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For Higher Well-Being, Try Self-Acceptance

Here are three hacks to increase your self-acceptance.

Key points

  • Attributes are generally neutral, but situations can sometimes influence them.
  • Self-criticism often lessens with self-compassion.
  • Thoughts are not automatically facts.
Courtesy of Denise Robertson
Source: Courtesy of Denise Robertson

I find self-acceptance easier to strive for and more sustainable than positive self-esteem. As a therapist, I’ve focused on the concept for a long time. The academic definition is “an individual’s acceptance of all of his/her attributes, positive or negative,” and science indicates that it’s linked to high self-esteem, interpersonal satisfaction, and affect regulation (Morgago et al., 2014, p. 1). Liu and colleagues reported that “people with low self-acceptance develop psychological and behavioral problems” (2023, p. 1).

The idea of self-acceptance typically draws out pushback. Consistently, the term seems to bring up the following concerns. People worry they’ll not reach their potential if they accept themselves. They express judgment about embracing their “bad” traits. I expand and explain the concept from my view.

Self-acceptance means greeting all the different parts of you with bravery and compassion. Contrary to popular belief, self-acceptance does not mean to stop growing. Knowing yourself + self-compassion + reality = self-acceptance.

Here’s what I mean.

Knowing yourself

We’re all a big mix of positive and negative attributes. (We’re complex creatures!) I get that it can feel uncomfortable to recognize and then shake hands with aspects of you that feel uncomfortable. However, having negative attributes doesn’t necessarily make you a “bad” person. A mix of qualities makes you human.

It may help to recognize that attributes are neutral until a situation makes them good or bad. For example, “I’m an overly sensitive person” can become “I’m a person whose sensitivity helps in some situations and feels overwhelming in others.” “I’m a manipulative person” can become “I’m a person who can get people to believe in and do what I want. How can I use this superpower in ways I feel good about?”

It took me a long time not to judge my attributes. But I got there. For example, the other day, I was asked to describe myself. It was a mix of spicy, sour, salty, and sweet ingredients. I remember I included “intense,” and someone asked with a surprised intonation, “You mean ‘intense’ in a bad way?” I said, “Yes. Sometimes.” But there was no shame. I know my intensity and how it can serve and harm. I accept it, which makes it safe to learn about and manage.

We can’t filter out attributes while truly accepting ourselves. We can instead greet and understand them. What’s empowering and disempowering about them? How and when do they serve/help or harm? The “good” and “bad” is usually much less overwhelming or scary once we become open and aware instead of judgmental.

And the topic of judgment leads us to the next piece I see as vital to self-acceptance.


Self-compassion is “the ability to be kind and helpful to one’s self at times of error or despair” (Ferrari et al., 2019, p. 1). And it can take a lot of work. For example, think of the last time you said something you regretted. Did your brain auto-scold you (“You’re/I’m so stupid/careless/an idiot”)?

What if you instead responded with something compassionate? “I communicate probably thousands of things a day. I goofed on a few words. How bad is the damage realistically? Can I and do I need to repair it? This feeling of embarrassment sucks right now, but it will metabolize in time.”

Self-compassion has been shown to help with self-acceptance, easing stress, depression, self-criticism, and anxiety (Ferrari, 2019). Any amount of it can assist you to stop judging yourself and instead find your growth opportunities.


Probably all of us are out of touch with reality at times—particularly when we acknowledge our thoughts and interpret situations. Why? Brains incessantly chatter whether we want it or not. Yet, we often believe that “because I thought it, it’s true.” Nope.

You may appreciate learning about “cognitive distortions.” Psychology Today has various articles on them, and you’ll probably quickly see that thoughts you catch or hear are often not based on reality. They’re thinking patterns that result in inaccurate conclusions about yourself, others, and life.

Additionally, here’s something that commonly pulls a person away from reality: assuming that others think the same way you do. No, they do not. For example, let’s say you keep giving and serving someone, hoping to unlock their reciprocal love and care. You end up concluding that you failed or aren’t good enough to be loved back.

Wrong! Often, when someone is not emotionally giving you what you want, they’re not withholding it. More often, they’ve got limits and are doing their best. Most importantly, you are not failing at, for example, unlocking them. We all have different capacities. When we don’t recognize that, it can lead to conclusions about ourselves that are not based on reality.

So how can you figure out when to trust your brain? Maybe talk to someone safe who can help you sort this stuff out (e.g., a therapist or close friend). When we become aware of our thoughts and interpretations about others and ourselves, we can check for accuracy. (Seriously, daily, friends, clients, and also myself remind me that thoughts are not automatically facts, even when they feel true.) Try not to take the feedback as negative. It’s an experiment.

Sometimes our brains are troublemakers and misleading. And sometimes, they are wonderful and accurate. It can be challenging to tell the difference.

In summary

Self-acceptance may be the approach you’ve wanted to increase your well-being—feeling good and functioning well in multiple domains such as competence, emotional stability, engagement, meaning, optimism, positive emotion, positive relationships, resilience, self-esteem, and vitality (Ruggeri et al., 2020). I’ve seen it be reachable and sustainable for many. It likely can’t hurt to try.

That said, here are three ways to get started.

  1. To know yourself, try listing all the attributes you believe you have (e.g., I am a person who is _____ (persistent, funny, manipulative, thoughtful, etc.). For things you feel are negative, see if you can notice your judgment. See if you can look for a way it also serves you.
  2. To increase self-compassion, ask yourself, “What would I say to someone I love about this?” and then say it to yourself. Maybe read Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. Perhaps you can talk to a therapist.
  3. About reality, remind yourself that brains chatter. And it doesn’t mean that what it tells you about you is a fact! To prove this, try noticing your thoughts for a few hours. You’ll probably see how ridiculous, untrue, or even funny some that pop into your head are.

Self-acceptance can make life feel better and allow for growth, too. Try it. You might like it.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide professional advice or therapy.


Ferrari, M., Hunt, C., Harrysunker, A., Abbott, M. J., Beath, A. P., & Einstein, E. A. (2019) Self-compassion interventions and psychosocial outcomes: A meta-analysis of RCTs. Mindfulness 10, 1455–1473 (2019).

Liu, X., Sun, L., Du, X., Zhang, C., Zhang, Y., & Xu, X. (2023) Reducing anxiety and improving self-acceptance in children and adolescents with osteosarcoma through group drawing art therapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 14. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1166419

Morgado, F. F., Campana, A. N., & Tavares, M.daC. (2014). Development and validation of the self-acceptance scale for persons with early blindness: the SAS-EB. PloS one, 9(9), e106848.

Ruggeri, K., Garcia-Garzon, E., Maguire, Á. Matz, S., & Huppert, F. A. (2020). Well-being is more than happiness and life satisfaction: a multidimensional analysis of 21 countries. BMC Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 18(192).

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