If you were to be totally honest, would you say that you really and truly like yourself? Or are you constantly performing makeovers on your appearance, personality, and abilities? When you look in the mirror, do you see the imperfections in your skin and hair and wish you could make them go away? Do you do the same thing with your personality? Every time you worry instead of relax before an upcoming social event, do you want to kick yourself for being so anxious?
It’s all too easy to become a mental makeover fanatic, especially when reality shows are doing just that to everything from fashion victims to outdated houses. We can get to the point where you only see yourself not as you truly are, but as we wish you could be. To rephrase this quote from the fated Ophelia from Hamlet, “we know what we are, but know not what we may be:” “we know what we are, and we wish we weren’t this way.”
The basis for a positive sense of self-esteem is that you accept yourself as you are, not as you “may” be. This doesn’t mean that you’re never self-critical or that you should never change no matter what, but that you’re able to live with your flaws and your way of perhaps making yourself a bit less so.
The idea of self-acceptance is gaining ground in the psychological literature as an important contributor to such positive mental states as peace of mind, greater self-understanding, and the ability to empathize with others. Carl Rogers wrote back in the 1950s and 60s about the quality of unconditional positive regard and its importance in personality development. According to Rogers, when parents place “conditions of worth” on their young children, they cause their tiny offspring to grow up to be self-doubters and critics. If you feel that your parents will love you only when you perform up to their standards, you’ll develop an inner voice that constantly compares you to how you “should” be.
In fact, a number of psychologists writing from several vantage points discuss, similarly, the importance of being able to view yourself without feeling undue anxiety about where you may be falling short of some unrealistic ideal self. Currently, psychologists are translating these theories into measure of self-acceptance that make it possible to see just how hard you tend to come down on yourself.
Louisiana Tech University psychologists Güler Boyraz and Brandon Waits tested the idea that “individuals with high levels of self-acceptance may be less likely to focus and ruminate on negative aspects of the self and more likely to engage in intellectual self-focus” (p. 85). In other words, if you accept yourself, you’ll be less likely to mull over your failings and more likely to see yourself in a realistic light. You don’t become completely oblivious to your shortcomings, but you’re less likely to view them as fatal flaws.
To test this idea, Boyraz and Waits conducted a two-part study in which, at Time 1, they measured the tendency of their undergraduate participants to think about (reflect), and worry about (ruminate), their behavior and then related these to changes at Time 2 in the qualities of self-acceptance and empathy. As they hypothesized, people who reflected on their behavior (but didn’t ruminate) had higher levels of self-acceptance; self-acceptance, in turn, also predicted higher levels of reflection. Surprisingly, the ruminators tended to be more empathic than the authors expected. It’s possible that the more you ponder your own shortcomings, the more likely you’ll be able to forgive those in others.
Returning to the idea of self-acceptance, then, the Boyraz and Waits study suggests that taking in stride your positive and negative qualities can be beneficial to mental health and your peace of mind. Now let’s examine those 10 ways you can become a self-liker rather than a self-critic:
2. Step back and enjoy your accomplishments. When you’ve done something well, don’t be afraid to admit that you succeeded. It doesn’t have to be something earth-shattering. Having cooked a good meal, eat it with pleasure and allow any compliments from those you cooked for to sink in.
3. Learn to look at the things you like about yourself in the mirror. Sure, your makeup isn’t perfect and that rash on your chin makes it look a little red. What about the great job you did on your hair? If all else fails, find a mirror with better lighting than the bright fluorescents provided in your office lavatory.
4. Go on a date with yourself. Spend some time alone devoted to thinking about your experiences while on the “date.” Enjoy a movie, a show or concert, or a meal at your favorite restaurant while you spend time reflecting on what’s going on around you. You can even laughat your own jokes.
5. Strive to be a better person, but don’t expect changes to happen all at once. You might be completely unhappy with your weight and can’t stand the thought that the pounds aren’t melting off faster. Give yourself a realistic timeline and measure yourself against smaller, achievable goals.
6. Spend a weekend day or an evening without worrying about how you look.Try a makeup-free Sunday or a grubby t-shirt Tuesday night. See what it’s like to be yourself without being concerned about impressing anyone else.
7. Think about the past, but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed with regret.You wish like anything that you could turn back the clock and not said the hurtful thing you said to your friend. Once those words are uttered, they can’t be unsaid. However, you may have learned something useful about yourself in the process and you certainly can make every effort to apologize.
9. Enjoy your personality, foibles and all. So you’re a little bit too meticulous and want everything to be perfect. When things don’t work out as you wished and you start to berate your weaknesses, stop and do a reality check. So you spilled coffee all over your brand-new tablecloth. Oh well, maybe you’re a bit clumsy. That doesn’t mean you’re a worthless individual.
10. Like “most” of yourself as much as you can. You’re may not reach 100% self-satisfaction, but maybe you can get to 75 or 80%. In the measure of self-acceptance that the Louisiana Tech team used, getting high scores meant saying you were happy with “most” of your personality traits.
The more you can accept yourself, the more you’ll be able to look realistically at your experiences. Even if they don’t meet your high expectations, accepting both the good and the bad about you and your abilities can only contribute to your long-term feelings of fulfillment.