Footprints to Recovery

Close this search box.
Get Help Now!
Close this search box.

Embracing Our Dark Sides: Self-Acceptance of Our Best & Worst Selves

6 minute read

The first step to self-acceptance is accepting that you can’t accept yourself at this moment. Sounds simple, right? The words are easy to say, but the reality of self-acceptance is not a comfortable journey. 

Some days we can accept who we are. And some days we just can’t. The truth of who you are and the fantasy of who you want to be can keep you from accepting yourself. 

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Acceptance

Self-esteem refers to how valuable we see ourselves, self-acceptance is a deeper level of accepting yourself. We base our self-esteem on our accomplishments and achievements. People easily confuse self-esteem and self-acceptance. They are both essential ingredients of emotional health.

self acceptance

Self-esteem can be shattered when things do not go to plan, losing a job, or not getting into the college of your choice. When our self-esteem is damaged, it can be challenging to recover. 

True self-acceptance is embracing ALL parts of yourself–not just your positive traits but your negative traits as well. Self-acceptance is unconditional. You are aware of your limits and weaknesses without allowing them to interfere with accepting yourself. 

Self-esteem increases, the more we accept and love ourselves. Loving ourselves comes from self-acceptance. And we can only love ourselves by not judging ourselves. Only speak positively about yourself. 

Self-acceptance is a journey; you can not just will it to happen. Those with addiction and mental health disorders suffer from both low self-esteem and low self-acceptance. Each day in recovery can bring you closer to accepting your whole self.

What Determines Our Self-Acceptance?

Similar to self-esteem, as children, our self-acceptance is based on our parent’s acceptance of us. Parents who are encouraging and give positive feedback, cultivate self-acceptance in their children. Children misbehave, but that does not make them bad children. A parent who continually tells their children how bad they are will cultivate negative self-images. 

Self-acceptance is not only based on accepting behaviors. For example, if you were told you were selfish, not pretty enough, or not kind enough, it can damage the ability to accept yourself. Because we have all experienced some form of emotional abuse, we view ourselves as conditionally acceptable. 

We are extremely hard on ourselves. Self-criticism amplifies our problems as adults. Speaking negatively about ourselves and internalizing the rejection from parents and the outside world can lead to substance use disorders. It is easy to berate, blame, and physically abuse ourselves if that is the environment you grew up around. 

3 Ways To Become More Self-Accepting

Three ways to become more self-accepting are:

  1. Cultivate Self-Compassion
  2. Let Go of Guilt
  3. Learn to Forgive Yourself

Accepting ourselves without conditions is easy when we are raised in a supportive and encouraging environment. If that was not the case for you, then it is up to you to build your self-worth. Build yourself up, talk positively to yourself. Stop judging yourself. 

Keep in mind some small goals for you to reach when you reach those goals, set bigger goals. You are important, and you must keep that in mind when you are feeling down. Re-evaluate the people you surround yourself with and create a positive support group who believes in you. 

Robert Holden’s book, Happiness Now, states, “Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand.” Self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the happier you allow yourself to be. You will only be as happy as you feel you are worthy of being. And each person is worthy of the greatest of happiness. 

Letting go of guilt is essential in becoming more self-accepting. Your past has gotten you where you are today. It’s provided you with both vulnerabilities and strengths. Your past has the potential to become an important part of your life. And an even more significant part of your life when you embrace it. 

After you contemplate the events, relationships, and feelings of the past, you will gain insight as to who you are and who you are. Let go of the extravagant and unattainable ideas of how your recovery should go. Forgive yourself for past wrongdoings, hardships, or mistakes. Self-acceptance is a difficult process, and you must remember to be patient with yourself. 

Becoming more self-accepting requires that we begin to understand that we’re not what we have been told, whether it’s our looks, intellect, or any questionable behavior. Our actions have all been coerced by some combination of background and biology.

 Going forward, we absolutely can take responsibility for ways we’ve hurt or wronged others. But if we are to work on becoming more self-accepting productively, we must do so with compassion and forgiveness in our hearts. We need to realize that, up to this point, we could not have behaved differently.

5 Stages of Improving Self-Acceptance

Psychologist Christopher Germer explains in his book The Mindful Path To Self-Compassion that self-acceptance development occurs in five stages.

Stage 1: Aversion 

It is human instinct to respond to uncomfortable feelings with avoidance, resistance, or rumination ( continued thinking of a problem to fix it). We all have avoidance behaviors, drinking, overeating, or working too much. We may not even be aware of what we are feeling, but the uncomfortable feelings can lead to avoidance behaviors.

The path to self-acceptance is not to avoid feelings. Be mindful of feelings. Process the feelings, and do not push them away. 

Stage 2: Curiosity

When you face your feelings and aversion no longer works, curiosity takes over. You want to learn more about why you feel the way you do. Curiosity can cause some anxiety, but nonetheless, it is an essential step in self-acceptance. 

Question the feeling. What are you feeling? What led to this feeling? How can I overcome this feeling? Being curious about every aspect of your feelings is vital to building a strong sense of well-being and self-acceptance.

Stage 3: Tolerance

Tolerance is enduring the pain, but wishing it would go away. You may resist the pain and even fake being happy. It is not a comfortable journey to confront the pain and heal it and not just tolerate it. 

Old habits would have you running for a substance to drown the feelings. Now is the time to build healthy coping skills.

Stage 4: Allowing

The only way to achieve a life of sobriety is to fight through the uncomfortableness and find true happiness. You have to allow these feelings to flow. Acknowledge the feelings and emotions. Find the blessings in the sad feelings, and use the thoughts that make you angry to create a better version of yourself. When you allow yourself to feel your emotions, you can find inner peace. 

Stage 5: Friendship

Being able to see the value of uncomfortable feelings and learn from them is friendship. You understand that negative emotions can bring positive results. In recovery, this is a vital step. Being mindful of your feelings and being friends with them can stop the vicious cycle of relapse

With a dedication to working the steps above and attention to your struggles, you can nurture self-acceptance. 

Self-Improvement vs. Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance has nothing to do with self-improvement. Self-acceptance isn’t about “fixing” yourself. Self-acceptance is affirming our whole self – all of our strengths and weaknesses. 

Self-improvement is the act of bettering yourself. The problem with self-improvement is it means that accepting ourselves is conditional. It is difficult to feel totally secure with who we are if we are continually finding things to improve. Self-acceptance is oriented on the here-and-now, not the future. Self-improvement is wanting to be better in different aspects of your life even though you accept the person you already are. 

We have the power to set the standards for self-acceptance. Once you stop keeping score with yourself or grading yourself, you learn the art of forgiving yourself. And when you can compassionately understand your past, you realize there is nothing to forgive. You did what you did, and made the decisions you did. That does not mean you are “stuck” in the same addictive patterns your whole life. Accept it and forgive yourself—vow to do better in the future. 

You can love yourself and accept yourself but still commit to a lifetime of growth. Substances like drugs and alcohol steal away the love for yourself. These substances keep you feeling worthless and like a nobody. This is absolutely NOT true! At Footprints to Recovery, you will discover all the fantastic and incredible attributes you have to offer the world.

Learning Self-Acceptance at Footprints to Recovery

There is no reason to put off accepting yourself. Start the journey to self-acceptance and a life of sobriety today! Remind yourself that your weaknesses are part of being human. We all have our faults, and we fail at times. It is our response to our failures and short-comings that will determine our self-acceptance.

At Footprints to Recovery, our caring and professional staff are waiting to help you discover the wonderful substance-free person you are. The counselors will be there to guide you on the pursuit of unconditional self-acceptance. What are you waiting for? Call us today.


Are you covered for addiction treatment? Find your insurance
We're Here 24/7
Call right now to chat about:

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.