You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Find Happiness: Self-Acceptance, The Road To A Happier Life

A definition of self-acceptance is a difficult one to nail down. There are different thoughts on it, but in the book, The Strength of Self-Acceptance, Theory, Theology, and Research, Ed. Bernard, Michael E. 2013, it states that:

“defining “self-acceptance” is not simple but, generally, self-acceptance is conceptualized as an affirmation or acceptance of self in spite of weaknesses or deficiencies.”

In clinical psychology and positive psychology, self-acceptance is considered the prerequisite for change to occur. It can be achieved by stopping criticizing and solving the defects of one’s self and then accepting them to be existing within one’s self. That is, tolerating oneself to be imperfect in some parts. (Wikipedia)

Perfection is a Myth

Accept you are not perfect. We are all imperfect in parts, this is our humanness. It is learning to live with these imperfections that matter. Self-acceptance brings us happiness.

We learn to accept ourselves fully both our strengths and weaknesses. Our constant striving for worthiness shows itself in perfectionism.

According to psychiatrist Marc H. Hollender (1965) ‘perfectionism most commonly develops in an insecure child who needs approval, acceptance, and affection from parents who are difficult to please.’

Leon F. Seltzer, supports this view and says that as children we’re able to accept ourselves only to the degree we feel accepted by our parents or caregivers and if they did not meet this need adequately, we inevitably come to see ourselves as inadequate in many ways.

Simply put, we treat ourselves as our parents treated us.

Only when we stop judging ourselves can we secure a more positive sense of who we are. The desire for perfection has always been part of being human, but there must come a day when we realize that perfection is a myth, it simply does not exist.

“The desire for perfection is the worst disease that ever afflicted the human mind.” Marquis Louis Fontanes (1757-1821)

Perfectionism is placing unrealistic demands upon ourselves. It’s a form of self-hatred, being hard on ourselves.

All this chasing after absolute perfection can leave us feeling unfulfilled, dissatisfied, inadequate, and utterly burnt out! There has to be a better way.

What Is Self-Acceptance?

According to Shepard L. A. (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”.

Self-Esteem & Self-Acceptance

“Though related, self-acceptance is not the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable or worthwhile we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self.” L.F. Seltzer Ph.D. (2008)

Self-esteem is generally about feeling good about ourselves, liking who we are. Self-acceptance is much broader and is considered to be the true key to happiness as it embraces all aspects of ourselves; light and dark.

Seltzer goes on to say that.. ‘when we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves – not just the positive, more “esteem-able” parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualification.

We can recognize our weaknesses, limitations, and foibles, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves.’ Self-esteem, he says rises naturally as soon as we cease being so hard on ourselves (judging ourselves).

Self-Acceptance and Happiness

Research studies are showing that self-compassion is associated with greater happiness, optimism, curiosity, resilience, and reduced depression and anxiety.

Albert Ellis, a renowned psychologist says there are ways to overcome feelings of inadequacy and develop self-acceptance…

  1. Define yourself as a worthwhile person because you exist, because you are alive
  2. You are worthwhile because your individual character strengths and abilities make up your uniqueness.
  3.  Accept yourself whether or not you achieve or people approve of you
  4.  Accept your errors and do your best to correct your past behaviour
  5.  Don’t give any kind of global generalized rating to yourself

There is agreement among leading self-acceptance theorists that self-acceptance needs to be accompanied by both individual determination to self-improve negative behaviour that blocks individual goal attainment (happiness, long life) and a social conscience where one’s action not only does not interfere with rights and interests of others but also contribute to the general welfare of the broader community. (Michael E. Bernard)

They also view self-acceptance as a catalyst for the alleviation of emotional misery as well as an energizer supporting growth towards happiness and fulfillment.

Here are some further daily tips on how to improve self-acceptance..

  • Cultivate self-compassion, let go of guilt and learn to forgive yourself.
  • Certify yourself, to validate your essential ok-ness.
  • Get over the habit of constantly judging yourself.
  • Develop more kindness and goodwill towards yourself.
  • Watch your self-talk, stop self-criticism.
  • Practice daily positive affirmations.

Seltzer reminds us that it’s important to be aware that self-acceptance has nothing to do with self-improvement as such.

It really isn’t about “fixing” anything in ourselves, it’s simply about accepting ourselves warts and all and affirming who we are.

We can continue to work on our personal growth, but we are okay today – we are doing our best and that’s enough.