Why is it so hard to accept ourselves unconditionally?

When I read Psychologies magazines recent happiness club article on acceptance it was a big lightbulb moment. I hadn’t considered ‘conditional’ or ‘unconditional’ acceptance of myself until this point but knew instantly I only accepted myself conditionally depending upon my own internal standards and successes. I talked about this with friends outside of the happiness club and, lo and behold, they did the same thing. It wasn’t that surprising on Monday evening to discover friends in the happiness club did too. We would accept our own children unconditionally, so why is it so hard to accept ourselves unconditionally?

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Why do we find it so hard to accept ourselves unconditionally?

We talked about how this stems from our childhood and parental expectations, school and academic expectations and friends and peer pressure etc. As adults it’s hard to shake that baggage and be accepting if we fail. Additionally lots of people get a great sense of satisfaction from achievement, growing and developing. My gut reaction is that I certainly wouldn’t want to stop doing that; I don’t actually want to lower my expectations. However, I do want to be kinder to myself when things don’t go to plan, or when I struggle or even when I fail. That’s where self-compassion comes in.

We read the article at the happiness club and learnt the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion and we think we understood! The way I (and many others) had been living their life was through striving for success (in various ways, not just in work but in all aspects) in order to, sub-consciously, raise our self-esteem. When we have high self-esteem we feel good. We are all harsh on ourselves when this doesn’t work out though and that’s the danger in only having our self-esteem to build our confidence and happiness. Things don’t always work out and making mistakes is a huge part of living a full and rewarding life. Some people constantly criticise themselves through their inner dialogue and almost make a joke of it (“I never remember anything” “I’m so stupid” “This always happens to me” “Silly mummy” etc etc). This can be spoken loud in front of family and friends, and it was felt that if it was done frequently enough could actually affect others perceptions of you as well as, more importantly, our own view of ourselves.

Self-compassion allows us to be kind to ourselves in times of trouble. If we are feeling sad, angry, jealous or overwhelmed then self-compassion allows us to see that we are in pain and are suffering. By holding that thought whilst feeling the emotion we can be more kind and compassionate internally. Perhaps as a result we’ll build a more friendly inner dialogue, being kinder to ourselves, and allow others to be kinder to us along the way.

Over the next month we will practice self compassion in a variety of ways such as using meditations, by having a heightened sense of our inner dialogue, through recognising when we catastrophise when things haven’t worked out and/or through allowing friends and family to support us.

Wish us luck and we’ll see you next month!

Kirsty Morgan

I am a Chartered Accountant for a Housing Association, who is a mum to 2 small children. I discovered Mindfulness in 2013 and this was a turning point for me to really be committed and present wherever I am. Life isn't as worrying as I used to think when I used to listen to all my 'what if' thoughts and I now feel braver and more confident. I set up a Happiness Club in 2015 in conjunction with Psychologies magazine and as with Mindfulness am already loving the difference it's making to my life and those around me.