By Robert Dallas, PhD
Self-efficacy and self-acceptance are two useful terms to explore as we move toward a life of increased ease and flow. In a way, they are reciprocal concepts—one reinforces the other. Self-acceptance increases self-efficacy. And an increase in self-efficacy leads directly to greater self-acceptance.
Our Critical Inner Voice
Self-efficacy is closely associated with a psychologist named Albert Bandura, who used it to investigate the concept of confidence in more detail. Self-efficacy means that we handle life as well as we expect to. Bandura popularized this term mainly to study approach-avoidance behavior. In other words, we are more likely to engage in situations and activities that we feel comfortable we can handle well or enjoy. We feel a pushback or avoid situations where we won’t excel. This can be an issue because it limits our actions, and thus our world is smaller. Also, this self-assessment is usually a subconscious process and, over time, can lead to avoidance of new and interesting experiences, even evolving into a generalized belief about how difficult life is or how poor we are at handling it.
Self-acceptance is getting to the place where we trust and enjoy our abilities. It is the belief, “I’m a good person, no matter the outcome of any given event or encounter.” Unfortunately, we often use some form of self-attack to motivate “right” action, action in general, and carry-through. We internalize and carry out “the voice of authority” (and responsibility) that we learned so well from our authority figures, against ourselves.
When we explore our inner dialogue, we come to find that we are constantly pointing out our shortcomings to ourselves. “You didn’t …” “You shouldn’t …” “What makes you think you could …?” Over time this self-attack creates an inner split between the “blamed” and the “blamer”—both parts of ourselves. This can lead to a poor self-image and a negative self-assessment that is not at all legitimate. But since it mainly occurs below the level of consciousness, it simply becomes how we define ourselves. Thus, we come full circle to self-efficacy. We expect to handle situations poorly in all arenas of our lives where we have a low opinion of ourselves, which leads to less engagement in new activities or, at least, increased stress and discomfort.
Changing the Inner Conversation
How do we move ourselves out of this stalemate? We notice our inner dialogue of self-assessment and question the negative statements. Release the pattern of using the past as evidence of the future. Realize every situation is actually new and different. Own that we are learning and growing all the time and are better able to handle things. Simply choose to see ourselves in a better light.
When we implement some of these self-interventions, the cycle starts working in our favor. The more we accept ourselves, the more we believe in our ability to handle what comes our way. Making these shifts in our self-perspective releases the stalemate of the approach-avoidance trap, thus opening us up to integration. Integration is owning our power through having our various aspects work together in a unified whole. We can then live from a place of balance and see our lives and ourselves in a more positive light. Our self-efficacy quotient goes way up. Congratulations!