Unconditional Self-Acceptance According to Albert Ellis

You're a human being. You have dark side and a light side, you're beautifully imperfect and fallible, but with great potential to achieve what you want. You can make a start by accepting yourself unconditionally. We explain how.
Unconditional Self-Acceptance According to Albert Ellis

Last update: 23 July, 2022

Unconditional self-acceptance is a valuable tool to adjust your well-being and, in the process, see yourself more clearly. Also, more positively. However, it isn’t easy to achieve this kind of vision because you live in a society that seeks to educate its children in perfection. Indeed, we all live in a world obsessed with finding that unimportant flaw in someone else’s behavior. It’s either because we overestimate the importance of doing so or we think that it gives us a certain advantage.

This kind of attitude motivates you to develop a self-demanding personality that needs to have everything under control. In fact, you want to correct your own faults before anyone points them out. Furthermore, you examine your behavior under a microscope and scrutinize yourself in front of the mirror so you can assess your physical appearance in accordance with the current ideas of beauty. Gradually, you become your own worst judge and the cause of your own unhappiness.

In fact, you forget that the core component of satisfaction is accepting your strengths and weaknesses, your potential, and also your limitations. Sadly, you’re not always taught that success doesn’t mean perfection and that an absence of flaws doesn’t directly bring happiness.

In reality, whoever becomes obsessed with the idea that perfection is a representation of the virtuous reveals a lack of both self-compassion and wisdom.

Emotional health requires us to be kind and compassionate to ourselves, accepting our mistakes, failures, and shortcomings.

Woman covering her face in front of the mirror working on her unconditional self-acceptance
Unlike self-esteem, unconditional self-acceptance encourages us to accept those parts of ourselves that we least like.

Unconditional self-acceptance

Unconditional self-acceptance is an exercise that invites you to embrace all your facets, both positive and negative. It implies, above all, accepting yourself as a fallible human being, someone who’ll sometimes succeed in life and, at others, will make mistakes.

Neither your flaws nor your mistakes define you. Therefore, you need to free yourself from self-appraisal and labels. This is unconditional self-acceptance. It was defined and popularized by Albert Ellis. It’s important to remember it’s not the same as self-esteem.

Self-esteem can be defined as the set of perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and evaluations that you have about yourself. It’s a conditional dimension because your well-being depends on whether you feel effective, valid, capable, attractive and resolute, etc.

However, self-acceptance also gives presence to the fallible, to your flaws and mistakes. It means accepting your peculiarities without judging yourself, in order to develop a healthier and more enriching sense of being. Research conducted by the American University in Washington (USA) claims that only through self-acceptance do we strengthen our self-esteem.

Thanks to unconditional self-acceptance, you look at yourself with compassion and affection, appreciating everything that you are, both the good and the not so good. It helps you prevent conditions such as depression, anxiety, guilt, or shame.

Stop judging yourself

Albert Ellis was one of the most prominent figures in the field of psychology. He developed REBT (rational emotive-behavioral therapy), an approach that looks at a person’s interpretations of themselves and the world around them. That factor, more than any other, is the one that mediates suffering or psychological discomfort.

A key pillar in the Ellis model was ensuring that his patients/clients worked on unconditional self-acceptance, and avoided personal judgments. Because the moment you attribute a particular value to how you are or how you act, you run the risk of laying down the foundations for anxiety or depression.

Your education, the society that surrounds you, your friends, and even your partner often make you develop biased beliefs about what you’re like. Furthermore, not all of those ideas are kind or enriching. In fact, almost without realizing it, you integrate numerous criticisms and self-hating ideas into your internal dialogue.

According to Albert Ellis, the most important contributory factor to human well-being is to stop evaluating and judging each other. He claimed that the human being is too complex and changeable to be indiscriminately given labels.

You’re perfect just by the mere fact of existing. Accepting yourself unconditionally means integrating and embracing everything you are. Your mistakes from yesterday, your successes of today, your permanent flaws, and your immense potential.

Accept your intrinsic value as a human being

However, it’s not easy to embrace the less desirable, negative, and fallible parts of yourself. Indeed, accustomed as you are to having your flaws and mistakes pointed out to you, it might seem impossible for you to accept them. Even less to process them as positive. That’s the real challenge of unconditional acceptance because, as a rule, instead of accepting everything that displeases you, you tend to hide or repress it.

Above all, accepting yourself means recognizing that, although there are aspects of yourself that you don’t like, you accept that they’re an intrinsic part of who you are. In fact, it’s only when you give space and presence to the good and the bad of your own being, that you’re prepared to change what makes you uncomfortable.

As Carl Rogers said, “…when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.

Only by working on unconditional self-acceptance can you lay the foundations for positive self-esteem.

Young boy smiling working on his unconditional self-acceptance

How can you achieve unconditional self-acceptance?

You must understand yourself to forgive yourself and accept yourself to change what hurts you and achieve well-being. It seems like a complex task but, in reality, it only requires one thing: a full commitment to yourself. Here are some strategies that’ll help you achieve unconditional self-acceptance.

  • Reflect and bring to light everything that you don’t like about yourself. For example, experiences, actions, mistakes, failures, character defects, physical flaws, etc.
  • Now, analyze each dimension from a self-compassionate perspective. Talk to yourself like you do to your best friend and release any hints of guilt or shame. You’re made up of everything that you like about yourself, but also of those darker areas that you tend to reject and avoid.
  • Accept your limitations, your circumstances, and all of your realities. Look at yourself without judging yourself, and leave room for both the lighter and darker areas.

After completing this exercise, think about what you could do to make yourself feel better. Assess what changes would allow you to be happier considering that you, like everyone else, are a wonderful being full of flaws. This doesn’t devalue you, it normalizes you.

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  • Chamberlain, J.M., Haaga, D.A.F. Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Psychological Health. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy 19, 163–176 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1011189416600
  • Chamberlain, John & Haaga, Dave. (2001). Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Responses to Negative Feedback. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. 19. 177-189. 10.1023/A:1011141500670.
  • Vasile, Cristian. (2013). An Evaluation of Self-acceptance in Adults. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Vol. 78. Pages 605-609. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.04.360.