Radical Self-Acceptance Is Possible With This 7-Step Practice

Psychologist & NY Times bestseller By Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
Psychologist & NY Times bestseller
Rick Hanson, PhD, is a psychologist, senior fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times bestselling author.
Smiling Woman Getting Ready in the Mirror

Image by Addictive Creatives / Stocksy

When your mind is focused on solving problems or it is wandering about, attention keeps shifting from one thing to another. For example, suppose you see a cookie. The image of the cookie is now a "part" of your consciousness.

Next, there is the wish to have the cookie—"Me want cookie!"—which is now a second part of consciousness. Then there is the thought, "Oh no, cookies have gluten and calories, not for you," and a third part is now in the mind. But then another part speaks up: "You've worked hard, you deserve that cookie, it's OK..."

The structure of our suffering.

Parts interacting with other parts, often in conflict with each other. This is the structure of most of our suffering: parts of the mind struggling with other parts. On the other hand, as a sense of wholeness increases, this inner division and conflict decreases, and suffering decreases as well.

In this common way of experiencing oneself (parts and more parts), it's all too easy to push away parts that feel vulnerable, embarrassing, "bad," or painful. It's as if the mind is a big house with many rooms, and some of them are locked up for fear of what's inside. As understandable as this is, it leads to problems.

We make ourselves numb to keep the doors bolted shut. But the more repression, the less vitality and passion. The more parts we exile, the less we know ourselves. The more we hide, the more we fear being found out.

Personally, by the time I got to college, it seemed like most of the rooms of my own mind were boarded up. Over the years, I've had to work on accepting all of myself. Through practicing what meditation teacher Tara Brach calls radical acceptance—including accepting yourself—you can reclaim every room in your mind while still acting appropriately. In fact, it is by opening up these rooms that you can best manage whatever they contain.

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How to start to accept all the different parts of yourself.

Acceptance means recognizing something exists as a fact, whether you like it or not, with a feeling of softening and surrendering to this reality. Here is a practice in accepting yourself that can help you feel more whole:

1. Explore accepting different things.

Pick something pleasant and explore the sense of accepting it. Do the same with something that is neutral for you, and accept it. Then pick something mildly unpleasant, perhaps an annoying noise, and help yourself accept it.

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2. Know what acceptance feels like.

Your body could relax and breathing could ease. There could be thoughts such as "It's just the way it is. I don't like, it but I can accept it." Be aware of the difference between a feeling of acceptance, which is usually calming and peaceful, versus a feeling of helplessness or defeat, which often comes with a sense of frustration, hopelessness, weariness, and depressed mood.

3. Explore accepting different parts of yourself.

Pick a positive characteristic about yourself and explore what it's like to accept this. Next, pick a neutral characteristic such as the fact that you're breathing, and accept it. Then pick something you think is mildly negative about yourself and explore accepting it. Try this with several things about yourself. Gradually raise the challenge level and build the "muscle" of self-acceptance.

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4. Allow things to come up.

For a few minutes, let things bubble up into awareness, and explore what it feels like to accept them, such as: "Ah, an ache in my lower back, I accept this...loving feelings for a friend, accepting these...resentful feelings about someone mistreating me, accepting them too."

5. Think about the things you like about yourself.

Look for sweet, admirable, passionate, tender, good things inside yourself and take time to accept them. You might imagine thanking them and including them in all of who you are.

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6. Then, the things about yourself you may not like.

Pick something inside that you are embarrassed or remorseful about, and explore accepting it. Start with something small, establish self-compassion, and remember that we all have things that are hard to face. Let go of denying or hiding while also knowing that you can take responsibility and act wisely.

7. Allow yourself to soften.

When you accept yourself, there could be a feeling of releasing and easing. Let the walls inside you soften. It's all right. Let everything flow as it will. Let go of any tension in your body, be aware of breathing, and relax as a whole being, being whole. 

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