By Emalee Gillis, NAMI Spokane Blog Editor.

Katie Anderson, a mental health counselor in Spokane, quoted psychologist Carl Rogers when he said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” To Anderson, that means that self-acceptance is crucial to achieving any sustainable change in the New Year or at any other time.  She explained that if I approach change from a place of not being good enough or from a place of shame and self-criticism, it doesn’t have the same foundation if I approach change from a place where what I have right now is okay, but I would like something to be different.

Self-acceptance means being able to look at something that is going on and name it as exactly as it is and observe it without judgment, Anderson said. For example, I may have a clothing size I don’t like. Instead of being embarrassed about it and wishing it were different, I work to accept that I wear the size I do. I face my body in the mirror without judgment or shame. My size is just a fact that I accept. It is a very different approach than hating my body. I look at my body neutrally and objectively and name what is.

Acceptance can also be applied to relationships. Embracing the reality that I don’t get along with a particular family member without judging is a first step to improving that relationship.

Self acceptance means accepting your gifts and it can also mean accepting your failures. According to Anderson, the first thing to examine when it comes to accepting failure is whether it is a true failure or we are just perceiving something that way. Sometimes we really do fail. We apply for a job we don’t get or don’t get the grade we hoped for. It is important not to jump to the idea that something is wrong with me or I’m no good. Anderson quoted from Brené Brown who said, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” Anderson added, even when I fail, I am enough.

When it comes to failure, there are two different emotions we can experience, said Anderson. Those emotions are guilt and shame. Guilt is a productive emotion that can help us shift the action. I did something bad versus I am bad or I’m not worthy. Even with self-acceptance, we can still feel guilt, but it will help buffer us from shame. It is hard to say you are bad when you accept who you are right now.

Anderson explained that self-accepting is a kind of grounding. It is a way of settling in with our minds and ourselves. It is a way of building self-worth, acknowledging that we are made of good stuff, and accepting who we are.

Anderson said that a sign of low self-acceptance is constantly being in your head talking about how you are not good enough.  That could include how your body isn’t good enough, how you not doing well enough at work, or how your relationships aren’t good enough. Low self-acceptance leads to high amounts of shame, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence. It can be a precursor to dysregulated emotion. People with low self-acceptance are more likely to be angry and more likely to be depressed. People with low self-acceptance also have difficulty being in the present and enjoying the good things about the present moment.

People with low self-acceptance can be like chameleons and are constantly calibrating what part of themselves will be acceptable to others, explained Anderson. They can fake pieces of themselves in hopes that they will be accepted. It is hard to sustain being a chameleon. People with high self-acceptance can show up for others with their authentic selves.

The building blocks to self-acceptance and self-worth were laid in childhood, said Anderson. Self-acceptance is built if we are taught by those who raised us that we matter, are acceptable, and can do most things that we set out to do. If childhood was a place where the opposite was taught, we may have to do work in adulthood to get that sense that we are okay the way we are.

One place to start is to make this year’s resolution self-acceptance. According to Anderson, if you wanted to build self-acceptance of your body this year, you could look in the mirror every morning and say, “This is my body and I accept it. This is the way my body serves me.” Or, to work on self-acceptance more broadly, you could observe things that you say to yourself as you start your new year. Examine whether the things you are saying to yourself are observations or judgments. She explained, “’I walked to work today’ is an observation. ‘My legs look fat in these jeans’ is a judgment.” Anderson encouraged someone working on self-acceptance to explore the question, “How can I make more neutral, accepting observations?”

Anderson encouraged offering to ourselves what we would offer to a friend in terms of compassion. We might tell a friend, “Go easy on yourself.” Self-compassion is turning expressions like that inward.

Trying to jump-start change in the new year is a good thing, said Anderson, but only if it is approached from a place of wholeness and not deficit. Approach the change from a perspective that where I am right now is okay as opposed to I am not enough as I am. This difference feels better and can help make a change stick.

Katie Anderson is a licensed mental health counselor in Spokane. She has been practicing for twelve years. She currently owns a private practice called Lilac Mental Health. She previously provided individual and family therapy in community mental health and inpatient facilities.

Emalee Gillis is a writer and blog editor. She is the author of the memoir Adventures on the Path to Living Well with a Mental Illness and has a related TEDx Talk.