There has been a lot of talk in the media about the importance of accepting ourselves. Self-acceptance is an important place to reach, but I don’t think we should stop at self-acceptance, I think we should aim at self-love which at times, can be in conflict with self-acceptance.
If we live our lives trying to change either the physical or emotional features we would identify as core to our being then we can feel like we are living a lie and at the very least it will be massively exhausting. But first let’s be clear about what we should count as a ‘core’ feature.
We are all individuals and all unique, so we all have different hair colours and types, different skin tone, eye colour, leg to trunk proportions, musculature and body shape, to mention just a few. Some of these features are relatively easy to change, we can dye or cut our hair or style it in different ways. Through diet and exercise we can change our weight and to some extent our shape. It is much harder to change other aspects like freckles or birth-marks, though they may be covered up with make up or removed, depending on type. But covering up freckles to the extent that if you couldn’t wear make up it would stop you doing something is an example of when NOT accepting our physical features can cause us harm. Far better to get to the place emotionally where you embrace that aspect of your appearance, you may still coverup freckles with make up at times but the drive to do so would not be so acute and certainly any sense of panic if you couldn’t would be lessened.
We are all aware that how we feel about our physical appearance has a big impact on our mental and emotional well-being, but often the root of those feelings of unhappiness is not conforming to some type or standard that we think, or have been conditioned to think, is important.
In that case then definitely reaching the point where we can accept ourselves will be very healthy for us – and for some people they may feel so unhappy with some part of themselves that they go to significant lengths to change, such as that gained through plastic surgery, in order to feel they can accept themselves.
It is less helpful if we accept ourselves when the consequences may in themselves be damaging. For example, someone who is significantly overweight, yes, they need to accept the position they find themselves, but the next step must surely be to take responsibility for what they can change.Unless there is a physical condition which impacts metabolism, our weight is directly related to our food consumption habits and our exercise patterns. Accepting ourselves can then be dangerous, self-acceptancemay be liberating but understanding that we can change can also be beneficial for our health.
Mental and Emotional Features
The same is true for mental wellbeing. We all have differing approaches to how we manage stress, and for most people both the things that stress us and the way deal with that stress changes over time. So, let’s think about a person who is easily stressed and doesn’t have many strategies for dealing with that stress. Accepting themselves can be useful but acknowledging that they are easily stressed may be also be very positive and that’s something that can be changed. We can learn to become more resilient to stress and we can learn more effective ways of managing that stress. We know that stress can have damaging health consequences so simply accepting that we need to live a life where we fell stressed most of the time couldbe very harmful.
Think about some other character ‘traits’, are you the person who can always be relied upon to help out? Let us not be mistaken, helping each other is a good trait to have but not if it is to your own detriment.Underneath there may be fears that drive the behaviour, for example a fear that people will think less of you if you don’t help or maybe a reluctance to eversay ‘no’. The problem is that people who are always trying to please others often end up not being very kind to themselves. Accepting that you like to help people is fine, doing so to your own detriment is not.
Loving Yourself Rather than Accepting Yourself
In many instances then what is even better than accepting ourselves is loving ourselves.That means deciding to put our own needs on our priority list. It’s ok at times to prioritise the needs of others and obviously as parents or carers that is something we must do, but if our own needs are always at the bottom of the list then that could start to have a negative impact on our own health and wellbeing. Doing things that look after us is important, making time to exercise, eat a healthy diet, take care of our mental health by enjoying social relationships and doing things we enjoy, are all important aspects of self-care and caring for ourselves is one of the ways we can demonstrate self-love.
It is important to accept ourselves, but in many ways learning to love ourselves can at times be even more important.