Humans are on a quest for universal acceptance.
Okay. That may sound a little extreme, but we can agree that humans naturally crave acceptance. It is why we feel a slight tingle of delight when someone compliments us, likes our pictures, or – oh, my – follows us on social media.
I mean, we all like to think we’re pretty awesome. Just the way we are.
In a way, this quest for acceptance can lead to toxicity — when we constantly seek approval from others without genuinely learning to accept ourselves.
So, that’s what this is about: Self-acceptance and how it can be misunderstood.
Many of us get to the point where we choose to focus inward instead of outward. You learn to seek validation from yourself instead of the people around you. You know a little more about yourself each day: the good, the bad, and the downright fugly.
Now, the question is: does accepting yourself mean deciding that you’re perfect just the way you are and that you “don’t need to change a thing?” Or does it mean seeing your strengths, accepting your weaknesses, and pushing yourself to grow?
A School of Thought: You could just “Be Yourself” and blame all your less-than-beautiful attributes on personality type, temperament, or zodiac signs. You could sing along to the anthem of, “That’s just how I am. You either accept me this way or leave.”
I mean…if you think you’re amazing just the way you are, why should you change a thing? That’s what self-acceptance is about, ne c’est pas?
For this question, I like to use an illustration:
The Story of the Baby Who Didn’t Grow
Once upon a time, a baby was born. His mother looked at his miniature features, tiny hands, wisps of hair, and said, “Oh my! He’s perfect!”
Fast forward two years later, he’s a chubby little boy who makes his parents melt with just a smile. At night, his parents rock him to sleep, mumble at how perfect he is, and say, “I wish he’ll remain like this. Never grow up.”
Unbeknownst to them, a wish-granter was passing by. The wish-granter, who loved granting every wish that fell on her ears, decided to make these parents happy. She granted their wish.
Baby Perfect stopped growing.
At first, the parents didn’t notice. Their little one was still as perfect as before. Still adorable. Still fussy. Then, after two years, someone pointed out that Baby Perfect seemed to have stopped growing. The scales fell from the parents’ eyes. They realized that maybe, just maybe, something was wrong with their little bundle of perfect.
And so they began the endless visits to doctors, asking questions, taking tests, buying drugs. The little bundle of Perfect suddenly wasn’t perfect anymore. Their happiness had given way to worry. And no, it wasn’t because they’d stopped loving him; they loved him just as much as before. It was because he’d stopped growing.
First, the parents loved their child. It didn’t matter that he had a tiny mole on his right cheek, broke his toys, or that he cried all night. To them, he was their best gift. They accepted him just the way he was, flaws and all.
Second, the parents worried for their child. Why? Because, although they loved and accepted him for what he was, he’d stopped growing.
No matter how much parents love their child during his babyhood, they would always want him to grow. Even if they say otherwise when overcome with emotion.
In the non-biological sense, growth can be pretty scary. Change brings growth. And we all know how terrifying change can be. But I think this is what self-acceptance should lead to — change. And, consequently, growth.
Let’s say you realize that you are the type of person who is always on the defensive, has frequent bouts of anger, or can’t seem to stop talking and listen.
Self-acceptance says: I like talking a bit too much. Not a good listener and I react to situations compulsively.
Complacency says: This is how I am; I won’t change myself. Accept me as I am.
Self acceptance + Complacency = No growth. Not to mention a bevvy of pissed-off friends and ruined relationships.
Change says: I know I have these flaws, so I choose to work on them by listening more, taking a pause to reflect on why I’m triggered instead of getting defensive, and healthily communicate my displeasure.
Self-acceptance + Change = Growth. And improved relationships, increased emotional intelligence and the wonderful feeling of personal achievement.
In my opinion, self-acceptance should not be a ticket to complacency. Self-acceptance is not choosing to be complacent; it’s the first step to intentional growth. I believe we, being ever-evolving, should accept ourselves – flaws and all. But we shouldn’t stop there.
Let’s return to the Baby Scenario:
Finally, the parents found a cure. Baby Perfect started growing again. He went to preschool, wrote his first letter, sang his first nursery rhyme. He joined the football team, went on to college, and finally obtained his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. At his graduation ceremony, his mom hugged him and said,
“I’m so proud of you, son. You’ve grown so much.”
Oh, would you look at that?
The truth is, you can choose whichever equation you want.
Self-acceptance + complacency.
Or Self-acceptance + change.
I think it’s safe to say the better choice is the latter.
So what am I saying, exactly?
That I’d rather you make an effort to look inwards, see your flaws, accept them, and work on improving instead of laying back and blaming genetics/zodiac signs/temperament type. I’d rather you see self-acceptance as the first step towards growth instead of a ticket to complacency. I’d rather you choose to change what you can as a genuine gesture of self-love and acceptance.
But hey, that’s just my opinion.