The Incredible Grounding Power of Self-Acceptance

The Incredible Grounding Power of Self-Acceptance

We humans just want to fit in. A big part of our sense of security comes from feeling accepted by the group.

But what about accepting ourselves? Many people struggle with self-acceptance. That means acceptance of all of our attributes, positive or negative. It means accepting our strengths and faults without judgment.

For us to enjoy life and thrive, we must learn to embrace all aspects of ourselves, not just the positive or admirable. We must get better at accepting our thoughts, feelings, intuitions, values, preferences, and actions. Can we acknowledge our faults, weaknesses, and mistakes without beating ourselves up over them?

Having a healthy level of self-acceptance means not caring too much about what others think about us and not needing others’ approval to feel good and whole. It means viewing ourselves as whole and not defining ourselves by struggles, conditions, diagnoses, labels, or limiting beliefs. And it means making peace with parts of ourselves that have been painful or that we’ve denied or repressed.

Unfortunately, we tend to be bad at this. Many of us are brutal self-critics.

How might our lives change for the better if we could learn to appreciate, respect, and love ourselves—unconditionally, and free of any qualifications?


Self-Acceptance Doesn’t Mean Settling

It’s important to note that accepting ourselves in this way doesn’t mean settling for less. It doesn’t mean that we call it quits and just accept whatever’s in front of us, or that we stop learning and growing. Not at all.

It does mean that we stop rejecting ourselves for having struggles or not being perfect. By accepting ourselves in full, we can find great comfort, relief, and security.

Accepting ourselves as we are today doesn’t mean we’ll be without the motivation to make changes or improvements that will make us more effective, or that will enrich our lives. It’s simply that this self-acceptance is in no way tied to such alterations. We don’t have to actually do anything to secure our self-acceptance:
We have only to change the way we look at ourselves.

-Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, PhD, author and clinical psychologist

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.


Where It Comes From

A lack of self-acceptance can come from many sources, often starting with childhood influences. Disapproving or overly critical parents may have given us the message that we’re somehow flawed—annoying, unruly, a hassle, too demanding, not smart enough, not attractive enough, etc. (Siblings, other relatives, teachers, coaches, or peers can reinforce this.) Overly critical parents can instill in us a bad habit of brutal self-criticism that echoes throughout our lives.

Our personality can also work against us when it comes to self-acceptance. For example, many people struggle with perfectionism. The assumption behind it is that the only route to self-acceptance is flawlessness—an impossible and self-defeating standard. Others struggle with “imposter syndrome” (the fear of people viewing us as a fraud or undeserving of our successes).

A dearth of self-acceptance can also come from living or working in an environment where diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are lacking. When we feel excluded by others, it’s harder to accept ourselves.

Our circumstances and experiences can contribute as well. Perhaps we got cut from the sports team or drama troupe in school, or we dropped out of school. Maybe we didn’t get promoted or make partner, or we got fired. Perhaps we’ve felt beaten down by divorce, bankruptcy, addiction, or trauma. Life can be painful and messy for all of us at times.

Surprisingly, many high-performers struggle with self-acceptance. In his book, Positive Intelligence, executive Shirzad Chamine notes that “hyper-achievers” depend on achievement for self-acceptance. He writes:

The Hyper-Achiever makes you dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation. It keeps you focused mainly on external success rather than on internal criteria for happiness. It often leads to unsustainable workaholic tendencies and causes you to fall out of touch with deeper emotional and relationship needs. Its lie is that your self-acceptance should be conditional on performance and external validation.”
-Shirzad Chamine, Positive Intelligence

Many people these days are needy—excessively attached to recognition, praise, or success, or to saving others—for self-acceptance. They have an excessive desire for affirmation or reassurance from others, making their happiness dependent and fleeting.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.


The Problem with Lacking Self-Acceptance

Without self-acceptance, we can be trapped in self-doubt, self-judgment, or even self-hatred. The problem is when we turn the inherent messiness of our lives into an identity and start rejecting ourselves because of it. That can lead to many problems, including:

  • negative self-talk or even self-hatred
  • damage to our psychological wellbeing
  • reduced emotional control
  • lower confidence
  • avoidance of people or situations
  • relationship challenges
  • anxiety or depression

The effects of low self-acceptance are pervasive, potentially touching every aspect of our lives.

Without self-acceptance, people essentially devalue themselves and this often has a negative impact on all areas of their life, including their work, friends, family, health, and well-being.
-Dr. Meghan Marcum, PsyD, psychologist


The Benefits of Developing Self-Acceptance

What happens when we learn to accept ourselves as we are, not only with all our gifts and talents but also our faults and quirks? A healthy level of self-acceptance can help us:

  1. feel secure and free
  2. cultivate a sense of peace
  3. improve our wellbeing
  4. feel less compulsive and anxious
  5. protect our mood in the face of setbacks
  6. form a foundation for greater confidence
  7. develop better relationships
  8. build our capacity to distance ourselves from outside expectations and extrinsic motivations
  9. improve work performance
  10. boost happiness
Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. Self-acceptance determines your level of happiness.
The more self-acceptance you have, the happier you allow yourself to be.
You will only be as happy as you feel you are worthy of being

-Dr. Robert Holden, Happiness Now!


How to Develop Greater Self-Acceptance

Clearly, self-acceptance affects many areas of our lives, from mental health and wellbeing to relationships and work. So, how can we develop greater self-acceptance? There are many things we can do, including:

Re-examine our repeated self-criticisms and old feelings of guilt and shame. Interrogate them.

Delve into the things we don’t accept about ourselves—perhaps with the help of a therapist—and then bring understanding and compassion to them. Understanding and insight can sometimes bring welcome relief.

Forgive ourselves for mistakes we’ve made and resolve to move on, ideally focusing on the lessons we’ve learned from them.

Give ourselves permission to be imperfect, since we all have issues and faults. The point is to live life fully as who we truly are, not to pretend we’re some perfect being capable of existing without flaws and faults.

Replace our negative self-talk with positive self-talk, focusing on our capabilities and accomplishments.

Avoid self-blame and rumination on past grievances or suffering. Change the channel on those negative thoughts and tune into a more uplifting station.

Stop comparing ourselves to others, since little good comes of it and much harm can follow. Why? Because we lack visibility into the challenges of others while viewing their curated social media feeds. Also, it’s easy to compare our messy beginning with their more refined middle or end. We each have our own unique context that’s often vastly different from others.

Practice self-compassion. That means treating ourselves with warmth and understanding in difficult times—including instances of suffering, perceived inadequacy, or failure.

Identify, clarify, and embrace our personal core values. In the process, we’ll be strengthening our sense of identity and self-respect.

Spend more time with people who accept us as we are—and less time with those who don’t. Surround ourselves with people who believe in us, support us, embolden us, and bring out our best—including family, friends, colleagues, coaches, mentors, and small groups—while avoiding people who tear us down.

Try mindfulness meditation. Focus on observing our thoughts and feelings and then letting them go without judgment and attachment.

Keep a journal. Journaling can help us reflect on our experiences and feelings, understand them in new ways, and reframe them.

Upgrade our mindset by reframing our problems not as weights that bring us down but as puzzles to be solved, with all their challenge and mystery. Here we take our cue from Quincy Jones:

I don’t have problems. I have puzzles…. I can solve a puzzle. A problem just stresses me out.”
-Quincy Jones, record producer, songwriter, and composer

Seek help via a professional therapist or counselor. (Consider starting with any of these resources: BetterHelp, SonderMind, Befrienders Worldwide, 7cups.)

Many of the practices above relate to self-regulation—our ability to monitor and manage our energy states, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in positive ways (e.g., promoting wellbeing and healthy relationships).


Some Cautions

As we work on developing self-acceptance, we should avoid using accomplishment to bolster it, as that can make us dependent on factors outside of our control. If we can’t accept ourselves unless we’re successful, wealthy, or whatever, we’re missing the point.

We should also avoid focusing too much on ourselves and how we’re appearing and doing (e.g., Are we good enough? How do we stack up?). Instead, focus on contributing to others—our family, friends, colleagues, organization, community, and beyond. This will help us feel good and connect with people while having a positive impact.

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.



Lacking self-acceptance can have devastating consequences in our life and work, while developing it can provide an incredible grounding power in so many aspects of our lives. It can facilitate relief, confidence, happiness, and success. It’s well worth developing and will serve us well in all we do.

Wishing you well with it.




Reflection Questions

  1. To what extent do you embrace all aspects of yourself with full self-acceptance?
  2. Do you struggle with negative self-talk or self-rejection?
  3. Are you willing to put in this foundational work to set yourself up for more enjoyment, happiness, and success?


Tools for You


Related Articles


Postscript: Inspirations on Self-Acceptance

  • “Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” -Louise L. Hay, author
  • “You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” -Amy Bloom, writer and psychotherapist
  • “All you need is already within you, only you must approach your self with reverence and love. Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors.” -Nisargadatta Maharaj, Indian guru
  • “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” -Lucille Ball, actress, comedian, and producer
  • “Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.’” -Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!


Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on leadership and personal development. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

Are You Pretending to Be Something You’re Not?

Article Summary: 

One of the traps we can fall into in life is pretending to be someone or something we’re not. This article addresses why we do it, its consequences, and how to stop doing it so much.


One of the traps we can fall into in life is pretending to be someone or something we’re not. We may wear a mask for others, adopt a persona, or impersonate someone we think is more appealing.

There are many reasons why we do this. It’s quite common.

But it can lead to big problems down the road.


Examples of Pretending in Action

What does it look like in practice? It can mean:

  • pretending to be like those around us so we can fit in
  • conforming to the expectations of others by pretending to be or like something
  • pretending we like our job when we don’t
  • hiding our true selves because we’re afraid of judgment or rejection by others
  • pretending to be someone we think our spouse or partner wants
  • hiding our mistakes or weaknesses and pretending to be perfect
  • faking something and deceiving someone to get what we want
  • wearing a mask as a coping mechanism for dealing with insecurity (including our propensity for negative self-talk and the “trance of unworthiness”)
  • acting like we don’t feel anger, resentment, hostility, sadness, or regret
  • feigning indifference to something that hurts us deeply
  • curating a perfect social media image
  • concealing our sadness or disappointment that we’ve given up on ourselves or our dreams

When we do these things, we have an innate, intuitive sense that we’re treading in dangerous territory. We feel a disconnect or a guilty conscience.

We’re all familiar with the sayings over the ages urging us to be authentic and true:

“To thine own self be true.” -Shakespeare
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde
“March to the beat of your own drummer.”
“Know yourself, be yourself, love yourself.”

Is it as simple as that? Perhaps not. There’s some complexity here. For example, what is our “true self,” exactly? Is it always knowable, coherent, and consistent? Might it change over time?

In their article, “The Enigma of Being Yourself,” Katrina P. Jongman-Sereno and Mark R. Leary write: “the human personality invariably contains myriad personality dispositions, emotional tendencies, values, attitudes, beliefs, and motives that are often contradictory and incompatible even though they are genuine aspects of the person’s psychological make-up…. People are genuinely multifaceted.”

The poet Walt Whitman, writing long ago, seems to agree: “Very well,” he wrote, “then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Jongman-Sereno and Leary also note that our ability to adapt our behavior to meet the demands of different situations is, within limits, generally positive and important for our psychological wellbeing and social relationships. We’re also asked to play a role sometimes—whether at home, at work, or in a community group—and that’s okay.

But it’s one thing to walk around making small accommodations to smooth things out a bit and another thing altogether to walk around wearing a mask and pretending to be something very different from what we are. When we do that, it has consequences.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.


The Consequences of Pretending

When we hide who we really are behind a mask and adopt a counterfeit persona, there can be a price to pay. It can result in:

  • putting barriers between us and the people who are important to us, including family, friends, and colleagues
  • forgetting who we truly are because we’ve been disguising ourselves to others for so long
  • feeling like we’re a fraud (see also “impostor syndrome”)
  • feeling exhausted from acting, pretending, and pleasing (which can all lead to lack of energy and motivation)
  • creating a sense of aloofness in which people get the sense that we’re inaccessible
  • continuing a nefarious pattern of avoiding deeper issues and kicking the can further down the road

This can become a downward spiral, leading to even more insecurity and anxiety than what provoked us to wear a mask in the first place.

It’s frustrating for people when they notice we’re hiding parts of ourselves. Its puts a barrier between us.

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask, I wear a thousand masks,
Masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me.
Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me, but don’t be fooled,
for God’s sake don’t be fooled.
Charles Finn in his poem, “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying”

Let’s note here that it’s not just difficult for the insecure people among us. This can be difficult for everyone, including leaders, entrepreneurs, celebrities, and high achievers. Sometimes, more so, due to all the pressures and expectations imposed on them.

“That age-old advice to ‘be yourself’ is deceptively simple. Being yourself is a lifetime’s work of discovery and courage, stepping out from behind your fear of not being good enough.” -Claire Law


How to Stop Pretending So Much

Being authentic and true can be difficult because, when we put down the mask and dare to be ourselves in front of others, we feel raw, exposed, naked, and vulnerable. We feel like we can die from disapproval, rejection, or belittling.

“I was dying inside. I was so possessed by trying to make you love me for my achievements that I was actually creating this identity that was disconnected from myself. I wanted people to love me for the hologram I created of myself.” -Chip Conley, author, entrepreneur, and founder, Modern Elder Academy

But we don’t die. We may suffer some adverse consequences, although usually our fears are way overblown. Overall, we tend to thrive when we lean in to being ourselves more fully, openly, and unapologetically.

How to go about it? Here are some of the things we can do to help us stop pretending so much:

  • know ourselves so well and deeply that we feel a sense of clarity and comfort about our true nature and begin to feel more comfortable in our own skin (a lifelong process)
  • accept our flaws (what about Brene Brown calls the “gifts of imperfection”)
  • engage in systematic personal development to build on our strengths, interests, and aspirations and feel the joy of growth and progress
  • develop the courage to let some people go (e.g., people who are judgmental, controlling, or always worrying or negative)
  • notice that things usually turned out better than we expected when we were afraid of failure, judgment, or rejection
  • develop our confidence and truly believe that we’re enough
  • remove our mask as much as possible in front of those we love the most, deepening connection and building our capacity to be real in front of others
  • dig down into the root causes that led us to want to avoid being ourselves
  • take an occasional break from the heavy responsibilities of being ourselves (“The energy required to maintain your identity is probably greater than you realize, and finding a way to relinquish it regularly can help you recharge.” -David Brooks)

Yes, there are many things we can do, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“Being true to who you really are can be one of the hardest things to do in life.” -Carlii Lyon, Australian executive


The Benefits of Being Ourselves

When we start putting the mask down more often, we’re doing two important things, according to researchers.

First, we’re developing our self-acceptance—our acceptance of all our attributes, whether positive or negative.

Second, we’re developing our authenticity—the degree to which our behavior is congruent with our attitudes, beliefs, and values. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown defines authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” She notes that it requires audacity to be authentic.

What are the results of developing our self-acceptance and authenticity? There are many benefits, according to researchers, including:

  • improving wellbeing
  • feeling free
  • building confidence
  • developing better relationships
  • boosting work performance
  • protecting our mood in the face of setbacks
  • building our mental strength
  • cultivating a sense of peace
  • feeling less compulsive and anxious
  • lowering the barriers we’ve placed between ourselves and others
  • developing our capacity to distance ourselves from outside expectations and extrinsic motivations
  • avoiding one of the most common and difficult regrets—the regret of living our lives by the lights of others instead of by our own guiding lights
“Studies have even shown that feelings of authenticity can go hand in hand with numerous psychological and social benefits: higher self-esteem, greater well-being, better romantic relationships, and enhanced work performance.” -Jennifer Beer, “The Inconvenient Truth about Your ‘Authentic’ Self,” Scientific American, March 2020


Related Traps

Of course, the trap of pretending to be someone or something we’re not doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s related to several of the other common traps of living, including:

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.


Reflection Questions

  1. Are you wearing a mask in front of others and pretending to be someone or something you’re not?
  2. What will you do, starting today, to lean in to being yourself more fully, openly, and unapologetically?


Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.


Postscript: Inspirations on Authenticity

  • “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” -e.e. cummings
  • “…psychological suffering always comes from internal splits between what your encultured mind believes and what feels deeply true to you.” -Martha Beck in The Way of Integrity
  • “Live with total integrity. Be transparent, honest, and authentic. Do not ever waiver from this; white lies and false smiles quickly snowball into a life lived out of alignment. It is better to be yourself and risk having people not like you than to suffer the stress and tension that comes from pretending to be someone you’re not, or professing to like something that you don’t. I promise you: Pretending will rob you of joy.” -Dr. Christine Carter, sociologist (advice to her children)
  • “The ultimate goal in life is not to be successful or loved, but to become the truest expression of ourselves, to live into authentic selfhood, to honor our birthright gifts and callings, and be of service to humanity and our world… life is seen as a journey of personal and collective unfolding toward our true nature.” -Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations
  • “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” -Francois de La Rochefoucauld
  • “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” -Anna Quindlen
  • “Being true to the person you were created to be means accepting your faults as well as using your strengths. Accepting your shadow side is an essential part of being authentic. The problem comes when people are so eager to win the approval of others that they try to cover their shortcomings and sacrifice their authenticity to gain the respect and admiration of their associates…. Many leaders—men in particular—fear having their weaknesses and vulnerabilities exposed. So they create distance from employees and a sense of aloofness. Instead of being authentic, they are creating a persona for themselves.” -Bill George, Authentic Leadership
  • “…the ultimate self-help strategy, the one practice that could end all your suffering and get you all the way to happiness. Stop lying.” -Martha Beck in The Way of Integrity
  • “Now as adults, we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection—to be the person who we long to be—we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.” -Brene Brown in Daring Greatly
  • “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being what you are.” -Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward and Undivided Life
  • “Our lives only improve when we are willing to take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” -Walter Anderson
  • “I write from my soul. This is the reason that critics don’t hurt me, because it is me. If it was not me, if I was pretending to be someone else, then this could unbalance my world, but I know who I am.” -Paolo Coelho, Brazilian novelist
  • “If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule—Never lie to yourself.” -Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist
  • “Why fit in—when you were born to stand out?” -Dr. Seuss


Final Note: The Good Forms of Pretending

One final note. As we address the dangers of pretending to be someone or something we’re not, we should be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” as the saying goes. Here are several forms of “pretending” that are quite different from that trap, and that have important benefits:

1. Self-Distancing

When we’re “self-distancing,” we’re viewing our own experience from the perspective of an observer. According to the research, self-distancing can:

  • help us overcome difficult emotions and reduce stress and anxiety
  • help us reduce emotional reactivity
  • reduce our heart rate and blood pressure
  • help us see things more objectively and with greater perspective
  • promote wise reasoning about conflicts and how to approach them
  • foster humility, empathy, and open-mindedness

2. Alter Ego

Many people think about things from the perspective of a hero or mentor, even pretending that they’ve assumed that identity. Most of us can relate to this, starting from childhood. As a child, maybe we pretended to be Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or Dora the Explorer. If we wanted to be an entrepreneur, maybe we channeled Steve Jobs. If we wanted to be a media maven or overcome trauma, maybe Oprah Winfrey. If we’re Christian, we may ask, “What would Jesus do?” And so on with different religions or influences.

3. Visualization

Many people, and most famously athletes, use visualization to boost performance. With visualization, we mentally pretend we’re doing something, simulating it in our mind, forming a mental image of the things we want or the actions we need to take. This helps the brain form neural connections. It can be powerful, especially when it’s followed by action, including extensive, deliberate practice.

4. Maskenfreihet

The German word, “maskenfreiheit,” means “mask freedom” or “the freedom that comes from wearing masks.” Many people enjoy going to a masquerade or a costume party, with not only the creativity and fun but also the release from being ourselves.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!



Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on personal growth and leadership development. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Take Gregg’s Traps Test (Common Traps of Living), complete his Personal Values Exercise, check out his Best Articles, or get his newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!