If you ever felt unhappy with your life, chances are that someone has told you to “just be yourself” or “accept yourself the way you are”. But this is, without a doubt, one of the worst things you can adopt in your personal philosophy.
The usual idea behind “just accept yourself” is that you shouldn’t care about other people’s opinions. So your close friends and family will encourage you to use this phrase as a personal “fuck you” to the haters. And when I say this advice is terrible, and that you should never accept yourself, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of:
“How dare you say that? Why shouldn’t I accept myself the way I am? There’s nothing wrong with me!“
For the most part, I wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. But it’s not about whether there’s something “wrong”, but whether it’s good enough.
Life is never black or white
When confronted with such a phrase, your initial instinct is to apply what’s popularly known as black-and-white thinking. In psychology, it is defined as a failure to combine both positive and negative qualities of the world into an objective reality.
In other words, you think there are only two sides to the story/idea where there are actually a lot more.
This is a common defense mechanism because this simplified outlook divides all notions into only two opposite categories; good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. This makes the world seem simpler, but also prevents you from adopting new ideas and growing as a person.
Life isn’t “one thing” or “the other thing”. It’s a combination of a variety of different experiences. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, most of them are in the gray area. The controversy with “accepting yourself” arises from people looking at life in this overly simplified fashion.
And I get it. When you view life is such simple terms, it really does appear like there are only two opposite options to choose from:
- Fully accept yourself the way you currently are.
- Completely change your personality to suit other people.
This is known as a false dilemma, a situation where there seem to be only two possible options to choose from when there are actually other options that haven’t been considered. Likewise, there are a plethora of options when it comes to “accepting yourself”.
According to this particular situation, when I say “never accept yourself”, you assume I’m trying to tell you to succumb to peer pressure and change yourself only so that others will like you. In reality, I’m trying to teach you how to achieve the opposite.
As you’ll soon find out, the idea of “self” is very flawed. People are often trying to “find themselves” or “accept themselves” or “be themselves”. But the truth is that self is very fluid. You are constantly changing and there is not objective self to accept. There is only your current self.
Accepting your current self is not much different than succumbing to peer pressure. If you have to force yourself to accept your current personality, then you’re not really happy with it, are you?
So the dilemma becomes: If you already like yourself, why would you need to work on accepting yourself at all?
The Problem With Accepting Yourself
People who usually acclaim this motto think it is empowering. They say things like: “Don’t try to please others, just be yourself!” To them, refusing to change is a middle finger to all of society who refuses to accept them.
I get that. When you put it like that, it does sound empowering. But more often than not, this particular way of thinking becomes an excuse for not taking any action to improve your life. Empowerment becomes just a fancy word for justifying your bad qualities.
If you’re shy, easily irritated, or overly aggressive, chances are you will say something along the lines of “Hey, it’s just the way I am”, implying these traits are an inherent part of you. But they’re not. In this case, you’re just making excuses for bad behavior.
There is no gene for being violent when you’re drunk. You are not anxious in social situations because it’s “in your blood”. People don’t irritate you because you didn’t get vaccinated with anti-irritation shots. Most of the traits you believe to be a core part of “who you are” have been developed over time.
They’re less personality traits and more… habits.
All of the things that make you “you” are a product of your surroundings, experiences, and interactions with others. It’s true that you were born either short or tall, with specific skin color or a blood type. However, you weren’t born shy, or social, or smart, or stupid.
Don’t get offended, stupidity’s something we’re all born with; knowledge, it takes a while to absorb it.Wax, Continue
Before you start invoking the “nature versus nurture” debate, let me clarify that I’m not saying that everybody is born the same. Of course, we’re not. Our genetics, surroundings, and upbringing play a huge part in developing our personality. My point is that just because you started your life going in one direction, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever change.
Case in point, when people use “just accept yourself” as a justification, they’re not talking about accepting their inherent, unchangeable traits like height or skin color. They use it to accept things that absolutely can be changed with enough effort.
If you are completely satisfied with who you actually are, this phrase will never even cross your mind.
Confident people don’t need to accept themselves. Mentally strong people don’t need to convince themselves they’re great. Emotionally stable individuals don’t need reassurance that they are okay. They already know it.
When the “just accept yourself” phrase slips into the conversation, it’s because someone isn’t happy with themselves and their family, friends, and oftentimes themselves, try to convince them that they should like themselves the way they are.
But… why? If you’re not happy with who you are, why not focus on becoming a better version of yourself? Why settle for accepting a shitty version of your personality that you aren’t satisfied with?
- If you’re shy but want to be social — why not?
- If you overweight but want to be healthy — why not?
- If you’re weak, disrespected, distrusted, unreliable, out of shape, abandoned, broken down, battered, or fucked up in any other way, but don’t want to be — why not change for the better?
This totally baffles me. Why would you spend so much effort convincing yourself that you’re so great, even though you know you’re not? Why would you do that to yourself?
As much as this way of thinking makes no sense to me, I see the appeal. As crazy as it sounds, this is still easier than the alternative. Change is hard. Change takes time. But it’s also worth it.
Reject Your Current Self So You Can Become a Better Person
Accepting someone you don’t like is not easy, especially if that person is you. But changing the traits you don’t like about yourself is much, much harder.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re shy.
You’ve always been shy, you’ve never been good with people, and you’re not really sure how to handle yourself in social situations. You don’t have a large group of friends, don’t get invited to events often and, over time, you have simply convinced yourself that it’s “just the way you are”.
So you’re scrolling your Facebook feed and you see a photo from last night’s house party. You know half the people there. Shit, it looks like they’re having an awesome time. You’ve always wondered how those parties look like. But you never get invited. It kind of sucks, doesn’t it? If only you could somehow… nope! No, stop it. You are just shy and introverted. There’s nothing you can do about that. Right?
But let’s say that, instead of accepting this as the end of the argument, something in you just snaps. Say you get mad at yourself for missing out on a yet another party. Say you get mad at being so bad in social situations that you decide to find out why. Say you realize that you simply don’t have much experience with people because you spend most of your time alone. Say you decide to change that and be more outgoing.
Instead of indulging in self-pity, you start connecting with old acquaintances. You decide to say “yes” to more events, diversify your social group, talk to strangers, and meet new people.
You decide to spend day after day putting yourself in uncomfortable situations until those situations don’t seem uncomfortable anymore. After a while, all of those things that seemed impossible simply become a part of “who you are”. As a result, you’re not shy anymore. You’ve changed. Most importantly, you’ve changed because you decided NOT to accept yourself as you were.
“Who you are” doesn’t exist. There is no permanent “you”.
You are constantly changing, adapting to your surroundings, and embracing new ideas. And if you’re not, that’s a bad thing. If someone has exactly the same mindset at the age of 15 and at the age of 85, what would you think of that person? That they’re a strong role model or a complete fool?
This underlying misconception is the main reason why I feel the urge to slap anyone who tries to “accept themselves” with a pillowcase full of batteries, then bring them a warm cup of tea and tell them it’s not their fault.
“Who you are” is always temporary. Who you are now is not who you were as a child. You don’t just have a different mindset, thought process, and values than you did back then. Even from a biological standpoint, almost every single cell in your body has been replaced.
Change is possible, but it is very, very hard. Faced with this, most will opt for an easier option. Just accept yourself. It’s empowering. But if you take a closer look, what this mindset is really telling you is:
“Just give up! You will never have the body you want. You will never be as smart as you want. You will never be as rich, successful, or as capable as you want to be. It’s just who you are!”
This attitude isn’t empowering. It’s destructive. What this phrase is really trying to impose on people is: “You are not happy with who you are, but just be yourself anyway!” And that’s just fucking stupid.
What does this all mean?
If you fully accept yourself at any point in your life, with all your faults and unfulfilled aspirations, it means you have given up on improving yourself. It’s like someone telling you:
“Don’t have the body you want? Don’t change your diet, exercise regularly, and adopt healthier habits – just accept yourself. You’re fat. There’s nothing you can do.”
Or, as the quote popularly attributed to Bill Gates goes: “If you are born poor it’s not your mistake. But if you die poor, it is your mistake.”
If you are truly satisfied with who you are, and there is nothing you would like to change about yourself, then call me an idiot, disregard everybody else, and just be yourself. I mean, if you are truly happy, I don’t even have to tell you this, right?
But if you’re not, “accepting yourself” is doing exactly what you think you’re avoiding — you are letting other people define who you are or who you could be.
Real control is in deciding how you want to be, not accepting who you are at this moment. Instead of accepting you have problems and doing nothing about it, commit yourself to accepting the problems and fixing them. If they say you are poor, stupid, fat, insecure, incapable, or ugly, focus on self-improvement to become rich, smart, confident, capable, and attractive.
Or continue to be poor, fat, insecure, incapable, and ugly. After all, it’s just the way you are and you can’t change it… can you?