Albert Ellis and others wrote much about Unconditional Self Acceptance, which he considered essential to living well and dropping anxieties, fears, and all kinds of emotional problems.
You could join in the rather professional hobby of splitting hairs, as did he and Carl Rogers and others, about what is meant by Unconditional Self Acceptance, and by how necessary it is, and how to obtain it.
Or you could take my advice, as from someone who has played in this playground, or at least around the edges of it, not quite among the cool kids of professional therapists: Just stop condemning yourself.
I think many people — including professional therapists of the past, giants and everyday therapists too — get caught up on obvious moral questions raised by the term Unconditional Self Acceptance.
Should individuals really unconditionally accept themselves, even if they commit horrible crimes? Even if they deliberately harm many people?
The obvious truth, if you sit still and look inward long enough — a few hours over the course of a week, should do it, or even a few minutes right now — is:
Not-accepting yourself is absurd, in practice.
Whatever you did, you did. Accepting or not-accepting yourself is absurd, not least because it’s impossible to pin down exactly what a “self” may be. Are you an island? A node? Leave that question for now, and maybe forever.
Learning from the results of our behavior is valid. That is not absurd. It’s natural. It helps you make better judgments in the future.
But not-accepting yourself is absurd. Not-accepting has no effect. Not-accepting doesn’t change any supposed “self”. It doesn’t change what happened. It doesn’t make you more effective. It’s truly just a distraction.
One of its effects is even to allow you to avoid responsibility for your actions right now. You avoid that responsibility by not thinking about it. You’re thinking about your responsibility right now because you’re indulging in the quite “moral, virtue-signaling” mental behavior of condemning a supposedly immoral self.
Oh yes, you can virtue signal by morally judging anyone — especially yourself!
It’s a distraction from answering such questions about current responsibilities as: “How can I improve my life and the lives of those around me now?” or, “How can I make things better right now?”
Accepting yourself is equally absurd, in practice.
All of the above, under the heading about not-accepting yourself, also holds for accepting yourself.
Accepting yourself also is absurd and also because it’s a distraction.
Positively accepting yourself allows us to occupy our minds with the inane thoughts of self-approval, and self-regard.
And once again we are distracting ourselves from questions such as “How can I make things better right now?” or, “How can I bring more joy and resilience into my life and others’ right now?”
You don’t have to choose between accepting yourself and not accepting yourself. You can just drop the whole absurd question.
You don’t have to answer the question of whether you should or should not unconditionally accept yourself.
If both answers are absurd, as we’ve seen, then there’s a clue: the question itself is absurd.
In my opinion Albert Ellis spent too much ink on the concept of Unconditional Self Acceptance.
You don’t have to answer it at all.
Practically speaking, you can simply stop condemning yourself and stop approving yourself.
He would have agreed with me, I’m certain. And then he would have elaborated all the reasons why he agreed, and the caveats he held, and the emphases he considered crucial.
I’m not a theorist. Or a therapist. So I’m focused on the practical aspects of emotional coaching. And what I know is this: You can say with the ancient lights of Asia, and with commonsense people of all ages and locations: “Not that… not that either … and not that … eh just forget it.”
So: Not-accepting yourself? You can answer, “No, not that. That’s not pragmatic. That not relevant.”
And: Accepting yourself? “No, not that either. Just as impractical and irrelevant.”
You can, if you want to, simply do away with the concept of accepting or not-accepting yourself.
Either way, you’d be evaluating yourself. And “yourself” is too big a category to evaluate. Plus, it’s always changing.
Accepting yourself is like saying, “The restaurants in Atlanta are good.”
Any sensible person would answer, That’s absurd. You can’t even eat at all the restaurants in Atlanta and judge them good or bad. Even if you could, some of those restaurants would change menus, quality of performance, and owners within a single day.
And not-accepting yourself is like saying, “The restaurants in Atlanta are bad.” You see the sensible answer to that, right? It’s the same as the sensible answer to the assertion “The restaurants in Atlanta are good.”
Of course, words and concepts like the ones I’m playing with here beg to be split, and combined and redefined. And argued about.
But I prefer to avoid all that, in order to see the truth at which I’m perhaps clumsily pointing:
“Not this. Not that.”
Do you feel that relief yet?
Keep looking inward for the “self,” and you’ll feel the relief soon.