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Do You Have a Fear of Self-Acceptance?

By Michelle May, M.D.

Many people we work with have a fear of self-acceptance because they believe they won’t be motivated to change.

When I talk or write about the importance of self-acceptance, instead of feeling inspired, some people feel afraid. For example one person left this comment on one of my blog posts:

“If I accepted myself as I am, why would I change? If I accept myself, I admit defeat.”

self acceptance finish lineIt is a common misunderstanding that self-acceptance will lead to complacency and giving up.

I understand where this fear of self-acceptance is coming from. Many people believe that when they are hard on themselves, they are more likely to change. Instead, it often keeps them stuck in self-blame, guilt, shame, and old behaviors.

While it may seem counterintuitive, self-acceptance is the starting line for change, not the lack of change.

I’ll try to explain it a different way.

Fear of self-acceptance prevents real change

Let’s say you had a child who had some behaviors that needed to be addressed. Maybe they were acting up or being rude and disrespectful.

Imagine now that in response to their behaviors you said to the child, “You are horrible! I can’t stand you! I can not love you the way you are. I will only love you and accept you when you stop … (fill in the behavior).”

Now, think about most children you know. Would they be motivated to change for the long run if they were spoken to that way?

Or are they more likely to feel wounded, unloved, and unworthy?

If you think about it, won’t a child be more likely to become a victim to others who criticize, bully, and abuse them too, because they believe what their trusted parent said to them? Or maybe the child will even become rebellious; after all, you told them they were horrible, so they might as well fulfill that expectation.

What if you approached things a little differently?

If you said to the child, “Oh, I love you so much! I want you to have a wonderful life. When you… (fill in the behavior), it creates problems for you, and I don’t want to see you so unhappy. Let’s work on this together so you can be all that you can be!”

Doesn’t that feel better?

Self-acceptance leads to self-care

Now reread both paragraphs again but fill in the blanks with “binge” or whatever behavior you feel is creating problems for you.

It is a simple fact—lasting change is more likely to happen and persist in a climate of love and understanding.

Take care of yourself because you love and accept yourself, not so you’ll love and accept yourself.

By making this subtle change to your mindset, you can begin to work on any fear of self-acceptance you may have. Once you accept yourself lovingly as you are right now, you are able to make more mindful decisions about your self-care.

This article has been updated from a previous version.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more that you might find helpful:

Is fear keeping you stuck on the diet treadmill?

In charge or in control. Which are you?

How to deconstruct overeating



About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.
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