A high level of self-acceptance has major benefits to a persons well-being. Studies have shown that it tends to increase a higher sense of self-worth, self-esteem, personal freedom, while it decreases the fear(s) of failure and rejection. I believe that it is an important starting point for massive self-improvement and growth. But lately, I encountered people who cultivate self-acceptance in a way that won’t set them up for self-improvement.
Let's take a look at the definition of self-acceptance:
According to Shepard (1979), self-acceptance is an individual's satisfaction or happiness with oneself and is thought to be necessary for good mental health. Self-acceptance involves self-understanding, a realistic, albeit subjective, awareness of one's strengths and weaknesses. It results in an individual's feeling about oneself, that they are of "unique worth".
This definition gives room for cultivating two ways of self-acceptance. Both decrease the inner-critic but only one leads to massive growth, while the other causes stagnation. Let me explain.
The paradox of self-acceptance
Growth or stagnation?
Accepting your thoughts and emotions as they arise in the present moment is an important aspect of self-acceptance.By doing so you will be aware of them instead of identifying with them. This is great because you get to know yourself. Accepting yourself for who you are, and not trying to be someone you think you need to be (to feel happy or good) can be truly liberating. But for many people, it stops here. It becomes a strategy for accepting themselves but simultaneously hoping and wanting negative feelings/emotions to go away. Cultivating self-acceptance this way decreases the inner-critic (that wants to be someone else) but it won’t lead to massive growth and personal development. And if you are reading this article, you're probably more interested in the latter.
Let’s look at an example:
Let’s say someone asks you to speech at a wedding (250 guests attending). You feel an eager want, but simultaneously you feel anxious. As long as you remember you have had a fear of speaking in public ( fear of rejection), and by only thinking about it, your entire body gives signals that you shouldn’t do it. Will you do it or not? The answer to this question is what leads to 1) growth or 2) stagnation.
Many people just accept that this is how they are wired and will not do the speech. The ‘self-acceptance' becomes a strategy, where you hope that the feeling goes away. However, this doesn’t lead to growth. You are using the self-acceptance to stay in your comfort zone. As a matter of fact, it is probably a great place to be, you just accept that you're not doing it and there is no inner critic (that thinks you should have). The fear will go away until a new situation occurs where it will arise again.
But if you are like me and you want to grow, this is how you cultivate self-acceptance:
Become aware of your emotions and feelings and accept them as experiences in your consciousness - this way you detach from them. But instead of wanting the fear to go away and staying in your comfort zone you fully embrace it and step out of it.
Growing by doing
All these things considered this would mean that you fully accept and embrace the feeling of anxiety through your body. And by doing so you create a process in which the pattern of energy that causes the anxiety becomes more meaningless every time you are asked for a speech. This means that the next time a similar situation occurs the anxiety becomes more manageable. This is what leads to massive growth because you will overcome your fear(s).
I’m not saying that you should be living on the edge all the time. If you really hate doing something, don’t do it! But always ask yourself: Why do you hate doing it? Is it a lack of interest or is something holding you back?