Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.     2003

Abstract:  The value and crucial importance of acceptance, of self, others, and life, for emotional good health is explained, and steps to becoming more accepting are outlined.

Key Words;  acceptance, self-acceptance, tolerance

Understanding oneself and others realistically and in depth leads us to be basically accepting of ourselves and others, because knowing a person completely reveals that person’s faults and frailties (and we all have them!).  (The wise person goes beyond basic acceptance to complete acceptance of self.)  Understanding ourselves in depth also reveals (1) how most of us avoid knowing ourselves completely because we fear that we would have to reject or even despise ourselves if we knew ourselves in depth, (2) how much we reject ourselves daily through self-criticism and self-punishments, and (3) how we fear accepting ourselves because it might lead us to look “bad” and to be “bad.”

Being accepted is basically “being allowed”—being allowed to be yourself without rejection or attack.  Self-acceptance is therefore “allowing yourself to be” instead of rejecting and attacking yourself.  Unfortunately most people attack and reject themselves with alarming frequency.  Every time you harm yourself, criticize yourself, put yourself down, or judgmentally compare yourself unfavorably to someone else, you are rejecting yourself.

To achieve acceptance, know yourself completely and intimately (so that you don’t pretend that certain things that you dislike about yourself don’t even exist); don’t react to any parts of yourself that you dislike with attack and rejection; and calmly decide either to work toward changing the disliked or harmful parts of yourself or to simply let them be (which is perfectly OK to do, as long as it does not imply that you are free to harm others through expression of those disliked or harmful parts of yourself).  Stop criticizing yourself and hurting your own feelings. Stop rejecting yourself. The peace and calm of accepting yourself is wonderful.   Close your eyes and imagine accepting yourself completely.  You will feel an immediate calmness and relaxation (unless you are so firmly self-rejecting that you cannot even imagine accepting yourself).  (Beyond simple acceptance (letting be), if you also feel loving kindness and compassion for yourself, it will add a positive, encouraging feeling to your life.)

If you are not accepting yourself (letting yourself be), then you are by definition rejecting yourself. The key to accepting yourself, then, is to stop rejecting yourself.  Think seriously about this, and try to identify the ways in which you reject yourself.  The most common types of self-rejecting behaviors are self-criticism, self-accusations, harming oneself, punishing oneself, routinely comparing oneself negatively to others, and demeaning oneself by calling oneself names or putting oneself in negative or inferior positions. How do you do these things to yourself?  What do you criticize yourself for?  What do you hide from yourself that even you don’t want to know about yourself?

The primary reason that we reject ourselves is that we have learned from those around us to reject and criticize ourselves, either because we believe that we do not meet expected standards, that we have done something wrong, or that it is simply “wrong” to be ourselves. Some people also reject themselves because they believe that constantly rejecting themselves is the only way to control their “bad” behavior. These reasons for rejecting ourselves are false and unnecessary.

Self-critical and self-rejecting behaviors are learned from those around us, usually in childhood.  If significant others view us and treat us as if we deserve criticism and demeanment, for our behavior or simply for being ourselves, then as we grow up we imitate this and begin to criticize and demean ourselves.  Every time we “make a mistake” (every time we notice the displeased or disapproving reactions of others) we may tell ourselves something unrealistic and excessive, like “Boy, am I stupid,” “I’ll never get it right,” “I’m terrible,” “Dad is never going to like me,” “Guess that proves once again that I’m not good enough,” or some other self-demeaning statement.  The opinions of others about us gain force from the fact that most adults give more rewards to children who are favored than they do to children who are not.  As children, we know when we are not favored, it hurts to know this, and we often assume that we must be “bad” or wrong if we are not favored.  We blame ourselves for not being favored and begin to criticize and demean ourselves.   The key to change is recognizing that you do not deserve this self-criticism and demeanment—that your behavior is not “bad” or at least not bad enough to justify rejecting yourself, and that you are actually an OK person.  The fact that you are not your parents’ favorite does not imply that you are not good enough or that you don’t deserve all the good you can find in life.

Acceptance is often confused with approval and other positive responses from others.  Being approved of involves being measured against the standards of others and being preferred, tolerated, or rejected by them, while acceptance is “being allowed to be” just as you are.  Being accepted does not imply that everything about you is OK with others (or is even OK with yourself).  You can be accepted without being approved of by others.

Many of us believe that if we don’t get the approval, or at least the acceptance, of certain important others, then we are worthless and should feel inferior and undeserving, but this is totally false.  Your value and your happiness do not depend on the approval or acceptance of specific other people. Since you are no longer a child, your survival and gratifications no longer depend primarily on certain other individuals, such as your parents.  You can do very well without any of those people who reject you, if you are only willing to do so.  Naturally you would very much like to have the acceptance and approval of significant others, but you can become your own source of acceptance.  If those significant others were suddenly to disappear for some reason, you would have to do it for yourself anyway, which suggests that you can become your own source of acceptance (and approval) even if they are still around.

Use your independent mind to realize that you are OK even without these other people and even if they do not accept you.  Give up worrying about gaining their approval and acceptance (which you actually already deserve), and focus on your own acceptance of yourself and on making your life a good life to live.  Mourn for what you have not had, and mourn for the hope that you are now giving up of getting it from those people, and then rejoice in your new freedom to be yourself and to do what is good for you!

Human beings have probably through evolution developed a built-in tendency to want the approval of others, since this acts to ensure sufficient conformity and responsiveness to authority to enable the group to survive and to function well.  In accepting yourself completely, you are going against this inbred tendency, and the fact that you have to go against this inbred tendency is part of what makes self-acceptance difficult.  The key to working out this difficulty is recognizing and accepting that others and even the group have some legitimate need to set rules defining acceptable behaviors, but they have no legitimate authority to control who you are (with the exception of prohibiting certain behaviors by group members).  Your family or other individuals may decide on the basis of how they feel about and evaluate you not to associate with you, but they have no authority to tell you that you are “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad,” since these are only their individual attitudes and bear no relation to any higher authority or standard.  You must leave their views behind and redefine yourself as OK.  Most people use criticism and/or rejection as means of trying to control your behavior or even to control who you are, but you have no obligation to respond or conform.  Accepting yourself is so valuable that it may justify accepting, sadly, that some others may choose not to be around you if you will not bow to their demands and that if some others cannot accept you, then you may be better off without them.

To change your mind about yourself—to see yourself as basically OK rather than as a terrible person or a screw-up—requires questioning the standards and the attitudes of those who first rejected and criticized you.  You must be able to see that there was in fact nothing much wrong with you, even though certain adults may have had negative feelings and attitudes toward you, which were their own responsibility and were not really due to anything significant about you.

As children, we take for granted that if our parents are upset with us or won’t accept us, it means that we have done something wrong or that we are “bad” or unacceptable.  This is usually not true at all, and we can see this by looking back at those incidents through our adult understanding.  By itself, the fact that you were rejected proves nothing about you.  Realistically search your memory and your assumptions about yourself, and you will not find much really wrong with you.  In those few cases in which a part of yourself could lead to harm to others— e.g., a sexual interest exclusively in children, it will serve you best to accept that part of yourself within yourself, while at the same time ensuring that no one is harmed by it. Things that you accept about yourself are not necessarily OK with others, and accepting something about yourself does not mean that you believe that you should be able to express it behaviorally.

People over-generalize a great deal about their lack of worth, with such false statements as “I’m terrible,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m worthless”, and “I’m not acceptable.”

You must question and correct your over-generalizations. You may not have been accepted by your mother, your father, or certain other important people, but that does not mean that you are “not acceptable” in general.  You are acceptable just the way you are, even if your parents did not accept you.  You may have so far equated those things—that if your parents did not accept you, then you must be unacceptable in general, but all it meant was that you were not acceptable to them at that moment.  Certainly they were important people to you, but they were only two out of seven billion on the planet, and their opinions don’t count for much in the larger context.  You will, of course, have to accept and adjust to the emotionally difficult “fact” that your own parents did not accept you, but it helps to put it in context, just as it helps to find that there are others in the world who will accept you.

Imagine again what it would feel like to cease criticizing yourself and finding fault with yourself.  The peace would be wonderful!  You could relax instead of always being on guard or always having to answer your own criticisms and doubts.  You could really live your life, instead of being perpetually distracted by your own internal criticisms.  Give it a try.  You are OK.  There is nothing really wrong with you.  Work on stopping your unnecessary self-criticism and self-demeanment.  “Let yourself be” (allow yourself to be), without self-criticism and self-­demeanment.  You will love yourself for it!

Some people justify rejecting themselves (and justify others’ rejection of them) on the basis that they are not “good enough” and therefore deserve to be criticized and rejected, but this idea is simply based on using inappropriate standards.  If appropriate standards are used, you are good enough!  Changing this requires questioning and changing the standards that you apply to yourself.  Your parents may have rejected you on the basis of their standards and expectations of you, but you must now take a hard look at what those standards and expectations were and decide whether they were appropriate or not.  Just because they were your parents does not mean that their standards and expectations were appropriate.

Some people hold onto patterns of self-rejection because they think that it is easier to reject themselves than it would be to fully recognize how they are being rejected by their parents or others they love.  They make their rejection of themselves their own fault, and as long as they continue to try to force themselves to be who they are “supposed to be,” they don’t have to recognize and deal with the pain of the actual rejection that they are getting, and they don’t have to recognize and deal with the unreasonableness of the rejection that they have received.  If we stop rejecting ourselves, we will see more clearly the inappropriateness of how we are being rejected by others, and we will probably feel some sadness and anger about it.

People who have been rejected sometimes feel that they do not deserve to be members of their families or of society.  If you treat others decently, you do deserve to be accepted (allowed to be) as a member of your family and of society, regardless of the attitudes and reactions of anyone else to the contrary.  You are as good as anyone else deep down, and you deserve equal treatment just as much as anyone else.  Stand up for yourself and for your equal rights.  Assert your right to be an equal member, and behave as a good group member should.

Controlling Yourself Through Self-Criticism and Self-Rejection

As children we all must learn to conform to adult social expectations, and one of the methods some people use to control their unacceptable behavior is constantly watching themselves for things to reject themselves for.  You think that if you constantly look for faults or something wrong with yourself, then you can “catch yourself” before you do anything wrong, and you won’t have much opportunity to engage in any really “bad” behavior (and therefore won’t be punished or rejected).  Unfortunately your suspicious habits of self-criticism and self-punishment will also cause you to be unable to accept yourself.

It is unnecessary to use self-rejection as a means of controlling your behavior, because as an adult you can choose your appropriate behaviors on the basis of what is in your best interest.  In fact, you should always do what is in your best interest!  (Some will disagree with this last statement, but they are invited to consider a change in perspective.  We always do what we perceive to be in our best interest—it’s just that we don’t always identify it that way, so that we won’t seem “selfish”.)  (See How To Feel Good About Yourself—12 Key Steps To Positive Self-Esteem by Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D. (2003) (Step 10) for a full explanation of this new method of controlling your behavior.)  Doing something that you want to do but which is likely to cause you considerable trouble in the future is probably not in your best interest, even if it is what you “want to do.”  Doing something that you want to do but which is likely to harm others, who are likely then to harm or want to harm you in some way as a consequence, is also probably not in your best interest.  If doing what is best for yourself includes the belief or assumption that doing what is best for yourself always involves not just what you want to do, but also involves appropriately considering all of the long-term and short-term consequences of your actions as well as how your actions will affect others, then you will automatically be doing what is best for yourself.

Some people fear that if they accept themselves, they will accept their “bad” behavior as well (and will therefore do more bad behavior).  This is not a problem of acceptance but of knowing what is best for you.  We all do what we believe is best for us.  If you believe deep down that your bad behavior is best for you, then you will continue to do it (regardless of what you say and whether or not you accept it or pretend to accept it).  Your conflict is between what you want to do or what you believe you should do and what you really believe is best for you.  You will be more comfortable with yourself if you resolve this inner conflict.  If your bad behavior that you believe is best for you is actually bad for you, you must recognize this and decide whether you are going to do what is best for you or what is in fact bad for you. (If your “bad” behavior is actually good for you, then there is something wrong with the rules you are trying to live by or with what you are calling “bad” and “good”!)  So, you do not engage in “bad” behavior because you accept it but rather because you actually believe that it is best for you and you therefore want to do it!

Some people fear that if they accept themselves they will become lazy and complacent and will never make any further improvements in themselves.  Actually, meaningful change is easier in an accepting climate than it is in a rejecting climate.  A rejecting, punishing climate motivates us to escape the punishment, but the anger and resentment that we feel about the rejection and punishment also cause us to stiffen up and refuse to change (since “giving in” to the pressure to change would be like completely giving up control and giving up self-respect).  In an accepting climate, we do not have to fight back, we are free to consider who we really want to be and what would be best for us, and we are free to make those changes if we wish.

This also speaks to what to do if you do reject the standards that your parents had for you and used to reject you.  Rejecting those inappropriate standards does not mean living with no standards or that you can do anything you feel like doing.  You will need to define your own. more humane, reasonable, and appropriate standards for yourself and then live up to them.

Accepting Others

If you can accept yourself, then you are on the road to truly accepting others as they are, too, for you can see that they have their faults, frailties, and struggles, just as you do, that they have the same basic desires and goals in life as you do, and that they are, for the most part, just as worthy of acceptance as you are.  Have compassion for their struggles and their self-rejection, and you can consciously extend your feeling of self-acceptance to them as well. (Paradoxically, most people who do not accept themselves are more accepting of others than of themselves, but this is blind acceptance of superiors by an inferior, rather than true, empathic acceptance.)

Knowing the complexity of human beings, the wise person can accept that other peoples’ emotions and beliefs are different from his own.  These differences do not necessarily mean danger or require distancing. The wise person can see the good and the bad about a person without condemning that person.

The most difficult barrier to accepting others is wanting or needing things from them that they do not choose to give.  The common reaction to this is to keep trying to get the other person to give what is desired, and the usual result is frustration on both sides and often eventual dissolution of the relationship.  It is not possible to truly accept another person if you feel frustrated about not getting what you want from him or her.  The answer to this is to accept that you are not going to get what you want from that person and then to either enjoy what you can get in that relationship (accepting that you won’t get some things you want) or find other sources for what you need or want.  Letting go can be difficult, and you may be sad and may need to mourn your loss of hope, but if you conclude sincerely that you are not going to get what you want or need from that person, then it is truly best for you to stop trying to force that person to give what you want, and you will benefit from letting go (and accepting that person as he or she really is).

Forgiving Yourself

It is typical for us to feel guilt or shame when we do something in conflict with our standards, harm ourselves or others, or reject ourselves.  Guilt (a combination of fear, anticipation of punishment, and painful self-criticism) is a primary barrier to self-acceptance, and in order to restore inner peace and accept ourselves fully once again, it is important to forgive ourselves.  In forgiving ourselves, we see clearly what we have done, we right wrongs that can be righted, we improve our behavior for the future so that we will not harm ourselves or others in the same way again, and then we let go of guilt and self-hatred and move forward into the future with a positive, though realistic attitude.  Here are some steps that will help you in seeking forgiveness—from yourself or from others—so that you can accept yourself once again.

In dealing with guilt,

(1) Acknowledge fully and honestly what you have done, with no excuses, rationalizations, or attempts to shift the blame inappropriately to others.  (Of course, you should not take responsibility for things that you have not done!)

(2) Determine how your behavior has affected both yourself and others.  If no one has been harmed, then reconsider why you consider what you have done to be “wrong.”  (Even if no one was harmed, the behavior may still be dangerous enough and potentially harmful enough that you still think it best not to do it.)  If others act hurt, but this is because of their own inappropriate reactions to your behavior, then you must draw the line regarding what you will be responsible for.  If others condemn you, but no one has been harmed, then their condemnation stems from their wanting you to believe or act like they believe and act, and you must decide whether that violates your right to think for yourself and act in your best interest.  If you decide that your behavior was not wrong, then you can accept it and consider whether you need to forgive yourself for your self-criticism and self-rejection regarding this behavior.

(3) Consciously accept what you did as part of your history now.  Don’t pretend that it didn’t happen, or that it really wasn’t you, or that you can wipe out your action by making up for it after the fact.

(4) Understand why you did what you did.  What needs, motives, weaknesses, and blind spots were involved?  Be totally honest with yourself.  This is where you are likely to see how you hurt yourself sometimes with your choices.

(5) Consider whether the standard you applied to yourself was appropriate, and consider whether you have been too hard on yourself.

(6) If you believe that your standard is appropriate, and you still feel uncomfortable with your behavior, then you must next decide whether you want to change your behavior.  Carefully decide if it would really be better for you if you did not do that behavior again.  This is a crucial step, for if you really think, consciously or unconsciously, that it is better for you to keep doing the behavior, then you will keep on doing it (and keep on violating the standards that you say you believe in), even if it results in guilt over and over again.

(7) If you decide not to do the behavior again, resolve to take better care of yourself in the future by not repeating the behavior in question (because you believe that it is truly best for you not to engage in the behavior again), and commit yourself to this path.

(8) Decide whether you need to change some of your habits and ways of controlling your behavior in order to be able to avoid this particular behavior in the future.

(9) Consider taking actions to make up for what you have done, like apologizing or making something up to another person (or to yourself, if you were the one harmed).  Sometimes due to the passage of time or others’ attitudes and feelings, you cannot make up for harm caused to others.

(10) You have now done all you can do to take care of what you have done and to avoid doing such things in the future.  The last step is to accept the above actions as adequate grounds for letting go of that past behavior, letting go of any guilt that you feel, receiving the forgiveness of the other person if that is offered, and forgiving yourself— which means accepting yourself as OK again.

If you have trouble forgiving yourself, or finding forgiveness from others, identify the conditions that you require in order to be forgiven.  Do you have some unrealistic requirements that are not likely to be met, such as requiring that you repay the injured party double value before you can forgive yourself, or requiring that the person injured tell you that you are OK?  Remember that forgiving is not forgetting.  Also, you may need to accept that sometimes the injured party simply refuses to forgive.  Sometimes forgiving yourself is your only option.

You can forgive yourself for harming yourself accidentally if you sincerely intend not to continue harming yourself, but if you are fooling yourself when you promise yourself not to repeat the self-harming behavior, eventually this will become an issue of bad faith with yourself.  You will be unable to fool yourself any longer and unable to accept yourself.

Once again, in forgiving ourselves, we see clearly what we have done, we right wrongs that can be righted, we improve our behavior for the future so that we will not harm ourselves or others in the same way again, and then we let go of guilt and self-hatred and move forward into the future with a positive, though realistic attitude.

Adjusting to Accepting Yourself

If you fully accept that you were OK and that you have not really deserved to feel bad about yourself all these years, then you will probably feel much sadness, and you may feel anger toward those who convinced you that you were “bad” or inferior.  Both of these feelings are normal, and it is best that you let yourself feel them fully and wait for them to pass.  This sadness is both a release of a tremendous amount of stored up pain and a readjustment to a new identity.  For years you have been whipping yourself to be someone else, because you thought that you were not good enough or were not who you were supposed to be.  Now you are accepting that you will never be good enough according to those previous, inappropriate requirements and that you will never please those whom you have been striving to please.  Naturally you will feel sadness at giving this up, but you will also feel release and relaxation at letting go of the pressure of these impossible expectations and accepting that you are OK just the way you are.  As to the anger, just because you feel anger does not mean that you must act on it.  If you do feel impelled to act, it will be enough to tell those who have not accepted you that in your opinion they were wrong about you and that they harmed you greatly.  There is no real need to harm them to make up for their harm to you, and this “evening the score” simply leads to more struggle and further revenge.  Not punishing them does not mean that you accept their behavior toward you as OK; it simply means that you are truly ready to walk away from this part of the past.  Let yourself feel these feelings, take action if you need to, and wait for the feelings to pass, for they will pass.


The following fact is so amazing that it must be stated over and over-all you need to do in order to accept yourself is to stop rejecting yourself and allow yourself to be.  Stop criticizing and demeaning yourself.  Accept the fact that it is OK not to be totally OK if all that means is that certain other people are not happy with you.  It is not true that you are unacceptable because there is “something wrong with you.”  There is nothing wrong with you.  You have adopted the irrational and idiosyncratic negative responses of certain others to you, and you have been rejecting yourself without good reason.  There is nothing so wrong with you that you deserve this rejection.  Lighten up.  Work on seeing yourself more realistically—not through the eyes of those rejecting adults of your childhood, but through your more realistic and understanding eyes.  Let yourself be (while still refraining from harming yourself and others).  Take the risk of accepting an imperfect but perfectly OK human being—yourself.  (Remember, though, if you are harming yourself through your choices and behaviors, you will very naturally be unable to accept yourself.)

In place of criticizing yourself, give yourself support and love.  In place of demeaning yourself, appreciate your many good qualities and learn to do a good job of deciding and doing what is best for you.  In place of punishing yourself, have compassion for yourself and forgive and comfort yourself.  Treat yourself with the same caring, consideration, and thoughtfulness that you would another person whom you love.  Redefine yourself as OK and worthy of inclusion with others.  Forgive yourself for the pain you have caused yourself by rejecting yourself.  Give yourself the gift of believing that it is really OK to be who you are!  Allow yourself to be!

(From my book–How To Feel Good About Yourself:  Twelve Key Steps To Positive Self-Esteem, 2003.)