means an honest perception of ourselves in our entirety: to appreciate all the positive things going for us, as well as to accept all the things about us that may seem (at least at first glance) less than desirable.

And it also means freedom to hold contradictions about ourselves. Sometimes we’re fast, other times we’re slow. Sometimes we’re loud and outgoing, other times we’re quiet and introspective. Sometimes we make a fuss, other times we let things slide.

Some nights we can feel like dancing until the world ends and other nights we feel like indulging in a relaxing bedtime routine — or both at the same time.

Each facet of our identity has a legitimate reason for existing. Nothing is off-limits. Everything’s going to be okay. Internalising this concept is a lifelong task. And possibly one of the most therapeutic and meaningful tasks we will ever face. 

A (self) love story 

Our minds crave simple answers — no wonder the entertainment industry continues to take advantage of our penchant for feel-good rom-coms that help us forget about the real world around us. 

However, this kind of thinking is precisely what can lead us to play tricks on ourselves when it comes to our own surroundings. Much like the protagonists of those sappy movies and series, we start to believe that we must either completely reinvent ourselves or, alternatively, remain just the way we are and wait for something (or someone) to come along. Self-optimise or stand still. Embrace or reject.

Why do we feel like it’s a choice between excessive self-indulgence or an all-out self-denial?

It’s only natural that there are some aspects of ourselves that we love more than others. Perhaps it’s the parts we love less that simply need more time and room for development. Either way, our relationship with ourselves is constantly in flux over the course of our lives. Or to put it in another way: Our identity is not a fixed state, but rather an ever-changing process.

Self-acceptance implies recognising all our many facets — regardless of how much they might benefit or harm us on the surface. And that has little to do with the idea of ‘letting ourselves go’. On the contrary: Holding on and accepting ourselves can contribute to our personal growth.

Growth and acceptance

Some traits are just intrinsic to us, even if we don’t want to admit it. Whether we come to terms with them later down the line or right now or not at all is entirely up to us. Though often this kind of reckoning can make us feel more liberated and open ourselves up over the long run.

Acceptance isn’t just sitting there and doing nothing; it’s taking the time to pause and evaluate.

Maybe we sense a knot somewhere. And maybe we seek to unravel it too, but we’re not (yet) ready to take a stab at it. Be that as it may, it’s only if we dare to look close enough and find the root cause that we can begin to untangle the knot — and watch how it unravels almost by itself. Otherwise, we’ll continue to pull harder and harder, making the knot even more difficult to untie than it was to begin with.

Where there’s light, there’s also a shadow — shadow work

Imagine if all of your different individual personality traits were in the same room with you. The introvert and the extrovert. The hard-worker and the slacker. The caregiver and the free spirit.

There are certain attributes we prefer to show off because we think they are better — because we’ve learned that they help us get ahead, or simply because they seem safe and familiar. It’s easy to get swept up in just these simple representations — and ignore the parts of ourselves that seem unlikable or unfamiliar — until we accept ourselves in our entirety.

The psychoanalyst Jung referred to this kind of work as encountering our shadow, perceiving and processing the darker, unknown side of our character.

Looking and listening to ourselves

By becoming aware of our metaphorical shadows, we can stop looking for external solutions to our internal problems. As we take full responsibility for ourselves and our actions, we steer ourselves away from shutting down and making ourselves smaller.

Of course we can still pick favourites when it comes to our various traits and quirks. We can align ourselves with them and make it a priority to embody them as often as possible. That said, tapping into other parts of our personality — and listening to what they’re telling us — can also be a useful exercise.

As we encounter challenging situations, we can ask ourselves: What’s that jealous/angry/sad part of me saying right now...? Does the feeling really have something to do with my surroundings, or am I just reacting based on my experiences and judgments? 

Perhaps we’d like to quell that part of us — and we can only do that by looking it in the eyes (so to speak) and politely ask it to leave. Or maybe we decide to give it some space… A space we don’t have to visit all the time, just every now and then, a rough edge that forms an interesting contrast to the rest of our personality. These traits not only make us more exciting, but they also make us human: They make us who we are.

Getting a grasp on both the beautiful and the problematic sides of our personality can help us prioritise our needs and take better care of ourselves: to live in harmony and awareness, and care for all the parts within us. At times it might feel chaotic and crazy, yet above all it can also feel quite fulfilling and wonderful — and isn’t that what makes life worth living in the first place?

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