If you don’t feel validated in who you are as a person, you will seek validation from others and external situations.
For instance, if you struggle with self-acceptance or self-love you will seek acceptance and love from a partner, you will seek it from your parents and other family members, even your own children.
Your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours will therefore reflect this need for acceptance and love, which will be needy and self-serving. You will be focussed on taking what you can get, not on what you can give. You will seek to first receive before you will share.
That really is the difference between those with low self-acceptance and those with healthy self-acceptance:
Those with low self-acceptance feel they have little to give and therefore keep what little they have to themselves whilst always looking to stock their larder. Those with healthy self-acceptance feel they always have something to give to those in need and are always alert to opportunities to help.
It’s the difference between being known as someone who is self-serving and always on the take, and being known as someone who is always willing to help others and is always generous.
Who would you rather be?
People with low self-acceptance need others in order to feel good about themselves. They feel incomplete as a person in of themselves, requiring someone else or something ‘other’ to patch the hole inside them and make them feel complete and whole.
Like a chair missing one of its legs, their relationships are often imbalanced and one-sided, precarious and insecure. They have developed little internal support or emotional strength to withstand the setbacks and difficulties that happen with all relationships, and as such are often bouncing between one relationship after another.
People with healthy self-acceptance, on the other hand, do not rely on others to feel good about themselves or to feel complete as human beings. They already feel good about themselves and therefore feel secure in who and what they are no matter who they are with or what others say about them.
They are self-validating. They have unconditional self-acceptance. They are the people you want to be around because they have no pretense and aren’t trying to manipulate you into giving them what they want. What you see is what you get.
One of the biggest problems with low self-acceptance is that it has a negative effect on your self-esteem and self-identity (see Power Habit #1: Self-Assuredness & Self-Belief) , which, if you’re not careful, can lead to self-shaming and self-hatred, with all the associated connotations of harmful mental health and wellbeing.
This is why it’s vitally important to be happy in your own skin and love who you are. Your mental health will be stronger and less fragile. Your emotional wellbeing will be stabler and less volatile.
You will feel more confident and courageous, and your relationships will be more balanced and happier.
You will also become more effective and successful. In the book, The Wisdom of Florence Scovel Shinn (Touchstone, 1989), Florence Scovel Shinn writes,
“The first start toward success is to be glad you are yourself. So many people are bored by themselves. They have no self-reliance, and they are always wishing they were someone else.”
So if the first start toward success is to be glad you are yourself, it’s vital that you learn to be happy in your own skin.
Being Happy in Your Own SKIN
My wife’s cousin, Henke, was a young man who had every right to resent his life and the sequences of bad luck that befell him. But he didn’t. He chose to disregard the conditions of his life and to accept his circumstances and be happy in his own skin.
Born prematurely in the 70s in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Henke came into the world 3 months before he was due. To his parents, Henke was a miracle baby. At 28 weeks of pregnancy, his mother went into premature labour at a time when babies born at such an undeveloped age were given very little chance of surviving.
But Henke did survive, and he grew into adulthood. However, it wasn’t an easy childhood.
Soon after birth, the doctors noticed that his head was swelling disproportionately, which is known as hydrocephalus. They quickly performed an operation to drain the fluid (CSF) that was accumulating in the ventricles inside his brain, which is a common problem in premature babies.
This would be a problem that would beset Henke for life, so the neurosurgeons inserted a VP (ventriculoperitoneal) shunt into Henke’s skull. A VP shunt is a tube that connects the cranium to the abdomen. It’s a more permanent solution to drain the accumulating CSF and thus prevent long-term damage to the brain.
If being premature and having hydrocephalus wasn’t debilitating enough for a child, Henke also suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, a genetic disorder of the nerves that Henke shared with his maternal grandfather, mother, and older brother.
CMT is the umbrella term for a variety of inherited genetic conditions affecting the peripheral nervous system, which are the nerves that stretch from the spinal cord to the end organs (e.g. your feet and hands). There is no cure for CMT.
Over time, the peripheral nerves degenerate. This in turn causes muscle weakness and wasting, usually in the hands, feet, and lower legs. It can also cause scoliosis, which is an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine.
As the years progress, balance is impaired and walking becomes increasingly difficult, eventually resulting in the patient becoming dependent on a wheelchair and ambulatory support.
Not surprisingly, Henke found his time at school difficult. He struggled to learn the basics, couldn’t play sport, and had few friends. When his final year exams at high school came and went, Henke failed to pass.
Nevertheless, he was determined to succeed, and he returned to school the following year to do it all again. This time, he did much better and he passed.
Yet his marks weren’t good enough to go to university, so he went looking for work. Because of his physical limitations, he was overlooked for labouring jobs. Even traditional trade work, like plumbing and electrical, were out of his reach.
He did, however, manage to find a job as a parking attendant with a local company. This was the last job he had before he died of complications of the VP shunt that he’d had inserted as a baby. Henke died in 2003.
When I met Henke for the first time in 1999, he seemed happy and joyful, with a spark in his eyes that few people ever have. I told my wife that if she hadn’t told me about his struggles and difficulties growing up, I would never have guessed that he had suffered a single day in his life.
He had a contentedness in his demeanour that could only have come from complete and unconditional self-acceptance, that deep peace you only encounter in saints.
Many years later, after Henke had passed away, I heard of a conversation that had happened between Henke and his grandmother, his ouma, when he was a young teenager.
His ouma asked him, “Henke, aren’t you angry at God for all the problems you have?”
To which Henke replied, “No, Ouma, I’m happy the way God made me.”
So even as a teenager, Henke had reached a level of self-acceptance and self-love many people never reach, many people with more intellectual capabilities, more physical abilities, more money, more education.
Even with all his challenges and difficulties, Henke had taught me one of the great secrets to happiness, and that secret is this:
You have to want to be you. You have to want yourself.
Like Scovel Shinn, Henke knew deep in his being that the first start toward success is to be glad you are yourself. Without self-acceptance, any success or happiness will be but a fleeting idea of serenity in the storm of grievous thoughts.
Henke learned not to rely on other things for his sense of self-worth. He learned not to rely on other people for his sense of value.
So, if Henke was alive today, he’d ask you to consider this question: Are you happy in your own skin?
Here are four ways to help you be glad you are yourself and to be happy in your own skin.
4 Tips to Be Happy in Your Own SKIN
S: STOP judging yourself harshly for making mistakes or judging your appearance as negative.
K: KNOW that your greatest purpose is to serve others and that you have been purpose-built to achieve your worthy goal.
I: IMAGINE the best version of yourself and devote your life to being that person.
N: NURTURE your positive relationships (including with yourself) and focus on giving and receiving love.
So stop judging yourself harshly, know that you have a great purpose in life, imagine the best version of yourself, and nurture your positive relationships.
Make it a habit. Do it regularly. Be disciplined, and before long you’ll be someone who others will see as being happy in your own skin.