Self-acceptance and self-love are essential for both our health and wellbeing. A lack of such can result in feelings of depression, resentment and ultimately limit our capacity for happiness. However, practicing self-acceptance can be an extremely challenging task for many people.
Acceptance implies that we know exactly who we are and therefore we accept all facets of our being, even the not-so-redeemable qualities. Monumental moments such as getting a first job, having a child, or retiring can all cause us to question, who am I? and in turn leave us feeling uncomfortable with our own sense of self. In times of uncertainty, are we able to revert to our most innocent form, the child, to find stability and rise above external pressures to be the most authentic version of ourselves?
I was scrolling through Twitter recently when I saw a tweet that read ‘It’s so funny how so much of finding yourself in adulthood is simply getting back to who you were and what you loved as a child’. This statement caused me to dive into the mind of my childhood self, considering at the time what inspired me and what I enjoyed, pondering whether those things had transpired into my adult life. The thing was, they had, but only now in my early yet definitive twenties have I reached a point where I have found the courage to outwardly express them. As a child I had always been drawn to all things pink and glittery; I also loved art, singing, writing, and acting in my school play. As I left primary school and began my turbulent teenage years at secondary, it didn’t take long for these once-loved hobbies of mine to become a thing of the past. I hadn’t fallen out of love with any of these things, but instead, I now felt conflict to be myself. I had become so fearful of what other people thought of me that, in an attempt to be accepted by the people around me, I suppressed who I was.
Whilst I say this with confidence now, at the time I didn’t think any of these things; I just wanted to fit in and be part of a crowd. Although all of this sounds a bit sad, the reality is that my experience, despite not being the case for everyone, will resonate with many people. It is only now that I feel comfortable to be myself, and though I attribute a large part of this to my own confidence, I also thoroughly believe that it has a lot to do with the people I surround myself with. During the periods of my life where I have felt conflict with myself, they were generally a reflection of the way that the people I surrounded myself with viewed me . Now, if you are extremely headstrong and have always been a bit of an outcast, the opinions of others may not be such a powerful force, but for me, what others thought of me was always a huge motivation in the way I behaved, which I almost feel ashamed for admitting.
English philosopher John Locke claimed that all people are born as a blank slate, known in Latin as a ‘Tabula Rasa’. He theorised that all children were born void of all character, awaiting to make the leap from innocence to experience. Perhaps it is this childhood innocence that allows us to accept ourselves and others as their truest form when we are younger. Locke’s theory suggests that the purity of a child comes from a lack of experience, and it is the corruption of mundane affairs that leads us to distrust in our sense of self. Educator Maria Montessori also suggests that children develop innocence as a means of coping with the uncertainty and helplessness of youth.
While we are unable to regain our childhood innocence, we can give time to entertain the part of us that is still full of wonder, our inner child. We can do this by revisiting childhood memories, practicing activities we once enjoyed or simply imagining a ‘little you’ whenever we begin to think negatively about ourselves.
Unfortunately, self-acceptance isn’t something we can achieve and keep forever, it ebbs and flows with the changing tides of life and is a continuous thing we must practice. Surrounding yourself with open-minded and loving people is key to allowing yourself to explore who you are in a safe and non-judgemental environment. So, when you wake up tomorrow don’t be afraid to ask your child within, “What can I do for you today?”.