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Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Self-Love

Chapter 7 Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Self-Love

Growing Down - Tools for

Healing the Inner Child

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D. &

Constance M. Messina, Ph.D.

What are unconditional acceptance and love?

To accept and love yourself unconditionally is to:

  • Place no condition on yourself as to how to behave or what to be in order to receive self-acceptance and self-love.
  • Not use if-then-clauses in establishing conditions for accepting and loving yourself.
  • Take a risk to be open and vulnerable to who you are with no pre-set limits or expectations.
  • Accept and love yourself for the fact that you exist rather than for what you do.
  • Give yourself the respect and latitude to be yourself rather than to be what others want or expect you to be.
  • Set the stage for yourself to feel warmth, caring, and concern for yourself which results in your growing in self-esteem and self-worth.


How do you feel when you receive unconditional self-acceptance and self-love?

When you are the recipient of unconditional self-acceptance and self-love from yourself, you feel:

  • Free to be yourself.
  • You have value and worth.
  • Wanted and desired for you as you are rather than for what you do.
  • Listened to and understood.
  • That you have yourself to offer others which in itself is worthwhile.
  • Warm, cared for, and nurtured.
  • You are OK just the way you are.
  • That there is no need to wear a mask or to act in any way just to please another.
  • Free to be yourself and to open up your feelings with no fear of rejection or non-approval.
  • That it is possible to take the risk to be vulnerable in order to have open and honest relationships with others.
  • No fear of retribution or reprisal from others if you should make a mistake or experience a failure.
  • That there are no conditions set on your relationships with yourself.


What are the negative consequences of a lack of unconditional self-acceptance and self-love?

When you do not give yourself unconditional self-acceptance and self-love, then you:

  • Feel constrained to act in ways which are inconsistent with your beliefs and feelings.
  • Lack the freedom to be yourself.
  • Live your life to please others rather than to please yourself.
  • Are not given the freedom to experience the natural consequences of your own actions and decisions.
  • Can become dependent on others to make you feel good about yourself.
  • Can become very rule-bound and perfectionistic in seeking to do what is right or expected in order to be accepted or loved by others.
  • Are more likely to experience low self-esteem and low self-worth.
  • Feel misunderstood, not approved of, and defensive.
  • Have poor relationship skills and experience failed relationships.
  • Work harder at meeting conditions and expectations set for you by others than working at becoming self-directed, self-sufficient, and self-reliant.
  • Can become withdrawn and isolate yourself so as to avoid future rejection and non-approval.
  • Confuse the need to follow rules and obey directions as the only way to be accepted and loved by others.
  • Believe that you can never fail or make a mistake because you would never be worthy of love or acceptance.
  • Can become very self-critical, self-disapproving and self-punitive.
  • Tend to set unrealistic, non-achievable, and overly idealistic expectations for yourself which must first be met in order to accept and love yourself.
  • Become your own worst critic who is never able to say you are good enough.

What are some healthy alternatives to the irrational thinking about unconditional self-acceptance and self-love?


Irrational: You should always obey rules, accept limits, and meet your own expectations and conditions before you can accept and love yourself.

Healthy: Following rules, accepting limits, and meeting expectations and conditions are often necessary for survival in this world but are not necessary conditions to be self-accepted and self-loved.


Irrational: It was right that my parents required me to obey their rules, accept limits set, and meet their expectations and conditions before they showed acceptance and love for me.

Healthy: My parents first needed to accept and love me because I existed. Only once I felt this acceptance and love would I more likely obey the rules, accept limits, and meet their expectations in a healthy way.


Irrational: The goal in life is to scope out the rules of the games  in the workplace, school, family, community, and relationships so as to gain acceptance and love by playing the games by the rules.

Healthy: It is politically healthy to scope out the rules of the games so as to survive in the workplace, school, family, community, and relationships but such survival does not always guarantee acceptance and love. Home, workplace, school, family, the community, and relationships can be too sick or toxic to offer acceptance or love even after all of the rules of the game have been followed. In such cases, you need to look outside of these environments and to yourself for the unconditional self-acceptance and self-love you need to feel healthy, fulfilled, and fully human.


Irrational: It was impossible for my parents to discipline me and still accept and love me unconditionally.

Healthy: It is possible to not like your behavior and actions and develop logical consequences or disciplinary actions which you must abide by and still love and accept you unconditionally as seen in the statement, I accept and love you unconditionally. It's just your behaviors which I don't like right now and it is because I love you that I am making you experience the negative consequence of your own actions.


Irrational: You must be perfect in everything you do or others will not accept or love you.

Healthy: You are a human being subject to faults, failings, and mistakes and yet you deserve to be accepted and loved not because you are perfect but because you are you.


Irrational: It was good for me as a child to experience all of the negative conditions of life in my relationships in order to grow up realistic about myself and the world.

Healthy: The words of this poem by an unknown author state clearly that it is healthier for you as a child to have experienced unconditional positive acceptance and love if you are to grow up into a healthy, self-loving person.


Children Learn What They Live

If a child lives with criticism,

he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,

he learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule,

he learns to feel shy.

If a child lives with shame,

he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance,

he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement,

he learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise,

he learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness,

he learns justice.

If a child lives with security,

he learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval,

he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,

he learns to find love in the world.

How do you begin to unconditionally accept and love yourself?

In order to unconditionally accept and love yourself you need to:

  • Identify the conditions you force yourself to meet before you are accepting and loving of self.
  • Analyze these conditions and expectations you set for yourself in order to identify why they block you from being unconditional.
  • Analyze if these conditions are reasonable, rational, or realistic and develop healthy alternative scripts which free you up to be more unconditional with yourself.
  • Recognize that the limits and rules of appropriate behaviors which you expect yourself to conform to are rules for survival, decency, getting along, coping, productivity, sense, and order but are not the determinants of freely accepting and loving yourself.
  • Identify the necessary standards and limits of conduct, decorum, and interaction in your home, family, school, workplace, community activities, and relationships - standards that are politically sound to abide by but not a legitimate basis for your unconditional acceptance and love of self.
  • Practice eliminating any conditions as you face yourself and attempt to accept and love yourself freely, generously, and with no limitations.
  • Identify what fears or beliefs or behaviors keep blocking you from being unconditional in your love and acceptance of self and replace them with healthy alternatives.
  • Be free to verbalize your open and unconditional acceptance of self so as to develop a new set of behavioral scripts which become more habitual for you.
  • Emphasize with yourself that it is because you love and accept yourself so entirely and freely that you want yourself to experience the positive or negative consequences of your actions and the fact that such consequences do not affect your acceptance or love of yourself.
  • Clarify that tough love is the continuous unconditional acceptance and love of self but yet holds you to be fully personally responsible for your own actions and the consequences of those actions.


What are the steps to increase in unconditional self-acceptance and self-love?


Step 1: Answer these questions in your journal to help assess the status of you self-acceptance and love:

  • How well do you unconditionally accept yourself?
  • How well do you unconditionally love yourself?
  • What are the conditions placed on yourself before you can accept and love yourself?
  • Why are these conditions blocks to your freely accepting and loving yourself?
  • Are these conditions reasonable, rational, or realistic? If not, then develop alternative scripts to free you up to accept and love yourself.
  • What are the rules or limits for survival, decency, getting along, coping, productivity, and sense and order which have become confused as the determinant conditions preventing you from unconditionally accepting and loving yourself?
  • How well do you allow yourself to be you?
  • How free are you to openly express feelings, admit faults and failings, and to experience excitement and enjoyment in your life?


Step 2: Once you have made a thorough assessment of how well you unconditionally accept and love yourself, then you need to recognize that to increase in unconditional acceptance and love of self opens you to be vulnerable, as John Wood so clearly points out in this poem. Once you read it, answer in your journal the questions that follow it.

Taking a Risk

I will present you parts of myself slowly.

If you are patient and tender, I will open drawers that mostly stay closed, and bring out places and people and things, sounds and smells, love and frustrations, hopes and sadness.

 Bits and pieces of life that have been grabbed off in chunks and found lying in my hands - they have eaten their way into my heart altogether, you or I will never see them.

- They are me -

 If you regard them lightly, deny that they are important, or worse - judge them. I will quietly - slowly - begin to wrap them up in small pieces of velvet, like worn silver and gold jewelry, tuck them away in a small wooden chest of drawers and close them away.


1. How do the following fears or behaviors block your ability to unconditionally accept and love yourself?

  • Fear of taking a risk
  • Inability to trust
  • Insecurity
  • Fear of being vulnerable
  • Fear of failure
  • Need for approval
  • Fear of rejection
  • Inability to identify feelings
  • Inability to forgive yourself
  • Inability to establish intimacy

2. How does perfectionism and the need to be exact, right, or correct hinder your ability to be unconditional in your acceptance and love of self?

3. How would an increase in faith and development of your spirituality with your Higher Power assist you to be more unconditional in self-acceptance and self-loving?

4. What are those things you would lose if you unconditionally accepted and loved yourself? What would you gain or recapture?

5. What new beliefs and behaviors do you need to develop in order to be able to unconditionally accept and love self?

6. How would you practice Tough Love for yourself and how would this new approach free you to be more unconditional in your acceptance and love for self?

7. What are the blocks which up to now kept you from allowing yourself to experience the natural consequences of your own actions?

8. How did your need to protect yourself from making a mistake or experiencing a failure prevent you from freely accepting and loving yourself?

9. How comfortable are you now with yourself to begin to be more unconditional with your acceptance and love?


Step 3: Once you have looked at the blocks to being unconditional in your self-acceptance and self-love, then begin to practice this new behavior with yourself.


Step 4: If you are still experiencing difficulty in being unconditional in your self-acceptance and self love, then return to Step 1 and begin again.