Self-Acceptance And Self-Improvement
It seems contradictory to talk about self-acceptance and self-improvement in the same breath. The Western ‘this or that’ mentality compels us to think you can be focused on one or the other but not both. Either I accept myself as I am and therefore don’t need to improve or I need to improve because I don’t accept myself as I am, right?
But we want to suggest that self-acceptance and self-improvement aren’t contradictory at all but that in fact any authentic self-improvement always grows out of the fertile soil of self-acceptance. Self-acceptance doesn’t need to mean giving ourselves a pass on current destructive behaviors or giving ourselves permission to keep enacting them in the future. It means something much deeper than visible behaviors or visible personality traits. What it means is replacing those false, secret, barely conscious feelings of being unworthy and unlovable with true, open, fully conscious feelings of being worthy and lovable.
This is what self-acceptance is in a nutshell. It’s cultivating the state of readiness towards the world marked by the feeling of lovability and worthiness despite failings, despite past mistakes, despite having been less than perfect.
When we think about it, perhaps the vast majority of people set about their self-improvement projects because they don’t like themselves. They aren’t patient with themselves, gentle with themselves, kind to themselves. Their self-improvement projects are undertaken not to bolster who and what they already are but to try to change into something that they’re not. And this never works. For better or worse we’re stuck with ourselves. We’re stuck with our inherent traits and stuck with the environmental conditions that have molded us up to this point.
But we are free to turn towards our situations as we see fit. We’re free to start turning towards ourselves as we see fit, to start turning towards ourselves with compassion, to start telling ourselves the story that we’re worthy and lovable people, that we have unique inner potentialities worth unfolding, worth developing.
Self-acceptance as we mean it here doesn’t imply that the journey of human growth and actualization is completed, it only implies that all growth and self-actualization occur on a continuum where what is already there is built upon. When we gaze upon the mighty oak tree we might find it hard to believe it was once an acorn that could fit in the palm of our hands. But if we could somehow speed up that whole process to a few minutes it would be easy to observe and we wouldn’t see the acorn and the fully grown oak as two distinct entities only the same entity at different stages of growth. Self-acceptance is the fertile soil where that which we truly are is finally given the chance to develop.