5 Myths About Self-Acceptance You Should Stop Believing Right Now
Self-acceptance is a hot topic these days.
“It is what it is . . .”
“Just accept it.”
“Let it go.”
We hear these phrases all the time. They’re in song lyrics. We see them on t-shirts. Brands use them in ad campaigns.
You’ve probably even re-posted variations of these on your Instagram.
In our stressed out and “always on” society, these phrases definitely resonate. There’s no doubt about that. But what is less clear, is HOW to actually put these ideas into practice.
In a way, we’ve almost commoditized the idea of self-acceptance. Preaching self-acceptance has become trendy. . . even cliche. It seems as if everyone is doing it.
And if everyone is doing it, it can’t be that hard, right??
But easier said than done.
When someone tells you to just “accept yourself,” have you ever had the reaction of HOW?? I know I have.
Because self-acceptance has become so commonplace in pop culture, it’s extremely easy to form misconceptions about what it actually means. We feel like we should be able to just flip a switch and turn it on. It becomes something we add to our to-do list and wear as slogans on our workout tops.
Yet, when we take the idea of self-acceptance lightly like this, it becomes easy to lose sight of whether we’re actually practicing what we preach.
So what to do? Well, it starts with understanding what self-acceptance is and what it is not. Read on to see 5 myths about self-acceptance that might be holding you back and why you should stop believing them.
Myth #1: If you accept something, you’re giving up
Many people have the misconception that accepting something is a sign of weakness.
I used to feel this way. For example, growing up, my small breast size was a huge source of insecurity for me. I wanted to “fix” the problem, and I thought the only way I could do that was to get breast implants. I had the mindset that if you can change something, why wouldn’t you? If I work hard enough, I can do anything . . . and if I could be more beautiful, why wouldn’t I??
But now I realize that working to change something is not always admirable. Oftentimes it takes more strength to simply accept something and be completely at peace with it. I realized that going to extreme measures to alter my body was not a means to becoming a better version of myself. Rather, a better me would be someone who has the inner strength and confidence to accept how I am right now, in this moment.
To put this into practice, I find it helpful to think about acceptance as “giving IN” versus “giving up.” When you choose to let go of an expectation or result, you’re not surrendering or giving UP. You’re simply giving IN to the situation. Giving in means you recognize that certain things are out of your control, and you choose to do the best you can with the resources you have.
Giving up reflects a quitter mindset.
Giving in reflects wisdom and a “can-do” mindset.
Giving up means you’ve stopped trying.
Giving in does NOT mean you’ve stopped trying. Rather, it means you’ve stopped forcing, and you’ve chosen to try and be at peace with how things are in that moment.
Myth #2: Self-acceptance is easy
Just because it seems like everyone is talking about self-acceptance, doesn’t mean it’s easy to practice. Self-acceptance requires hard work. And it’s not a one-and-done thing.
You don’t just wake up one day and decide, “OK self, today I am going to accept who I am. All better!” It’s quite the opposite. It requires committed effort. And it’s an ever evolving process.
In a world full of magic pill solutions where advertising continually promises us that we can achieve the perfect beach body in 7 days, it’s easy to believe that quick external fixes can lead to happiness. But historical studies on happiness prove that the exact opposite is true.
Think about that in the context of something like a weight loss pill. If your end goal with weight loss is increased confidence so that you can be a happier version of you, when you fast-forward and try to acquire that in one go, you skip over the whole journey of engendering that confidence on your own.
It may be a longer road to do the tough mental work of practicing the courage to accept yourself “as-is,” but the sustained effort of that process is what will bring you the greatest satisfaction.
So go easy on yourself. Be patient. And know that the hard work you put in today will make your results more worthwhile in the long run.
Myth #3: Acceptance is the same as tolerance
According to Kat Miras and Alex Santiago of the lifestyle blog Renaissance Swag, even though acceptance and tolerance are often used as synonyms, they actually have very different connotations. Understanding the difference can help you learn how to practice self-acceptance more fully.
When you tolerate something about yourself, you acknowledge that it’s not ideal, but you deal with it anyway. This is more akin to “giving up.” For instance, you feel shameful about an aspect of yourself, but you choose to brush it under the rug and live with it.
Acceptance, on the other hand, is choosing NOT to tolerate thoughts or emotions that no longer serve you.
Even if you made mistakes in the past, or there are aspects of you that you’re shameful of, tolerating those mental demons is not going to help you. When you realize this, you can start to forgive and express compassion for yourself, flaws and all.
Tolerance: I’ve gained weight, I can’t believe I let myself get off track. I just don’t have time, I’ll never get the body I want. But it is what it is. . . guess I’ll learn to live with it. (And you keep beating yourself up for how you look.)
Acceptance: I’ve gained some weight, but I was doing the best I could given the busy and stressful circumstances I was under. It’s not going to serve me to beat myself up for it, so I’m going to accept that I look the way I do right now, but not let it define who I am.
This is a very important distinction. If you tolerate self-criticism and judgment, you will get low self-esteem in return. There’s no way around it. As Tony Robbins says, “You get exactly what you tolerate.” This is true not only for what you tolerate from others, but from yourself as well.
Are you actually practicing self-acceptance? Or are you simply tolerating something under the guise of acceptance?
Myth #4: If we accept everything about ourselves, it will prevent us from improving
Accepting ourselves as we are today doesn’t mean we will be without motivation to make changes or improvements that will make us more effective. Rather it means that self-acceptance does not depend on such improvements.
So instead of thinking of acceptance as being the same thing as “learning to live with something,” reframe your mindset. It’s not about surrendering, but about changing how you view yourself.
This lets you create the right mental state to motivate you to live your best life. You can still strive for personal growth without the pressure of it being a prerequisite for self-acceptance.
Myth #5: Self-acceptance is something to achieve
Self-acceptance isn’t something you can check off your goal list. It’s not something to attain and be done with.
The practice of self-acceptance is ever evolving, requiring different commitments from us at different times in our lives. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for self-acceptance. Rather, it means that self-acceptance shouldn’t be treated as a finite end goal.
According to clinical psychologist Leon Seltzer, “If self-acceptance is to be “earned,” a result of working hard on ourselves, then it’s conditional–and always at risk. For the message we’re giving ourselves is that we’re only as worthwhile as our latest achievement.”
When you’re in a goal seeking mindset, it wires you to believe outcomes are conditional on certain actions. For example, we say, “when I do x, y, z things, I will finally accept myself.” Yet this thinking is backwards. And it completely undermines what self-acceptance is about.
The beauty of self-acceptance is that you don’t have to DO anything extra to secure it. It’s within our grasp today. You don’t need to be anything more or less in order to accept who you are. All you have to do is change how you view yourself.
When everyone from Justin Bieber to Soul Cycle instructors to Instagram is telling us to love and accept ourselves, it’s easy to become desensitized to these ideas. We shrug them off. And we form misconceptions about what these ideas represent.
We assume that self-acceptance should be easy, or that it’s something to achieve. Or more negatively, that it’s a sign of weakness or surrender.
But this just isn’t true. And when we think like this, it blocks us from being able to fully practice acceptance. And so we struggle.
But once you recognize these assumptions for what they are – myths, not facts – the journey becomes much easier. And you’ll no longer ask yourself, but how do I this?
So the next time someone tells you to “let it all go,” don’t just shrug it off. Actually take a few extra seconds to reflect: what does letting go really mean to you? What are you tolerating? What can you gain by giving in?
About the author:
Marissa Hastings is the founder of YourBreastSelf.com, a site that provides style and body-love advice for small-breasted women. It’s part of her larger mission to create a social movement that empowers women with breast insecurities and reshapes the conversation around body image and breast size. Connect with @YourBreastSelf on Instagram and Facebook to support the movement.