Self-Acceptance and Self-Improvement: Figuring Out What to Throw Away and What to Keep

Most of us struggle, to one degree or another, with accepting ourselves. So, we do one of three things: We hide ourselves from ourselves and pretend we’re much smarter, stronger, and confident than we are; we fall into despair, believing that we’re incapable of changing our lives; or, we become obsessed with self-improvement, entrapping ourselves in a perpetual cycle of perfectionistic striving and heartbreaking disappointment.

Each of these three paths represents a way to cope with deep-seated insecurity, and each is related to psychopathology. As a weird kid growing up on the poor-side of town, I constantly felt less-than, so I used all of the above strategies at one time or another to deal with my self-loathing. The problem was that none of them were successful. My grandiosity caused my peers to hate me, my sense of hopelessness fostered apathy, and my drive for self-actualization, in the sense of becoming the ultimate human being, reminded me of how awful I was each time I failed.

At the time of writing this article, I’m currently stuck at the boundary of self-improvement, with one foot in and the other dangling over a cliff. Until recently, I thought that self-enhancement was the only way to love myself, that when I reached the pinnacle, whatever that even was, I’d be able to fully embrace who I was. And if that sounds self-helpy and woo-woo, it’s because it is. Whether a symptom of capitalism or rugged-individualism, we spend most of our waking-lives on the hamster-wheels of self-improvement, increasing the self-help industry’s bottom-line as they exploit our innate fears of exposure and rejection. But, as we buy more books and achieve more substantial goals, we don’t ever seem to fully love ourselves.

I didn’t, no matter how high up the ladder I climbed. So, this begs the question of how one can achieve self-acceptance. I’m still one foot in the self-improvement camp because I think that working on oneself should be a significant life-goal; for, we are our greatest creations. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it’s enough, nor possible, to become fully self-actualized, so self-love shouldn’t be directory tied to its’ attainment. But, if self-absorbed self-mastery isn’t the road to self-love, what is?

That’s what I’ve been trying to discover. There are parts of me that I know I’ll never change or improve on. Social anxiety, despite how hard I’ve tried over the past few years to mitigate it, will always be a significant aspect of my life. Although I’ve gotten it to the point where I’m no longer avoiding the vast majority of my life, I still struggle with shyness, even when I’m with my friends. It doesn’t make sense on a rational level, but persists regardless. And because I was so ashamed of it, I frequently made myself seem tougher when I told stories of my seemingly heroic deeds. Nowadays, I try to qualify them by exposing how scared I often really am.

I still don’t know where the boundary is between between self-improvement and self-acceptance, but I’m trying to accept the qualities I know are unlikely to change, such as shyness. And interestingly, as I begin to accept my own flaws, I, in turn, accept those of others. I’ll never be taller than 5′ 8″; I’ll never exude confidence; I’ll always look for approval and admiration despite how hard I try to convince myself that my opinion of myself is the only one that really matters; and, I’ll always fall short of perfection.

With regard to self-improvement, I’ll attempt to merge it with self-acceptance, and as I continue to try to improve my moral character, by lying less and being more willing to accept the consequences of my misdeeds, and my ability to graciously accept life’s inevitable flaws, I’ll also work toward improving my ability to accept my own. I often tell people that they won’t want to be perfect if they accept the meaning of perfection. For, the perfect person is intimidating and non-empathic, unable to accept the weaknesses of others because of his inability to understand them. And that flaw appears to be a fatal one, driving a dagger into the heart of the perfect conception of the perfect person, essentially proving its non-existence.

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