Day 28 – Self-Acceptance


Practicing Unconditional Self-Acceptance

Not being sure whether you have all achieved 100% in your Sober Sprint / MOB and what you are hoping to achieve beyond it, I wanted to write a post about self-acceptance.

Whatever change we are trying to make, if it’s new and unfamiliar and not yet habitual, chances are we won’t get things right 100% of the time. Slips and lapses happen, but they don’t need to become relapses. This could be the case whether you are hoping to stay stopped or drink more moderately post-Sober Sprint / MOB.

If slips happen, when we hate on ourselves for them, and let our inner critic tell us we are a terrible person or a complete failure, we are more likely to feel really bad about ourselves, and the chance of us abandoning our attempt to change, or at least talking ourselves into postponing it for an extended period of time (relapse) is greatest. This is one heck of a possible internal pitfall (Day 5).

Learning to accept ourselves ‘warts and all’ helps us embark upon lifestyle change, such as reducing or stopping drinking, with a more resilient attitude. If we can acknowledge that, yes, something didn’t work out as we hoped and that we are not a perfect person, whilst accepting that it is OK to be (and we all are) a fallible human being, we are in a stronger mental position to evaluate, take action to prevent against the same mistake again, pick ourselves up and carry on.

Illogical Thought: I am my behaviour/actions

We have thought already about our tendency to criticise and judge ourselves, when we don’t get something right, we slip up or do something we regret.

Often at the root of this type of thinking is a core illogical thinking pattern of conditional self-acceptance – judging and valuing our entire self based upon just one aspect of ourselves.

We are all free to like or dislike whatever we want – whether that is something we say, or do, or what someone else says or does. However, we often illogically overgeneralise from a single disliked behaviour or action to make a judgment about the whole person – condemning and labelling the DOER instead of more logically and accurately condemning or labelling the DEED.

For instance:

  • Labelling yourself as STUPID when you said a stupid thing (even when you REALLY REGRET what you said).
  • Labelling yourself as an IDIOT when you made one mistake (even when that mistake REALLY ANNOYED you)
  • Condeming yourself as a FAILURE when you had one slip up during the MOB (even though you REALLY WANTED to do a full MOB).
  • Calling yourself UGLY because of one thing about your appearance you don’t like such as a larger nose than most people (even though you would REALLY PREFER to have a smaller nose).
  • Condeming yourself as BAD because a bad thing happened to you (even though the thing that happened was REALLY HORRIBLE) (this is common for victims of domestic abuse and other forms of abuse).
  • Condemning yourself as UNLOVABLE because someone you loved did not love you back, rejected or hurt you (even though you feel REALLY HURT).

When we practice conditional self-acceptance we denigrate our self-worth. It is also illogical, unkind and unhelpful.

Just because you do something wrong, think something unkind, behave in a way that you are embarrassed of, or don’t get something right all the time, does not make you, as a person, wrong, unkind, shameful, a failure, or a bad person.


youaregoodenoughConditional/Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Emotions

If you do label and condemn yourself as bad or a failure (or ugly, worthless, an idiot, or unlovable) because you did one bad thing or didn’t achieve something that was important to you, you will be far more likely to experience more extreme emotional reactions to events.

For instance, if you think you will be a “complete failure” if you don’t achieve a full 31-day Sober Sprint, then you will feel far more anxious about the Sober Sprint whilst you are doing it. And if you don’t manage to complete a 100% alcohol-free Sober Sprint, labelling and condemning yourself for this can generate feelings like shame, guilt or anger. In fact, this illogical belief is the one that is most highly linked to depression, because it influences our entire self-worth.

People who label and condemn themselves as a failure if they don’t achieve something might resort to avoidance strategies so that they don’t need to experience this blow to their self-worth. By not even starting to try making a change, they then won’t have to ever experience being a “failure”.

This type of thinking can also lead to more passive-aggressive or self-defeating behaviours like withdrawing, not participating, not making an effort. For instance, a student who gets a question wrong in class (label “I am a stupid idiot”) stops bothering to answer any further questions and makes sure they look ‘bored’. Someone whose partner makes a joke one time about their new lipstick being a bit heavy (label “I am hideous”) simply stops bothering to make an effort for nights out anymore.

Other people might resort to perfectionist strategies to avoid labelling themselves as a failure. Perfectionists are more likely to overwork and worry excessively in an attempt to prevent the possibility of failure. The downside of this is that perfectionists can burnout or overtrain (e.g., if they are trying to avoid labelling themselves as a failure at work, school or university, or in terms of their physique or weight), or might give up at the first sign of failure, because if they can’t get 100% then they may as well get nothing at all.

Perfectionism versus Healthy Striving (again!)

Don’t get me wrong, the message of this post is not trying to persuade you that you must ‘always look on the bright side’ of every upset or disappointment, or let yourself off the hook and stop bothering to improve yourselves because ‘you’re perfect just the way you are’.

There are people who practice this view, and it works for them. However, in my personal philosophy, and the type of psychological techniques I use (especially rational-emotive behaviour therapy), the opposite of self-downing, labelling and condemning, is not being super positive about everything and telling yourself you are an amazing person. Instead, it is about thinking more logically and rationally about the things that annoy us, the things we don’t get right, the stuff we do that we regret and want to change.

The more rational and logical belief that opposes labelling, condemning and conditional self-acceptance, is a self-acceptance that we are all fallible, imperfect, flawed human beings.

It is important to have high standards in areas of life that we want to improve, and to want to challenge ourselves to be better. This can keep us moving our own goalposts and continually try to change our lives in positive ways*.

But high standards are not the same as conditional self-acceptance. We need to achieve a balance where we can practice unconditional self-acceptance without lowering our expectations for ourselves!

This relates back to our post about perfectionism versus healthy striving on Day 1o. Healthy strivers still really want a particular outcome, and will be annoyed and frustrated if they don’t achieve it. The difference between healthy strivers and perfectionists is that they don’t label or condemn themselves if they don’t get something 100% right, they don’t place their entire self-worth on one mistake.

This enables them to learn from their mistakes and keep focussed on the process, rather than obsessing over the outcome (or failure to reach the outcome).

It is natural to experience emotions like annoyance, disappointment, regret, and frustration when we are really committed and motivated about something and we don’t achieve it. But these are far less extreme emotions than anger, guilt or shame.


welcome-toChallenging Illogical Thinking – Unconditional Self-Acceptance

A more logical way of thinking about ourselves and our behaviours is that a single attribute, action or outcome – however disliked or unwanted it is – does not define who we are. or our self-worth and value as a person.

By challenging our illogical thinking we can begin to practice unconditional self-acceptance and then react more resiliently when things don’t completely go the way we would like, all the time.

We can work through the steps we have covered before on Day 14, to challenge our illogical beliefs, labelling, and judgements of ourselves:

  • Look for the evidence
    • Where is the proof that not being 100% successful in everything you try (including sobriety or moderate drinking) makes you ‘a failure’ as a human being or a ‘bad’ person?
    • Where is it written down that you or any person must be 100% perfect at everything they do, all the time?
    • How many people do you know who have never ever done or thought anything silly, foolish, or rude, never made a mistake, and not once failed to achieve 100% at everything they have tried?
    • Even if you or someone else did do one thing perfectly – does that make them, as a person, absolutely perfect in every way?
  • Question the logic
    • Can anyone truly be 100% perfect in every single area of their life, all the time?
    • Who is marking or judging us on our performance? Who decides what is 100%? What is a perfect weight, height, parent, meal, home, outfit, nose, personality, friend, employee?
    • If someone gets 60%, 70%, 90% in an exam have they ‘failed’ it?
    • It is logical to expect all people to have the same characteristics, interests, and abilities?
    • Is it logical to expect that one person could excel at every skill, every talent, in every area of life and possess every single positive characteristic?
  • Is this thinking helpful?
    • Does labelling or condemning yourself as bad, wrong, a failure – when something goes wrong or you don’t do something perfectly – help you to stay motivated and committed to self-improvement, to learn from your mistakes, and to ‘get back on the horse’?
    • What happens if you expect yourself to always be perfect, 100% successful at everything you try, and then you are not?
    • What would you say to someone else who believed they, as a person, were bad, a failure, just because of one thing they did, or one plan that didn’t work out first time?
  • Develop more logical, evidence-based, helpful thinking
    • No one is or can be 100% perfect, 100% of the time. Including you.
    • Being fallible and imperfect in some areas of life, some of the time, does not make me a failure as a person (SAY IT OUT LOUD!!)

*It can also be important to reduce some of our standards to just ‘acceptable’ so that we can put the focus where it is most needed. For me to raise my game in certain areas of work and productivity, I have simultaneously needed to let go of my illogical belief that my house must be 100% clean and tidy 100% of the time. Now, as long as I clear the dishes in the sink, and put things away where they belong at the end of each day, I can deal with the fact that my home is “good enough”.


i-heart-meYour actions for today

  • Do you ever label or condemn yourself as a person, because of your perceived flaws, or mistakes? Have you experienced this with your drinking in the past or even during the Sober Sprint?
  • Visit the Facebook Group and tell us how you intend to balance some high or challenging standards for yourself and your drinking after the Sober Sprint, with unconditional self-acceptance.


2 Responses to “Day 28 – Self-Acceptance

  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    This stuff should be taught in schools, maybe it is nowadays!

  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    Thanks for the comment – I think that there is more of an understanding and awareness of pupils’/students’ mental health and emotional well-being these days. But nevertheless, with the pressures of covering the requirements of the ‘national curriculum’ etc, I wonder how much time there is in a typical school week to cover this side of things.

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