I began my self acceptance journey in earnest after my first child was born. I had done a lot of reading during my pregnancy, about healing childhood trauma so we can parent from a place of wholeness, and it opened up a lot of things for me. Parts of my story that I thought I had faced suddenly had more pain surfacing, at the prospect of becoming a mother myself. Then, as we were contemplating dedicating our daughter (a Christian term for committing her to God) I started to wrestle with my faith in a way I had never done before. Raising a child to have the same world view and faith as you can bring up so many things, as you start to questions things your parents passed down to you. Shortly after that I started therapy, and the self discovery continued.
My therapist was the first person to tell me I needed to start to trust my intuition more. I am naturally very intuitive and self aware, but she could see the lack of trust, lack of boundaries, and lack of identity that was keeping me in fear. As I processed trauma and spoke without reservation in a safe and judgment free environment, I realized how much of my story I had yet to heal. I realized how much of my Christian faith was tainted by my shame and self-rejection. I realized how, even though I have a confident and bodacious personality, I hadn’t truly accepted who I am. And I wasn’t ableto figure out who I was, because of the fear that was keeping me from listening and trusting my intuition.
Self acceptance is one of those self-help buzz words right now that might seem a little fru-fru, a little self indulgent, a little hokey. But what I’ve come to realize is that dismissing the work that comes with true self acceptance is a surefire way to stunt your growth in all areas of life. If there is an area of your life that you want to grow or change, you need to wrestle with who you are and the story you’re telling yourself in that area. And here are the 5 principles that have helped me do that:
Self Acceptance Is:
1 Believing I am worthy of love and belonging RIGHT NOW
This is the foundation of learning to love who you are. Believing that you, and every person, have inherent worth just because we exist. That is all that’s required. You don’t have to change anything to deserve love. It wasn’t until I read The Gifts of Imperfection that I truly realized how much shame was keeping me from accepting this truth for myself. I remember reading this quote in Brene Brown’s book and being so uncomfortable: “worthy of love and belonging”, am I? Me? What about all these things I need to fix? There are no prerequisites for worthiness. Period. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to stop wanting to improve or grow, you don’t have to ignore your pain, you don’t have to pretend you’re perfect – you don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love and belonging. You are human, and you have worth ❤️ and believing that is the first step to an authentic, whole hearted life of self acceptance.
To begin to accept this truth, we need to ask ourselves when we started to believe we didn’t have inherent worth. For a lot of us, it was early childhood. Maybe a divorce, a damaging school or church experience, or a friendship that ended badly is what first taught you that love was conditional. Ask yourself, when in my childhood did I feel like I had to earn love or belonging? When did I feel like I didn’t belong, or that love was conditional?
Did you have to behave a certain way to feel loved as a child?
Did you have to look a certain way to feel accepted by a friend group?
Did you hear from a Sunday school teacher that you had to be good to be loved by your Heavenly Father?
Did abuse or neglect leave a wound that still whispers to you that unconditional love isn’t real?
Did a parent with body image issue, or fatphobic media influences you saw ingrain a message that only one kind of body is acceptable?
This is not a comfortable part of the process. This is the breaking and unraveling and the death part of growth. But it’s *essential*.
2 Owning my story so my story doesn’t own me
Owning our story is so difficult and terrifying because our fear and shame tell us to push our story as far away as possible so that we aren’t defined by it. But the key to rewriting the end of your story, is in owning your story.
Your identity is shaped in part by your family of origin, and by the pain you’ve experienced that may have been out of your control. But, that is not ALL of who you are. And finding your true self will only happen when you let your story take it’s proper place. It is not meant to own you.
What event or struggle in your story do you push away or withhold from others because you fear it will cause people to reject you or see you in a bad light? What would it look like to face that part of your story, and still believe in your worthiness? You are not your worst day, or your worst trauma. You are not your parents worst day, or your parents worst trauma. You are not the labels that society or the church has put on you, your family, or your situation. This is the power of shame in our stories; not that we are defined by what happened to us, but we begin to define ourselves the meaning we give to what had happened to us.
Facing the pain of your story means facing the identity and the meaning you have found in that story. It’s the power of meaning we give to our stories that keeps us from owning them, which really allows them to own us. What have you experienced in your story that you’ve taken meaning from, or formed an identity from? What labels do you need to let go of?
What happens to us in our lives, or our childhoods, doesn’t matter as much as the MEANING we give those events. That is what can control us. The fear that keeps us from thinking about or healing our stories is the fear that it’s TRUE. What if we are rejected, we are worthless, what if the labels really are our identity? We have to stop pushing away our stories for fear of being defined by them.
“When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” Brene Brown
3 Loving and knowing myself so I can better love and know others
I think the *self* in self acceptance freaks a lot of people out. We all want to be selfLESS, servant hearted, humble pie eating people. I do too! So the idea of accepting yourself, offering yourself compassion, taking care of yourself, knowing yourself might feel selfISH, but do not squirm away from self acceptance under the guise of selflessness.
By taking time to focus on who you are and valuing yourself, you are communicating to others that they also have value and are worth time, energy, and understanding.
Let me ask you this: will you be a better or worse mother if you explore your beliefs and values deeply, so that you can shape your child’s worldview from a place of self understanding? Will you be a better or worse partner if you prioritize giving yourself grace and meeting your own needs with compassion instead of judgement, so that you put less pressure on your partner to do those things for you? Will you be a better or worse Christian, worker, friend, human if you take time to deeply know yourself and step into your authenticity, so that everything you do is marked by genuine love and rooted in who you were meany to be?
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
You matter. You are worth the work of knowing and loving yourself, and your story. And so are your kids. And husband. And coworkers. And employees. And friends. When you invest in yourself, and take the time to become your best self, you are giving others permission to do the same. Remember, we can only extend grace, love, and healing to others to the extent that we have experienced it ourselves. Begin exploring your identity, your strangers and weaknesses, in a new way. Do some journaling and ask yourself, is there a part of your personality, faith, or story that you’ve put out of your mind because it scares you or represents the unknown? Determine to work through that part of you, with a friend or with a therapist. Exploring who you are, even the parts you would rather push away, is an important part of self acceptance.
4 Accepting myself so I don’t *need* others to accept me
Here’s the real cold hard truth – it is no one else’s job to like you or understand you. That is your job. And friend, you can trust that my people pleasing self dies a little even as I type that out because I WANT EVERYONE TO LIKE ME. And here’s the another truth: even if *everyone* tells you that you’re beautiful and worthy and loved, if you don’t believe that for yourself it will mean NOTHING. It will fill your heart for a second and then fade. The real work is knowing what *you* think of you.
This is easily the hardest part of self acceptance for those of us who struggle with people pleasing and feeling like we need everyone to understand our point of view. It. Is. Hard. But what’s harder? Abandoning who you truly are in the quest to please everyone will end badly, guaranteed.
Caring too much about what other people think can be sooo subtle too; it can look like asking for permission to feel what you’re feeling, or seeking out everyone else’s opinion on something before you form your own.
The next time something makes you uncomfortable or happy, notice what your unconscious reaction is. Do you need to text or call someone? When something pops up on your social media that you disagree with, do you have to show a friend in order get validation? When you set a boundary and someone disagrees with it, do you second guess yourself? Tuning into your intuition is a good way to root yourself in YOUR opinion of you, instead of being so concerned with others’ opinion of you.
“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think – or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” Brené Brown
5 Letting go of fear and embracing love
At the end of the day, the thing that holds us back from accepting ourselves, from owning our stories, from celebrating our strengths and who we are, and giving people space and grace to do the same, is fear. There are so many practical things you can do, so many affirmations, so many journaling exercises, so many therapy techniques, so many inspiring Instagram quotes – BUT, if you are prepared to say no to fear and yes to love, self acceptance will always be a mirage, just one step away. What does that mean? Say no to fear and yes to love? In the simplest application, it means saying no to the voice that says you are no good and beyond help, and saying yes to the voice that says don’t give up, you have something to offer and have value (psssst, that voice is your intuition). We make that choice every single time our inner critic / fear comes up, even if it’s 1,000 times a day. In the bigger picture, saying no to fear and yes to love means saying no to how your fear defines you, and saying yes to how love – how God – defines you. YOU ARE LOVED. Fear is committed to convincing you otherwise, our culture is committed to convincing you otherwise, most of us have deep wiring from our childhoods and generational pain that convinces us otherwise.
Self acceptance is choosing in so many small and massive ways to be defined by love, and not by fear. The great news? You can do this now 👏🏻 today 👏🏻 this second 👏🏻 even as you read this, maybe the shame gremlins are saying “she’s wrong, don’t listen to her, you’re unloveable because of _________.” I know that voice. It’s the voice of fear. And it’s a lie. And when I hear that voice, I ask it a question (that my therapist asks me).
Instead of listening to the fear and asking “what if I’m wrong?”; what if I’m not worthy of love, what if I’ll never heal, what if I’ll always hate myself, what if self acceptance isn’t available to me – flip the script on fear, my friend, and ask instead, “what if I’m right?” W
What if you really do have intrinsic worth. What if your story has value. What if you are loved – and what if you believed it??
Brene Brown’s books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly have greatly impacted my journey towards self acceptance. The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning has also radically shifted how I view self acceptance in the light of Jesus and the Bible. For my own personal story with each of these principles, check out my Instagram where I recently shared #10daysofselfacceptance.
As you begin or continue on your journey towards self acceptance, remember that it is more then self esteem on the line; this work is about so much more then good vibes and Instagram posts. It’s about our lives. It’s about having break through in our mental health, it’s about becoming the parent you wish you had, it’s about ending cycles of self rejection and self harm, it’s about breaking free from who you thought you were and becoming who you truly are. This work is about true belonging, which is the cornerstone of everything meaningful in life. That’s what’s at stake.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Brene Brown
Be you, bodaciously