Spiritual Terms - Self Acceptance Not Self Improvement

Business people shaking hands, finishing up a meeting

Dr. Purushothaman
September 30, 2013

Self-improvement has become something of a mantra and a watchword for a vast industry that has grown up around it in the last 30 perhaps 40 years. A lot of the self-improvement industry has flourished in the last 10 or 15 years with the growth of the Internet.

Perhaps an inevitable consequence of the growth of the web, has been a freedom for people to peddle whatever wares they like online, alongside a lot of highly reputable and good sources of information.

Self-improvement used to be referred to as character building. People have different ideas of the value of character building and what it means, but it is worth looking at, as it perhaps gives a clearer understanding of the issue.

People would quite often refer to character building in the context of particularly difficult or unpleasant experiences, that could either be justified or explained by demonstrating that they helped develop a person's character. There may have been some truth in this approach, but often this idea of character building was used more as a rationalisation of behaviour or events than as an objective interpretation of how to develop one's personality or identity.

Character building is essentially about the idea of development of one's identity as a person and one's sense of self as an individual. Obviously this is a lifelong process, and different people will have different ideas of what it means to them.

The term self improvement, and the industry that has grown up around it often has at least one very clear and simple message to people. That they need to change or grow in a particular direction or a particular way in order to be OK. The real problem with this approach, is that it becomes very quickly a vicious cycle of really never been OK, but always chasing after some particular formula or technique or rhythm that will make them OK, whatever that may mean.

On the other hand self acceptance as a process is quite often seen as a bit of a surrender or downside to where the person is or has been in their life. There is often a message that if you accept yourself as you are, then that is it, game over.

This is an incredibly defeating message, and one that is actually contrary to the reality behind it.

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step fellowships, although varied in number and experience, provide good evidence of this approach. It has become almost a bit of a cliché to say that in order to deal with a problem you have to acknowledge it first. However the truth of this is reflected in people's willingness or not, to deal with their alcoholism or other type of addiction.

It often takes a huge amount of life experiences for someone to own the fact that they need to deal with a drinking problem and all that entails, but the reality is that self-acceptance of the person as they are is a truly liberating experience, in the long run if not in the short term.

Self acceptance gives people a real opportunity to change. Perhaps one of the key reasons is that it gives them an underlying sense of internal safety at some level, which is a precondition of being able to change. Real change of an individual, however long it may take always comes from the inside out, not the other way round.

It also has to come from a position of safety, where the individual feels at some level a degree of internal or personal safety that allows them to move in a different direction to the one they were moving before.

This sense of internal safety, whatever level it may operate at is the key to their own spirituality and their own inner world. It is a core element of self acceptance, unconditional love of self.

It allows people to begin the process of changing and becoming more whole and more authentic as people. It achieves in the long run the effect that the term self improvement hints at, without a sense of judgement or merry-go-round that often goes with the self-improvement bandwagon.

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