Learning to accept ourselves and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong increases our enjoyment of life, our resilience and our well-being. It also helps us accept others as they are.
No one’s perfect but so often we dwell on our flaws and what we’re not rather than what we are.
Having constant criticism in our heads guarantees unhappiness. This doesn’t mean we should ignore our weaker areas though, it means accepting imperfection and putting things into perspective – seeing them as normal rather than out of the ordinary.
Psychologists describe two parts to our well-being – feeling good and functioning well. Functioning well is thought to be made up of a number of key factors that contribute to how good or happy we feel. One of these factors is self-esteem or self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance expands the concept of self-esteem, to knowing our strengths and our weaknesses, coming to terms with our past and feeling good about ourselves while being aware of our limitations. Importantly, self-acceptance is about working with rather than against ourselves.
Albert Ellis, a renowned psychologist, described two choices: accepting ourselves conditionally or unconditionally. The first choice “is deadly”. If we don’t fulfil the conditions we set, we think badly of ourselves rather than accepting failure as a normal part of life and learning from it.
A lot of evidence shows that people with a balanced sense of self-esteem, experience more happiness and optimism than those with low self-esteem.
But self-esteem can also be problematic.
Typically, it’s based on judgements of how good we are within specific areas of our lives, for example, our appearance or our performance at a particular activity. Because this is dependent on how well we are doing in that area, how good we feel fluctuates based on our latest success or failure.
Self-esteem also means that our judgement of how good we are is relative to other people. Since our connections with others are a key source of happiness, having self-esteem that is too high can also undermine our happiness. So, it isn’t always a good thing.
We all know the expression ‘Treat others as you would wish to be treated’ but maybe this also needs to be reversed. We give ourselves a hard time for things we would be compassionate towards in others.
Think of a close friend failing to get a promotion. We don’t tell them “you’re no good” or “you’ll never get anywhere”. Chances are we’d say “you can try again next time” and “you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself”.
So, is it time to start treating yourself the same way you treat others?