- Self-acceptance and self-enhancement are often seen as mutually exclusive.
- Mental health experts explain the importance of balancing the two to create a happy, fulfilling life.
- Key Takeaway: You don’t have to accomplish certain things to be enough. You are already enough as you begin the adventure of your life.
You are enough. This statement is not a lie or placation. It’s a simple fact. Every human being – in this case, ignoring those who harm others – is enough and worthy of love and happiness, just as they are. It should be a given but somehow society has taken this fact and turned it into a radical position. You can be perfectly whole just the way you are and still take steps toward self-improvement.
On the one hand, self-acceptance is tied to loving and appreciating yourself. Conversely, it is seen as something that can only be true once you have achieved X, Y, and Z. There is a more obvious problem with the latter, placing your value on what you achieve rather than existing without needing to be proven. The former seems inherently better. However, when taken to extremes, it creates the impression that any work on yourself or toward goals is a form of questioning if you are truly enough.
These polar opposites often appear with greatest strength at the beginning of the new year, thanks to the traditions of resolutions and new beginnings. There’s the daily call to the gym, reading to catch up on a few books, and saying yes to everything—even the things you know you hate. Then there is a loud call to abandon any of this, to ignore resolutions, to accept yourself exactly as you are, and to treat January 1 as any other day.
It’s not an either/or issue
Both of these concepts—self-acceptance without self-reflection, and a strong determination for self-improvement—create problems if not analyzed.
“Focusing only on self-acceptance can become dangerous when we begin to ignore our challenges or the flaws that hurt us. When our limitations are harming our relationships or negatively impacting our life situations like our jobs or housing, we don’t recognize the need for change. Doing so can backfire,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, tech owner and founder of Root Therapy.
He gives the example of a person who is always restless or late. You can accept it about yourself and leave others to deal with it, but Lurie expresses the benefit of seeing it as a present trait to work on.
This thought process can also be applied to fitness or health goals. With just a few changes to your lifestyle and diet, you can practice self-love in any form for your body. This seems like such an obvious solution, but many of us make harmful statements like “I’m going to stop eating so much candy, stop being lazy, and finally lose these 10 pounds.” We think strong statements are going to motivate us but they don’t.
Instead, you could say something like, “I love my body and I want to feel my best, so I’m going to find joy and happiness in new foods and activities.” You’re still acknowledging your desire to change without shaming yourself in the process.
Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC
Balancing both pursuits is an act of self-compassion. Understanding this means that change is non-linear and that both self-acceptance and self-improvement will require practice and patience.
— Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC
Nailah Warren, LMFT, therapist and clinical content manager at Real, explains the balance we all have to find, “You acknowledge problems without harsh judgment and take care of them accordingly. On the other hand, diving too deeply into self-improvement can diminish strengths, qualities, and positive attributes by assuming that everything needs to change and overfocusing on everything that doesn’t live up to your standards.”
How to balance self-acceptance and self-improvement
Inevitably you will move between these two extremes throughout your life. But, the goal is to find a balance. Rachel Gersten, co-founder of Viva, LMHC, says, “It’s very difficult to do the work needed to improve yourself as a person at any stage of life without compassion and acceptance for who you are.
One of the obstacles to achieving this balance is the way many of us feel that we can only accept ourselves if we are “perfect.”
According to Warren, society perpetuates the idea that people can only fully love themselves if they do not seek personal change or growth. “It’s really the opposite. True change or growth cannot happen without some degree of self-acceptance,” she says.
In fact, accepting everything without consideration can lead to a sense of settlement and if at all.
Always be kind to yourself
To this end, Lurie points out the value of consciously evaluating your self-talk. Do you create unnecessary limits for yourself? Are you critical more often? Self-acceptance means moving forward by exploring what you want to do while removing judgment and negativity. Whatever path you choose, continue to show yourself compassion, says Lurie.
“Balancing both pursuits is an act of self-compassion,” Lurie adds.”It means understanding that change is non-linear and that both self-acceptance and self-improvement will require practice and patience.” This process can be messy but it is a lifelong learning process.
Rachel Gersten, LMHC
We are always a work in progress, and we are always enough – both can be true at the same time.
— Rachel Garsten, LMHC
“Self-acceptance and self-improvement need each other to get us where we want to go,” Warren explains. “The truth is, we are going to change. How and who we are today will not be the same tomorrow. Self-acceptance simply asks us to promise to take care of the version of you we meet.”
Warren advises listening to our bodies throughout this journey. Try mindfulness exercises to tap into your inner thoughts.
Consider your goals in terms of what you want to experience
Also, work to turn goals into sought-after emotions rather than data points, such as the amount of money or steps you take each day. Think about how these goals can make you feel or what feelings these goals bring about rather than what they actually give you.
“It can help anchor us in a way that’s more nurturing and still intentional,” Warren explains. Would you feel more confident or relaxed if you made more money? Gaining strength and seeing new places along your path will bring excitement and stability?
Likewise, take time to do things or be with people that make you feel good, Gersten says. At the same time, include situations that push you out of your comfort zone. Mixing the two can make it easier to find a balance. She also suggests seeing a therapist to help guide you if one is accessible to you.
“We’re always doing a thing, and we’re always enough—both can be true at the same time,” Gersten says. “I think keeping this in mind goes a long way toward setting realistic self-improvement goals and pursuing them.”
What does this mean for you?
You may feel down or not want to do anything at times. The goal here is to find a healthy balance that you can return to again and again as you go through life.