Improving self-esteem by self-acceptance

If our self-esteem is based on achievements and praise, it is like the Three Little Pigs house made out of straw. One puff and it is all blown down. What is missing is a robust and continuous sense of self-worth which is independent of our achievements whether they be glorious, embarrassing, admirable or downright disappointing.

Failing demands, we unshackle our sense of self from our performance. It means we separate our sense of being a lovable and worthy human being from the sometime idiotic, regrettable acts we might commit as a fallible person. It means growing up and rather than seeing ourselves through a lens of how we think others see us, we connect with our innate sense of self-worthiness.

Albert Ellis’ rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT) talks of the ‘basic musts’ which form part of the erroneous thinking that leads to unhappiness. They include “I must do well", "I must succeed", and "I must win the approval of others". If I don’t then I am a failure, no good and not worthy. Being able to separate our feats which may or may not be successful from our innate self-worth, is a more helpful way of thinking as provides a sense of space and relief. After all, how could we guarantee that everyone is always going to like and approve of us?

It is a more mature way of thinking because in failing we might feel like giving up, telling ourselves that "it is all hopeless". This is ‘all or nothing thinking', one of the CBT thinking errors. Growing up is accepting that we do things and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t work out, but that doesn’t mean we are hopeless. Pema Chodron talks of ‘water thinking’ rather than 'rock thinking’ in her lecture Don’t Bite The Hook. We have a natural tendency to want to make things concrete. For example, "I’m good at this and I’m bad at that". Or, "I’m a loser". Aiming for ‘water thinking’ means we can be gentler and more compassionate with ourselves. For example, rather than seeing a situation as ‘hopeless’ we recognise our momentary despair, but also acknowledge that little fragments of hope or possibility still around.

 Accepting our ordinariness means...

  • ...that we are more able to differentiate between the sometime disappointing and passing behaviours of others and their innate worthiness of our love and esteem.
  • It means we are less caught up in demanding perfection of ourselves.
  • It frees us to do and try without the pressure of having to be so amazing that we do not try at all.
  • It means we feel less anxious and less depressed.
  • It means we get more stuff done.

 Without constantly pressuring ourselves to be perfect, we can incrementally accomplish extraordinary feats.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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