Self-acceptance and self-love – The keys to an enriched existence
SEPTEMBER 07, 2021
Collins English Dictionary
Paperback Edition, 2006
“Love: an intense emotion of affection towards a person or thing”
By and large, we have either all experienced the emotion of love or, at the very least, come to recognise love to be as defined in the dictionary quotation stated above: an intense emotion of affection towards a person or thing.
Interestingly enough, however, our default understanding of love (as defined above) tends to be that of an emotion directed outwards towards some external (3rd party) person or thing. I find it remarkable that as we navigate our way through our daily lives, the vast majority of us never contemplate the eternal truth that the person most deserving (and most critically in need) of our love, care and respect is – first and foremost – ourselves.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
Words as true now as when first uttered back in our history. So, I ask you – do you love yourself? Are you able to completely accept the person you are (both for better or worse)? If you answered “no” to these questions then, regrettably, you will struggle to live the empowered existence that you deserve and, as a result, fail to impact the world around you in a positive and indelible way.
Most people battle (to varying degrees) with the issue of self-love and self-acceptance. I know this from my own personal experience. This disability has a debilitating impact on how we view both ourselves and others. It colours our perspective on life and relationships, for be in no doubt that our feelings towards other people are largely determined by our feelings towards ourselves. The key to unlocking our full potential, however, lies first in our acceptance of who we are as unique, independent individuals – being different and valuable because of it. You see, loving the world and loving others is contingent on our ability to first love ourselves; for you cannot give what you do not have.
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world”
Before we continue, allow me to address a cultural mindset which must first be arrested in order for us to be receptive towards the healing message of self-love. It seems to me that the most important reason why people aren’t self-compassionate is that they’re afraid they’ll either become or be viewed as self-indulgent and narcissistic. They believe that self-criticism is what keeps them in check; a cue picked up from a culture which (in various ways) urges us to be dissatisfied with ourselves – be that our looks, our social circle, our careers, our finances etc. I am here to tell you that such a notion is both dangerously misguided and deeply harmful to our sense of wellbeing. Self-love and Self-acceptance are not about viewing ourselves as either more or less deserving than others. No. A true understanding of self-love teaches us empathy and appreciation. Empathy and appreciation for both ourselves as well as others. In turn, such appreciation allows us to view our strengths and weaknesses (as well as the strength and weaknesses of others) in a healthy and balanced perspective. My favourite quote, which perfectly sums up my sentiments on the subject, is that of renowned author Parker J. Palmer, “Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others…namely….me!”
So, dear friends, please know that to treat yourself well, to be proud of who you are and what makes you unique, is a wondrous thing and by no means an exercise in vanity.
Let’s discuss some of the specifics of what this entails, breaking down self-acceptance and self-love in order to highlight the key requisites for living an enriched existence. We shall begin with the cornerstone – celebrating the uniqueness and awesomeness that is you!
Celebrate the uniqueness and awesomeness that is you!
First Lady of The USA 1933 - 1945
“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one”
Consider nature for a moment: Vegetation blooms with every kind of plant, of every kind of colour, of every kind of fruit. The earth’s waters surge with every kind of sea creature, of every kind of shape, of every kind of size. The skies sprinkle with every kind of bird of flight, from the delightfully musical to the fierce birds of prey. The lands are inhabited by every kind of species, born to every kind of climate, every kind of terrain. The movement of the earth (one of an array of planetary bodies) ushers in every kind of season, from the icy winters to the sweltering summers.
What is my point you may ask? Well, it’s a simple one – nature (of whose fabric we are part of) specialises in diversity. Our earth (and the lives we live upon her) is made vibrant by the rich kaleidoscope of variation both above and below her surface. Why then are we surprised that we ourselves (as a people) are formed and rendered different? Why do we shrink back from the fact that we are each equipped with different personalities, different appetites, different skills, different talents? Like builders of a home, we are each called to perform different tasks – some are the surveyors, some the architects, some are the bricklayers, some the welders, some the workers, some the supervisors. Regardless of the role, it is ONLY the combined effort of the sum total that eventually forms the whole, as is so also with our world. Our differences (your uniqueness) is a blessing, not a curse. For the world does not need homogenous clones. No. Rather the world needs the rich tapestry of our diverseness (as a people) for it to grow and thrive for humanity’s collective good.
Dear friends, I cannot stress the importance of you gaining a full understanding of this message. Realising that who and what you are is truly special, unique, valuable and worthy of being loved (by you first and foremost) is your most crucial first step towards gaining liberation to live the empowered life you were meant to live.
I can hear you now… You’re saying to me, “but Michael, how can I love myself when I don’t do everything right and when I’ve made so many mistakes?” Well, I say this to you, loving yourself is not a conditional exercise. Self-acceptance is not available to you based on manifesting perfection or meeting some external definition of what perfect behaviours or characteristics you should exhibit. Self-acceptance is about sincerely seeing your flaws (and triumphs) and learning to love yourself anyway on your journey towards where you wish to be. You must learn to forgive yourself. When a parent scolds a child for their actions, the parent still forgives that child and loves them (unconditionally) for who they are. The parent’s love is not based on the child’s action but rather on the child’s identity – i.e. their offspring. You are your own parent – apply the same principle to yourself. A child is loved into better performance – so also with you.
Celebrate your successes, learn from your mistakes, forget your failures and minimise your negatives. Love yourself into the awesome person you wish to be.
“Why should we worry about what others think about us? Do we have more confidence in their opinion than we do our own?”
Before closing this section, allow me a word on the fear of rejection, or rather, the fear of disclosing our true selves only to find that we are not accepted by others. Fear of rejection confines people to a life of frustrated mediocrity. This is a point that must be emphasised to the full. To be rejected is surely an unpleasant feeling, it can be hurtful and upsetting, but to be rejected for who you are is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people are afraid that being themselves will open them up to attacks from those who exist around them. If another person in your life rejects you for being a positive and healthy version of yourself, does it necessarily follow that you are the one who is worthy of rejection? No. Of course, it doesn’t – it says more about the other person than it does you. Consider it as feedback. You have just learnt who (or what) is not meant to be around you.
If you live a life where you are afraid to be you, a life defined by someone else, then you would have succeeded in embalming yourself in “Conformity”. More tragic still is that the reward for such conformity shall be that everyone likes you but yourself. Recall the words of Mark Twain, “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval”.
Don’t follow the path of fear. As influential psychiatrist Carl Jung once posited, “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” Jung is absolutely correct, self-acceptance is scary but wholly necessary. Strive for betterment, certainly, but don’t be afraid of what others may think or say. Surround yourself ONLY with people who accept you for who you are. People who build you up and fill you with energy. For you are truly special and worth celebrating.
Respect and care for yourself
“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person”
Another vital key to attaining self-acceptance and self-love is learning to respect yourself. It’s truly incredible (and thoroughly tragic) to see the sheer number of people who go through life disrespecting themselves over and over again. Fyodor Dostoyevsky once wrote in his 1861 work The Humiliated and Insulted, that, “If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.” I couldn’t agree more.
There exist a great many people who are currently struggling in life, frustrated with their present circumstances, who, as a result, are angry at the world. Many such individuals are in this unfortunate position because they fail to show themselves the care and respect they deserve. Through past events and the actions of others, such a person might have erroneously come to believe that they are worthless or simply not useful to the world, and therefore treat themselves in the most horrendous ways imaginable. This may manifest itself through acts of self-sabotage, poor life decisions, and unhealthy living. It’s a mentality forged in untruths and one which we must strive to overcome.
Dear friends, we are worthy of respect. We are smart, capable, amazing creatures. Each one of us has something valuable to offer the world – a kind word to a person in need, an act of selfless generosity, the gift of forgiveness, the ability to teach others, the gift of speech, leadership, musical flare, sporting prowess, culinary genius… the list is endless. So respect yourself, treat yourself well – you’ll be amazed by the transformative impact it will have on your life.
Don’t compare yourself to others
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts and respects him or her.”
Adapted from the classical Chinese text Tao Te Ching by 6th-century philosopher Lao Tzu, the exquisite quotation above radiates words of wisdom which are certainly worthy of comment. They encapsulate, quite beautifully, not only one of the most important keys in self-acceptance but also one of the most salient tenets in creating a life worth living.
One of life’s easiest traps to fall into, not to mention one of the most destructive (for it sows seeds of envy and malcontent), is that of comparing yourself to other people around you. For criticising yourself because you haven’t achieved what a celebrity has (or even one of your super successful friends) is an exercise in tremendous folly. You are NOT that other person. Your circumstances are not their circumstances. As we have previously discussed, you are your own unique human being, with your own unique set of skills, upon your own unique path. Their timing might not be your timing; what’s right for them might not be right for you, and what worked for them may not be something that is transferable to your own situation. Instead of trying to compare yourself to (and compete with) others, try instead to compare yourself to who you were, say, five years ago. Look at how far you’ve come and be proud of your accomplishments.
I try and practice this continuously. Never to compare and/or compete with others – be that in my social/private life, my business affairs, my sporting life etc. I am my own competition. Period. I might be cognisant of others but I focus all my attention, and energies, on my path and my path only. Of course, like everyone else, I may fall off the wagon now and again, but if (and when) this happens, then I first recognise my fall, pick myself up, dust myself off, fasten myself to this truth again and keep on marching forward.
I encourage you to do the same.
Explore your individuality and positively Influence the World
Howard Washington Thurman
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come ALIVE.”
The above are words spoken by 20th-century civil rights activist, and author, Howard Washington Thurman. Indeed, there can be nothing worse than trying to live a life which is fundamentally at odds with your own special unique being. When you learn to love yourself, you are then capable of loving (and accepting) others. With this placed firmly in our minds, it should be each one of our goals to explore our own personal individuality. Find you, love you and do you. Explore what makes you-you. As Mr Washington Thurman intimates, find what makes you “come alive” and then “go and do that”.
This can be achieved through any number of means. For instance, the arts and music are two perfect avenues in which to begin this explorative and ultimately life-changing journey. Find what speaks to you, what instrument, art, or cultural activity correlates with your own inalienable and peerless being. You’ll discover that expressing yourself via such modes and mediums can be a truly liberating endeavour, not to mention an immensely instructive process in helping you gain a clearer picture of who you are and therefore allowing you to accept all of what this entails. Loving yourself means knowing yourself. Knowing your likes and appetites. Hence, we owe it to ourselves to be adventurers and explore the vivid tapestry of positive human experience available to us. Then and only then can we begin to look outward. Healing the world begins with healing ourselves.