Self Acceptance as the Way to Personal Strength

By Gordon Bals

As I have continued to journey through life trying to make sense of good ways to live and move forward as a fallen human being, I have found the distinction between self-esteem and self-acceptance to be infinitely important.  Aiming for the one versus the other says a lot about where you are headed and how alive you will be along the way. Self-esteem is defined as confidence in your worth or ability.  It is a measure of how valuable or worthwhile you see yourself. Your sense of self begins and ends with you and is dependent on your ability to hang onto the essence of who you are.  

The problem I see with self-esteem is that it is rooted in the individual and their confidence.

That type of confidence is awful hard to build and takes significant denial to maintain.  You have to push away profuse amounts of information that contradict your self-confidence. 

If your sense of self is dependent on your performance and how you interpret it your weaknesses are going to be a problem.  Whenever you encounter situations that confront or expose your weakness your self-esteem is up for a vote.  I am pretty introverted and don’t crave or enjoy social gatherings of more than a couple of people.  Years ago, I would avoid such situations or feel pretty terrible after them because I felt like a fish out of water.  Whatever self-esteem I had, the barometer got pretty low when I had a lot of social engagements.  If my ability to have confidence in navigating the world was based on my assessment of myself, I would have had to withdraw from human community to retain a sense of self.  This is what often happens when an individual is the source of their confidence.  They have to isolate or find a community where most everyone is like them or will not uncover their weaknesses. 

I would argue that if you become confident in yourself and your abilities without seeing and accepting your weaknesses than a vast majority of your energy, although likely unrecognized, will be expended to hide from what is true.  This could entail avoiding certain individuals, situations, or topics of discussion.

In whatever way you try to do it, becoming confident in yourself by your effort and your evaluation will inevitably lead you down a path of tiredness and insecurity.

Paul articulates this well in his letter to the Romans.  He says that what can be known about God can clearly be seen through what has been created.  God’s invisible attributes - his eternal power and divine nature – can be witnessed in creation and when you don’t let that expose your human fragility in a way that leads you to deeper appreciation of God you actually have to push the truth away through unrighteous behavior (Romans 1:18-25).  You have to expend considerable energy to hide from the truth that you are a frail human in need of more than you can manufacture.  When you do that it leads to all sorts of disorder that Paul goes on to name. Self-esteem as it is commonly taught leads to that kind of disorder.  The more you have to pretend to feel secure the more you move away from genuine security. 

Self Acceptance

On the other hand, self-acceptance is not being confident in yourself it is being at peace with yourself. You learn to welcome both your strengths and weaknesses.

It is not that you don’t have confidence in your abilities - it is that your abilities don’t define who you are. You take as much “pride” in being able to accept your weaknesses as you do in celebrating your strengths.  There is not pressure to hold onto your strengths as a defining characteristic.  They are a part of who you are and you are glad they help you to thrive in the world but you don’t expend energy trying to maximize your strengths and hide your weaknesses so that you stand out more than others.

Instead, you expend energy learning how to stand with others. Self-acceptance is an invitation to human community where you recognize the danger and isolation that comes with self-confidence as a defining characteristic of personal strength.

Self-acceptance naturally moves you outside yourself.  Your grounding in this world does not begin and end with you. The key to self-acceptance is developing the humility to vulnerably welcome others into your life who help affirm your strengths and expose your weaknesses.  We only see our strengths and weaknesses in relation to others.  If by nature you are a little more hospitable and serving you recognize this as you are in a group of people and see that you naturally move toward helping others and enjoy doing it.  While entertaining friends at your place you might be most attentive to the ambiance your home and food creates in helping others enjoy the evening and connect relationally.  


You actually miss many of the social cues being exchanged among the party goers.  You are attuned to something others are not and others appreciate that about you. They enjoy the space you create.  At the same time, you don’t particularly enjoy being the life of the party.  One of your extroverted friends (who forgot to bring to the party what they promised in such a way that upset you) helps carry the conversation and laughter you all enjoy.  The party could not have been what it was without her.  She leaves a little disappointed you pay too much attention to doing for others and don’t rest, while you sit at home a little disheartened, she made the party too much about herself.  You both have strengths and weaknesses you don’t exemplify with perfection.  It is that gap of imperfection (i.e. being human) that makes you want to turn away from your need for others.  You must welcome the gap of imperfection because it leads you outside yourself.  

“I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions. My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror,” (Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands).

That gap, where you may judge weaknesses too harshly or strengths too glowingly, is where you need the Gospel.  The sharpening process of community helps you recognize that gap. 

If both friends were to lean into the wisdom of scripture, they might hear these words, “Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (2 Cor 10:12, NLT).  It is so easy to feel better about yourself through comparison and forget who you are is defined by God and the work he has for you.   Again, the wisdom of scripture provides grounding,  “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct,” (Gal 6:4-5, NLT).  

God has given you strengths that can be a blessing in community. They are to lead you back to him and his goodness not your goodness.

The affable servant either gets proud about her serving by thinking the extroverted party girl is too self-inflated or condemns herself by thinking she is just too demure.  If on the other hand, she is holding God’s word she hears, “You are neither a super servant or a prude – you are one who bears my image and brings light to others as I have gifted you. Let me help you keep celebrating your gifts and groaning your weaknesses. In me you live and move and have your being.” 


It seems crazy to me to hide from your weaknesses or to take great pride in your strengths.  Instead, the humility that comes from accepting weaknesses helps soften the pride you might take in your strengths whereas enjoying your strengths is a way to soften the blow of having weaknesses.  It is when we are making room for both that the space around us becomes more life giving.  The path of self-acceptance leads us out of ourselves into community with God and others and helps us to thrive.

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