Did you know that self-acceptance is one of the well-being habits that we practice the least, but that it’s the most impactful habit of all?
A UK survey of 5,000 participants found that out of 10 key “Happy Habits”, participants engaged in self-acceptance the least; see the table below (Action for Happiness, 2014).
*Scale where 1 = least often/never, 10 = most often/always
And lest we assume that people neglect to practice self-acceptance because they already enjoy a high level of self-acceptance, research has found this hypothesis to be unproven. A recent study of adults using the Unconditional Self-Acceptance Questionnaire indicated that the median self-acceptance for adults is low and that a high proportion of people—both men and women—report low or very low self-acceptance (Vasile, 2013).
Further, we know that mindfulness is related to tons of positive outcomes, and it seems that enhanced self-acceptance is the mechanism through which many of these positive outcomes occur. Self-acceptance is the strongest link between mindfulness and depressive symptoms, indicating that it is through improving self-acceptance that depression is kept at bay (Jimenez, Niles, & Park, 2010).
Self-acceptance is strongly correlated with both mindfulness and subjective well-being (SWB), and research suggests it is a “critical factor” for SWB (Xu, Oei, Liu, Wang, & Ding, 2014). It is also a mediating factor between mindfulness and healthy self-image, a relationship that is particularly important for those with eating disorders (Astani, 2016). Self-acceptance is also the mediator between mindfulness and perceived stress (Rodriguez, Xu, Wang, & Liu, 2015).
Not only does self-acceptance influence our feelings and emotions, it has an impact on the brain itself. Poor self-acceptance is intimately tied with poor self-esteem, and feeling bad about yourself is associated with structural changes in the brain; those with low self-acceptance/self-esteem have less grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, the right lateral prefrontal cortex, the right hippocampus, and the left hypothalamus (Agroskin, Klackl, & Jonas, 2014). These areas of the brain are involved in emotion and stress regulation, so a lack of grey matter in these areas can translate to more stress, more anxiety, less control over emotions, and a lower sense of well-being (Pillay, 2016).
Self-acceptance allows us to forgive ourselves (Dixon, Earl, Lutz-Zois, Goodnight, & Peatee, 2014), forgive others (Porada, Sammut, & Milburn, 2018), and have a high tolerance of frustration and discomfort (Jibeen, 2017).
We explore this further in The Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass©.
Action for Happiness. (2014). Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life. Action for Happiness News. Retrieved from webpage
Agroskin, D., Klackl, J., & Jonas, E. (2014). The self-liking brain: a VBM study on the structural substrate of self-esteem. PloS one, 9(1), e86430.
Astani, A. (2016). Mindfulness and unconditional self-acceptance as protective factors against thin ideal internalization. Annals of the AI. I. Cuza University, Psychology Series, 25, 37-46.
Dixon, L. J., Earl, K. A., Lutz-Zois, C. J., Goodnight, J. A., & Peatee, J. J. (2014). Explaining the link between perfectionism and self-forgiveness: The mediating roles of unconditional self-acceptance and rumination. Individual Differences Research, 12, 101-111.
Jibeen, T. (2017). Unconditional self acceptance and self esteem in relation to frustration intolerance beliefs and psychological distress. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 35, 207-221. doi:10.1007/s10942-016-0251-1
Jimenez, S. S., Niles, B. L., & Park, C. L. (2010). A mindfulness model of affect regulation and depressive symptoms: Positive emotions, mood regulation expectancies, and self-acceptance as regulatory mechanisms. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 645-650. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.05.041
Pillay, S. (2016). Greater self-acceptance improves emotional well-being. Harvard Health Publishing Blog. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/greater-self-acceptance-improves-emotional-well-201605169546
Porada, K., Sammut, S., & Milburn, M. (2018). Empirical investigation of the relationships between irrationality, self-acceptance, and dispositional forgiveness. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 36, 234-251. doi:10.1007/s10942-017-0284-0
Rodriguez, M. A., Xu, W., Wang, X., & Liu, X. (2015). Self-acceptance mediates the relationship between mindfulness and perceived stress. Psychological Reports: Mental & Physical Health, 116, 513-522. doi:10.2466/07.PR0.116k19w4
Vasile, C. (2013). An evaluation of self-acceptance in adults. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 78, 605-609. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.04.360
Xu, W., Oei, T. P. S., Liu, X., Wang, X., & Ding, C. (2016). The moderating and mediating roles of self-acceptance and tolerance to others in the relationship between mindfulness and subjective well-being. Journal of Health Psychology, 21, 1446-1456. doi:10.1177/1359105314555170