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What is Unconditional Self-Acceptance?

Unconditional self-acceptance, or USA, is a central concept in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT. The idea is simple: You are not inherently good or bad, but sometimes your behavior is good or bad. Despite its simplicity, or perhaps because of it, USA is a powerful tool for recovery.

USA is different from self-esteem. It is possible to have tremendous self-esteem and consistently rotten rotten behavior, as with narcissists, for example. For normal people, trying to feel good about who they are is an inherently fragile process. They look to this skill or that achievement, or worse, they rely on bland assertions like, “I’m a good person.” Thus, even minor setbacks can invalidate these carefully tended beliefs and derail their self-esteem.

USA can’t be invalidated because it’s not based on anything other than the belief that humans have value. Therefore, you’re not worth less because you didn’t achieve your goal or disappointed a friend. You certainly may have preferred to achieve your goal or behaved better toward your friend, but you’re not less of a person for having failed in those particular things.

This is a relief for people who grasp the idea. It means they aren’t bad people even though they might have behaved badly. This is very much like the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is the feeling of having done something bad, while shame is the feeling of being bad. If you are inherently bad, how could possibly become good? On the other hand, if you are inherently neither good nor bad, you can improve your behavior at any time. The bad thing you did yesterday has already floated downstream. You can do something better today.

The flip side of this is that you also don’t get to be a better person because you did something good. This is not really a bad thing. For one, part of the judo of self-esteem is that thinking you are a good person for good behavior can throw you right over when you make a mistake and behave badly. The resilience of USA is that your worth is not based on your behavior–good or bad. The other benefit is that it reminds you that your are neither better nor worse than anyone else. You may have learned to behave more skillfully in certain respects, but you aren’t inherently better. We like to feel good about ourselves, but we also dislike anyone who feels himself superior to us. USA is a good way to guard against that.

USA is an important concept in recovery because it allows you to let go of negative self-talk. Not only does this make you feel better, but it also leads to faster improvement. It’s easier to face up to a mistake in behavior than a flaw in character. USA allows you to more easily acknowledge what you need to improve, rather than denying your mistakes to protect your ego. Once you admit a mistake, you can set about correcting it.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.