Albert Ellis and Self-Acceptance

I picked up an interesting little book yesterday. Its one of those books I wish I had read a long time ago. The Myth of Self Esteem Very early on he makes the distinction between self esteem and self acceptance.

Self esteem “means that the individual values himself because he has behaved intelligently, correctly or competently.”

“Self acceptance, on the other hand, means that the individual fully and unconditionally accepts herself [or himself] whether or not she [or he] behaves intelligently, correctly or competently AND whether or not other people approve, respect or love her [or him].”

Here are some of the other basic ides I have taken from the first few chapters.

-Keep what you ARE separate and distinct from what you DO.

-Don’t rate what you ARE based on what you DO.

-Accept yourself no matter what you do.

-Keep any rating of your actions separate.

-Never rate what you are.

-Always accept what you are.

-You don’t NEED anything to accept yourself beyond the choice to do it.

-Practice every day to make self-acceptance a good habit.

Many people can try convince you that what you DO is
acceptable or unacceptable.

Only you can convince yourself that what you ARE is
acceptable or unacceptable. Once you have convinced
yourself one way or the other nobody else can do much
to change it. Another person’s love won’t convince you
that you are acceptable. Another person’s hate won’t
convince you that you are unacceptable.

I slapped together a quick little visual aid for the dimensions of movement. I show two dimensions up/down = acceptance/denial & left/right = hatred/preference.

Accepting is independent from liking/preferring.
Denying is independent from disliking/hating.

Here’s a bit of “rational-emotive” therapy from the Albert Ellis Institute that I have found helpful during stressful times:


LOVE SLOBBISM: I must be loved and approved by every significant person in my life–and if I’m not, it’s awful!

PERFECTIONISM: I must no make errors or do poorly–and if I do, it’s terrible!

LOW FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE: People and events should always be the way I want them to be; life must be easy!


SELF-ACCEPTANCE: It’s definitely nice to have people’s love and approval–but even without it, I can still accept and enjoy MYSELF.

FALLIBILITY: Doing things well is satisfying—but, it’s human to make mistakes.

REALISM: People are going to act the way they want—not the way I want.

Thank you felix dakat,

Yeah. Those ideas, and a lot of idea that Ellis presents, are just so intently useful. His ideas give anyone very powerful remedies against general anxiety and performance anxiety. He reverses the whole field of play. Instead of working your ass off to get limited and uncertain affirmation from others you just freely give yourself the affirmation you want. The richness of joy that comes from self acceptance quickly demonstrates the poverty of joy that comes from sporadically getting the approval of others.

Once I realized the inaccuracy of my previous aims it gave me an incredible sensation relief. It was useless to continually deny myself something and then go begging for what I was denying myself from others. Plus, others are usually so wrapped up in the same approval seeking game that they don’t have the energy to give approval to me.

It was a realization much like finally being able to look at purple and see very clearly that to the sides of it were distinct regions of blue and red. Acceptance is different and distinct from approval. I didn’t need approval, I just needed acceptance. I didn’t need extrinsic acceptance, I needed intrinsic acceptance.

My awareness needs to accept my existence.

xanderman, thanks for devoting a thread to Ellis’s ideas. He is one of the great philosophers of the 20th century.

However, I struggle to put his ideas into my daily life. I want to accept myself and sometimes I can say, “I accept who I am” with confidence. But it seems like I have a persistent tendency to not accept myself in daily life, unless I consciously work to reverse it. It’s like I keep turning a switch, but there’s a spring attached to it that always drags it back to the default position.

This feeling of not being able to accept myself comes most often in the form of taking criticism, failure, and rejection badly. Intellectually I accept that being criticised does not make me a bad person, but when someone criticises me, I feel anger and fear arise as the fight-or-flight response kicks in – just as though it were me myself being attacked rather than my action, habit, or idea. In my mind I accept that rejection does not make me worthless and inferior, but that sinking feeling of self-disgust after rejection seems to be my default setting.

Ellis believes that these feelings are generated by ‘automatic thoughts’ – thoughts that are triggered automatically by a stimulus like criticism. If I remember correctly, he maintains that if one consistently responds to irrational negative thoughts with rational positive self-talk, the automatic thoughts will lose their hold and a new default emotional setting will result. I’ve never implemented this strategy successfully, and I’d like to know if I can implement it more effectively.

Maybe I’m just not systematic enough about it. I’ve never really done his exercises on a routine basis, and I often let automatic thoughts go unanswered, even if I “know” that somewhere down there I’ve got a rational response if only I would take the time to peer through the emotional haze of the moment and find it.

Or maybe I’m too thought-oriented and not action-oriented enough. Maybe I should get out there and make mistakes and invite criticism boldly. I’m sure there are many things I’d like to do but avoid doing because I’m afraid of criticism or failure – maybe if I find those things and do them, I would have more success resetting my emotional switches.

Can anyone else speak from their own experience about what works – especially if, like me, you suffer from excessive fear of criticism and failure or disapproval? I would like to hear your stories.

I can share some of what has worked for me. Ellis’ work is similar to that of the cognitive-behavioral school. Aaron Beck is one of the major researchers in that field. There’s a book entitled “Feeling Good” by David Burns that is based on his work with Beck. Like Ellis, this stuff is quite practical.

Anyway, what I pick up from your message are words like “struggle” and “maybe I’m not being systematic enough.” You are probably sensitive and perfectionistic. Perhaps you are beating yourself up psychologically.

What I have found is that this is REALLY SIMPLE. It doesn’t begin with some massive change. It’s like putting a tiny drop of ink in a glass of water that pretty soon spreads to fill the whole glass.

Let me give you an example that has worked for me many times. When I am in a depressed mood, everything looks bad (over-generalization). In the past when I have tried to change the way I feel, I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk myself out of it. The problems appear much too huge and pervade everything (catastrophizing).

What works for me is to say to myself something like, “this is a really bad situation” (at which point I am agreeing with my bad mood.) “So I will take my bad situation and make it a little bit better.” The “little bit” is the key for me. I don’t try to get out of the “bad situation.” I don’t try to do anything big or difficult. All I do or think some small positive act or thought." It begins a feedback loop that changes my whole Gestalt. I have found that this gets me out of the black part of "black and white’ thinking. I prove to myself inadvertantly that things are not all black. It sounds simple, it is simple and that’s the beauty of it.


I think it starts at an even lower foundation than “I accept who I am”.

I would say that I still don’t know WHO I am. I only know THAT I am. I accept THAT I exist. I accept that I will continue to exists. I accept that I exist and have awareness.

Reprogramming your own mind is more of a challenge because you cannot simply delete erroneous code and replace it with new code. Instead you have to work to slowly modify the existing code. You cannot start anew. You can start with what you have got.

You have a concern with gaining the approval of others and/or a concern with losing the approval of others. You can work to deflate that preference. It helps to accept your preference. Work ever day to admit that you have a preference for approval. Work to see it clearly for what is is, only a preference.

Assert to yourself that your continued existence is independent from having the approval of others. Try to discover if you have any of what Ellis calls Irrational Beliefs about the importance of approval. Then work to modify those beliefs and replace them with better beliefs.

You can be more proactive than just waiting until a moment of rejection or criticism arises. Think about those experiences in the “lab” not just in the active “field”. Research those emotions inside of yourself when you are in an otherwise safe situation. You have the ability (imagination) to simulate those kinds of experiences whenever you want. Take your automatic habits under the “microscope”.

As a general principle, you break old habits by making new ones. The consistent practice of new deliberate routines helps you to overwrite the old “erroneous code”.

Actively seeking criticism is one of the methods that Ellis recommends, but that may not be the best method for everyone. That one seems more like an intermediate step once you have the basics covered. It is a way to grow more, not necessarily the way to begin the project. Then again, be experimental. Try it, if it works for you then it works for you, and that is all that matters.

Finding the works of Dr. Ellis has been like the holy grail for me. I feel like I have been searching for these ideas my whole life. I got very close, but this finally made everything just click for me. I have a marvelous feeling of un-attachment but not un-involvement. I feel totally free to act as I decide to act. With the foreknowledge that if something does not work then I am free to try something else.

I find daily affirmation very helpful in fully absorbing and implementing these ideas. I have signs up all over my room that help to remind me that I can think differently.

[size=75]And here is my latest batch of affirmations:[/size]

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that I [ABSOLUTELY] NEEDED to do well at every task

(I may have a preference to do well at tasks, but there is no ABSOLUTE NEED to do well at them)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that I was [ABSOLUTELY] BAD or WORTHLESS when I made a mistake

(There are not any mistakes that can make an ENTIRE person bad or worthless. Every living person has a limitless potential to do new and different things)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that I [ABSOLUTELY] NEEDED to get approval from people who I considered important

(I may have a preference to get approval from people who I considered important, but there is no ABSOLUTE NEED to get their approval)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that I [ABSOLUTELY] NEEDED to be loved by someone who mattered to me a whole lot

(I may have a preference to be loved by someone who matters to me a whole lot, but there is no ABSOLUTE NEED to be loved by someone who matters to me a whole lot)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
… that I was a(n) [ABSOLUTELY] bad and unlovable person when I got rejected

(There is no such thing as a completely bad or totally unlovable person.)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that people [ABSOLUTELY] NEEDED to treat me fairly and they were [ABSOLUTELY] OBLIGATED to give me what I wanted

(I may have a preference for people to treat me fairly and for them to give me what I want, but there is no ABSOLUTE NEED for people to treat me fairly and there is no ABSOLUTE OBLIGATION for them to give me what I want)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that people [ABSOLUTELY] NEEDED to live up to my expectations

(I may have a preference for people to live up to my expectations, but there is no ABSOLUTE NEED for people to live up to my expectations)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that people who did rotten things were themselves [ABSOLUTELY] ROTTEN people

(Nothing that a person does, no deed can make an entire person rotten)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that I [ABSOLUTELY] couldn’t deal with stressful events or difficult people

(I may dislike dealing with stressful events or difficult people, but I still CAN deal with stressful events or difficult people)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that my life [ABSOLUTELY] NEEDED to have very few major hassles or troubles.

(I may have a preference to have very few major hassles or troubles, but there is no ABSOLUTE NEED to have very few major hassles or troubles)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that it was [ABSOLUTELY] TERRIBLE when major things didn’t go my way

(It may feel very unpleasant when major things don’t do my way, but it isn’t ABSOLUTELY terrible)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that I [ABSOLUTELY] COULDN’T stand it when life was unfair

(I may strongly dislike it when life is unfair, but I CAN stand it when life is unfair)

I forgive myself for any time that I had previously believed…
…that I [ABSOLUTELY] NEEDED a steady supply of immediate gratification

(I may have a preference to have a steady supply of immediate gratification, but there is no ABSOLUTE NEED to have a steady supply of immediate gratification)

NYT July 25, 2007
Albert Ellis, 93, Influential Psychotherapist, Dies
Albert Ellis, whose innovative straight-talk approach to psychotherapy made him one of the most influential and provocative figures in modern psychology, died yesterday at his home above the institute he founded in Manhattan. He was 93.

The cause, after extended illness, was kidney and heart failure, said a friend and spokeswoman, Gayle Rosellini.

Dr. Ellis (he had a doctorate but not a medical degree) called his approach rational emotive behavior therapy, or R.E.B.T. Developed in the 1950s, it challenged the deliberate, slow-moving methodology of Sigmund Freud, the prevailing psychotherapeutic treatment at the time.

Where the Freudians maintained that a painstaking exploration of childhood experience was critical to understanding neurosis and curing it, Dr. Ellis believed in short-term therapy that called on patients to focus on what was happening in their lives at the moment and to take immediate action to change their behavior. “Neurosis,” he said, was “just a high-class word for whining.”

“The trouble with most therapy is that it helps you to feel better,” he said in a 2004 article in The New York Times. “But you don’t get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action.”

If his ideas broke with conventions, so did his manner of imparting them. Irreverent, charismatic, he was called the Lenny Bruce of psychotherapy. In popular Friday evening seminars that ran for decades, he counseled, prodded, provoked and entertained groups of 100 or more students, psychologists and others looking for answers, often lacing his comments with obscenities for effect.

His basic message was that all people are born with a talent “for crooked thinking,” or distortions of perception that sabotage their innate desire for happiness. But he recognized that people also had the capacity to change themselves. The role of therapists, Dr. Ellis argued, is to intervene directly, using strategies and homework exercises to help patients first learn to accept themselves as they are (unconditional self-acceptance, he called it) and then to retrain themselves to avoid destructive emotions — to “establish new ways of being and behaving,” as he put it.

His methods, along with those of Dr. Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist who was working independently, provided the basis for what is known as cognitive behavior therapy. A form of talk therapy, it has been shown to be at least as effective as drugs for many people in treating anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other conditions.

His admirers credited Dr. Ellis with adapting the “talking cure,” the dominant therapy in extended Freudian sessions, to a pragmatic, stop-complaining-and-get-on-with-your-life form of guidance later popularized by television personalities like Dr. Phil.

Dr. Ellis had such an impact that in a 1982 survey, clinical psychologists ranked him ahead of Freud when asked to name the figure who had exerted the greatest influence on their field. (They placed him second behind Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology.) His reputation grew even more in the next two decades.

In 1955, however, when Dr. Ellis introduced his approach, most of the psychological and psychiatric establishment scorned it. His critics said he misunderstood the nature and force of emotions. Classical Freudians also took offense at Dr. Ellis’s critical observations about psychoanalysis and its founder. Dr. Ellis contended that Freud “really knew very little about sex” and that his view of the Oedipus complex, as suggesting a universal law of human disturbance, was “foolish.”

A sexual liberationist, Dr. Ellis collaborated with Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey in his taboo-breaking research on sexual behavior, and his writings about sex drew complaints from members of the American Psychological Association.

As a base for his work he established the Institute for Rational Living, now the Albert Ellis Institute, in a townhouse on East 65th Street in Manhattan. He lived there on the top floor.

The article in The Times described Dr. Ellis at 90, hard of hearing and recovering from abdominal surgery, coming downstairs one day in the spring of 2004 to lead one of his Friday sessions, just as he had for 30 years.

“Do you know why your family is trying to control you?” he asked a volunteer who had joined him in front of the audience. “Because they are out of their minds!” he said, inserting an unprintable adjective.

Another participant recalled the murder of her sister years ago by a drug dealer. “Why can’t you understand that some people are crazy and violent and do all kinds of terrible things?” Dr. Ellis declared. “Until you accept it, you’re going to be angry, angry, angry.”

Some critics complained that his seminars were more stand-up comedy than serious lecture. Still, despite his iconoclasm, or perhaps because of it, rational emotive behavior therapy became one of the most popular systems of psychotherapy in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1985, the American Psychological Association presented Dr. Ellis with its award for “distinguished professional contributions.”

Dr. Ellis was the author or co-author of more than 75 books, many of them best sellers. Among them were “A Guide to Successful Marriage,” “Overcoming Procrastination,” “How to Live With a Neurotic,” “The Art of Erotic Seduction,” “Sex Without Guilt,” “A Guide to Rational Living,” and “How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything — Yes, Anything.”

He often went back to his own life experiences to help explain his positive frame of thinking. Albert Ellis was born on Sept. 27, 1913, in Pittsburgh, the oldest of three children. As a child, he wrote, he had a kidney disorder that turned him from sports to books. His parents moved to the Bronx and separated when he was 11. He once wrote that he had limited but amiable contacts with his father, a traveling salesman, and that his mother, an amateur actress, was not interested in domestic life.

He maintained that the experience had left no scars. “I took my father’s absence and my mother’s neglect in stride,” he wrote, “and even felt good about being allowed so much autonomy and independence.”

He did well in school, skipped grades, won writing contests and, he said, was pleased with his accomplishments.

But at 19 he was painfully shy and eager to change his behavior. In one exercise he staked out a bench in a park near his home, determined to talk to every woman who sat there alone. In one month, he said, he approached 130 women.

“Thirty walked away immediately,” he said in the Times article. “I talked with the other 100, for the first time in my life, no matter how anxious I was. Nobody vomited and ran away. Nobody called the cops.”

Though he got only one date as a result, his shyness disappeared, he said. He similarly overcame a fear of speaking in public by making himself do just that, over and over. He became an accomplished public speaker.

Dr. Ellis studied accounting at City College during the Depression and took up some entrepreneurial schemes after graduating. In one, he paired used men’s jackets and pants of similar colors and sold them as suits. He wrote fiction but found no publishers. He had read a good deal about sex and set up a bureau in which he counseled couples.

His first marriage, to Karyl Corper, an actress, in 1938, ended in annulment. His second, in 1956, to Rhoda Winter, a dancer, ended in divorce. For 37 years, from 1966 to 2003, he lived with a companion, Janet L. Wolfe, a psychologist who had been executive director of the institute. More recently he married Debbie Joffe-Ellis, a psychologist and former assistant, who survives him.

After receiving a doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia in 1947, Dr. Ellis spent several years undergoing classical psychoanalysis while using its techniques in his job at a state mental hygiene clinic in New Jersey. He quit in 1950 to begin a private practice specializing in sex and marriage therapy and soon started drifting from Freudian orthodoxy, finding it, he said, a waste of time.

He turned to Greek, Roman and modern philosophers and considered his own experience. Out of this came rational emotive behavioral therapy, which he decided would focus not on excavating childhood but on confronting the irrational thoughts that lead to self-destructive feelings and behavior. He founded his Manhattan institute in 1959.

“I was hated by practically all psychologists and psychiatrists,” he recalled. They thought his approach was “superficial and stupid,” he said, and “they resented that I said therapy doesn’t have to take years.”

In 2005, Dr. Ellis sued the institute after it removed him from its board and canceled his Friday seminars. He and his supporters claimed that the institute had fallen into the hands of psychologists who were moving it away from his revolutionary therapy techniques.

The board said it had acted out of economic necessity, asserting that payouts to Dr. Ellis for medical and other expenses were jeopardizing the institute’s tax-exempt status. Dr. Ellis was by then hard of hearing and required daily nursing care. Some board members said they were uncomfortable with his confrontational style and eccentricities and saw him as a liability.

In January 2006, a State Supreme Court judge ruled that the board had been wrong in ousting Dr. Ellis without proper notice and reinstated him. But his friend Ms. Rosellini said Dr. Ellis’s relations with the board had remained strained afterward.

Despite his failing health, Dr. Ellis maintained a demanding schedule late into his life.

“I’ll retire when I’m dead,” he said at 90. “While I’m alive, I want to keep doing what I want to do. See people. Give workshops. Write and preach the gospel according to St. Albert.”


What would Ellis say?

Wow, didn’t realize he was still alive. “The Gospel according to St. Albert” – some nerve, that guy had!

I like his anecdotes about talking to women and public speaking. It seems that if you are irrationally afraid of doing something, the best way to be free of that fear is to jump into it over and over. I’ve used that principle before, and it’s a golden goose.

Belated thanks to felix and xanderman for responding to my previous post. I’m still sensitive to even a spectre or possibility of criticism and perfectionistic, and still not really sure how to “fix” those tendencies to be more like I want them to be. But I have time to figure things out, I guess.

Not much now, eh? :smiley:

Another helpful avenue for improving self-esteem is the work Aaron Beck.
Beck identified a number of cognitive distortions that can lead to low self esteem, depression and anxiety. Cognitive distortions may be logical, but they are not rational. If you habitually think in these ways, you may be making yourself feel bad. Learning to catch yourself when you are thinking in these ways and to counter such distortions with rational thoughts can improve one’s mood and self image. There is a lot of evidence that this kind of cognitive therapy really works. The Cognitve Distortions are:

ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see your self as a total failure.
OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
MIND READING: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out
THE FORTUNETELLER ERROR: you can anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the binocular trick."
EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn’t, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him" “He’s a Goddamn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
PERSONALIZATION: You see your self as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.