Does Self Acceptance Come with Age or Hard Work?

This 25 year old women wrote in to ask about self-acceptance ….when does it come already ? With age, experience or work? She has always been full of self-doubt and insecurity in her personal life and compensated by focusing on career success.

“By junior high I realized that, although I had a laundry list of things I did not like about myself, I was a good leader, solutions-minded and a unique mixture of creativity and logic. There seemed to be no doubt from anyone that I would be very successful. All of this added to my insecurities with my weight, body and guys.”

She believed that if she followed the “powerful career woman” path and didn’t “waste time on dating” she would be rewarded with “a corner office and Mr. Right would follow.” She now finds herself on the right career track and getting in control of her weight, but finds that despite her successes she still doesn’t like herself.

“I still have a long way to go in the weight-loss department but I am down 89 pounds and am the smallest I have been since my sophomore year in high school.

It would seem things have taken a turn in the right direction but I feel worse about myself now than ever before. I have grown distant and have no social life at all. I am more guarded around guys than ever before. The two years following graduation were extremely difficult and have left me feeling like I don’t know who I am.

I recently came to the realization that regardless of any good traits, I have never liked myself. I am so dissatisfied with myself that I am uncomfortable with the fact that someone else would like me. I feel like an artist protecting unfinished work. I can’t let anyone close to the real me until I have perfected myself.

I have heard time and time again that self-acceptance comes with age but even as I take steps towards becoming the women that I want to be, my self-acceptance goes down.

Is there a point where my expectations will become more obtainable? Do you have to reach a certain maturity level and self-acceptance kicks in? Or is it something you have to work at? A combination of both? When did you feel that you truly could accept yourself for who you are? How can I get there?

A. This is a tough question and yet one that many women struggle with. Several women wrote in to say “Wow…I have felt this way at some point in my life”. They then went on to say that they have indeed come to realize that accepting oneself has to do with accepting that we are not perfect and can learn to love ourselves despite not liking ourselves. Yes, it takes some work. The first step is realizing the issue and wanting to do something about it. Congratulations on that big step.  I received several responses so I am splitting this into two posts; part 1 today and part 2 on Monday.

Thanks to everyone for responding!  Here are some ideas and perspectives …the point of which as always is to not to provide the answer…but help you own progress and make your own decisions…and again, know that you are not alone. Good luck!

You are not alone…everyone has insecurities. Try to think of them as  your unique makeup to accept them.

Dear 20-something,

Wow – I would say that you are describing me in this question except that I am 39, not 25. I, too, have struggled and continue to struggle with liking myself.  As a natural problem-solver and solution-oriented person, I actually took a list of things to “fix” to a therapist once when I was in my 20s.  And the number one thing on the list: “learn to like myself”…the therapist basically rolled his eyes and asked me if I wanted some anti-depressants. I didn’t go back. And I threw away the list. Instead, I stopped trying to fix myself and accepted that my insecurities and self-doubt are part of what make me, well, ME.

They drive me professionally because I work harder and try harder, always fearful that somebody is going to think I’m a dipshit; my insecurities also affect my personal life, and in a good way! I am a fantastic daughter and friend because I am so appreciative of the love and support I receive from my parents and pals…and I always try to give as much as I can to them by listening, not judging (easier said than done sometimes!) and understanding what they’re going through.

Do I wish I woke up every day feeling as if I’m smart, beautiful and thin?  Hell, yes. Do I ever wake up feeling smart, beautiful and thin? Hell, no. But I force myself to go easy on the self-loathing by reminding myself of what I’ve done and can do that’s positive — there’s evidence all around me that I’m a pretty great chick, and fortunately, as you get older, you gain more bits of evidence.

My advice is to stop looking for a solution and accept that having insecurities is part of your unique makeup – how you deal with them and put them to work for you is up to you. And there’s nothing that makes me feel better about myself than being generous and kind…not even visible hipbones. – 39, NYC

Self acceptance is a life long journey…it helps to a safe space to be kind to ourselves. You deserve it.

Dear 20-something,

First, WOW, that takes serious self-discipline.  89 pounds is a lot of work and motivation.

I think that self-acceptance comes at different times for different people, and as I’ve come to think of it, it’s not something that’s permanent — you can have periods during which you feel great about yourself that alternate with less confident times, but hopefully the happy months and years outweigh the anxious ones.

You might want to consider therapy. You deserve to focus a lot more on yourself and what you want in a safe space, with someone who’s experienced in talking about all of those issues. I actually think that everybody deserves that, but certainly a woman who has worked so hard to push herself both personally and professionally has earned some time and space to be really kind to herself. – 40-something, LA

None of us is entirely happy with every aspect of ourselves but acceptance comes with focusing on our goals in a positive environment. Enroll your friends, family and take baby steps.

Dear 20-something,

I think it is important to recognize that we are all works in progress our whole lives.  None of us is ever entirely happy with every aspect of our lives or ourselves regardless of age.  Having motivation to grow and change is key to evolving as a person but having unrealistic expectations of yourself can just lead to frustration.  There is no doubt that life can be incredibly overwhelming, especially when we are feeling less than confident.  With some focus on your achievements and goals in a positive environment, you can do this!  Here are a few pieces of advice:

1.  Enlist the help of a friend, family member, classmate from the gym or a therapist – there is no substitute for positive reinforcement and a good laugh.  A good friend of mine is….let’s say “fashion challenged”….so once in a while I go to her house and we lay all of her clothes on the bed and I make her try them all on and model.  We laugh hysterically and work on rebuilding her wardrobe.  We take something she struggles with and we do it together and we have fun with it.

2.   Make a list of the things you would like to achieve and take what my mom has always referred to as “baby steps” – one small effort toward your goals at a time.  When you concentrate on one thing it is much less overwhelming and often something you can tackle.  When you start achieving success in small measures, it adds up to greater self-esteem and in turn, happiness.  I would put dating at the bottom of the list and work on yourself first.  When you are feeling good, the dates will come!

3.  Give yourself a break from all of the negativity and expectations and start living life!  So you are overweight?  So you are not dating?  There are plenty of overweight, single people out there having fun.  Remove yourself from your “comfort zone” (aka your apartment/house) and take a walk, go to the gym, go to the library, join a club, take a class, interact with others.  Sure it may be difficult at first, but eventually it wont be and you might even meet people along the way! – 40-something, NYC

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