The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Acceptance Paradox


Been reading my 10 Days To Self-Esteem book by the psychiatrist David D. Burns and I found a method for dealing with negative thoughts about myself that keeps my self-esteem. It’s called the acceptance paradox. For instance. If I have the negative thought:

You’re basically a stupid and incompetent person. You’re pathetic. Lots of people are smarter and better than you are.

The idea is to accept my flawed character. Don’t defend or argue. Instead immediately agree with every brutal accusation and find some truth in the accusations with a sense of inner peace and self-esteem. It would look like this:

As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t ever claim to be the smartest or most talented person in the universe. I often make mistakes and have a great deal to learn from others. In fact if you really knew me you would see that I have a lot of inadequacies! I accept this.

This way we defeat criticism by surrendering to it. We win by losing! In healthy self-acceptance I accept the fact that I have deficiencies without condemning myself. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ! Suppose one says:

I am a defective human being

This negative thought is condemning and leaves no room for growth. If I am using the acceptance paradox the positive of this would be:

I’m a human being with many defect and shortcomings. All have sinned and fallen short. I accept this.

There is hope for forgiveness and room for growth. As a human being I acknowledge and accept that I have flaws while maintaining a spirit of self-respect. Through acceptance I declare that it’s okay to be flawed. It’s part of the human condition. I can either fight and protest and be miserable or accept my humanness and rejoice. Healthy self-acceptance with self-esteem also gives me more of a motivation to change. The fact is, we are all human and broken in many ways. When I accept my inadequacies with a sense of inner peace it removes the burden. The judgments and mental putdowns lose their power. I transcend my limitations when I accept them. I feel whole when I accept the fact that I am broken. It works for me anyway.

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I am impressed at your effort and openness to integrating Burns’ insightful approach with the beliefs of our Christian faith. More power to you! Grace be with you, Bob

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Example from the book:

  1. You’re a rotten mother

I have so many shortcomings as a mother. There is much I need to improve on. I accept this

  1. Yes, but you’re an addict and you’ve wasted your life

That’s correct. I have screwed up and wasted an awful lot of my life. I make no bones about this

  1. Well, you should feel terrible and guilty then. You’re admitting what a loser and what a scum you are

Oh absolutely, I do admit it! And believe me, I have often felt guilty and terrible about my life

  1. So you admit you’re a stupid loser!

Without hesitation! Many people are smarter and more successful than I am. Millions, in fact.

  1. Half the time you hate everybody, and no one gives a damn about you either

You’ve hit the nail on the head again! My relationships with people have not been good either. I often get angry and irritable and that turns people off. I have a lot of growing up to do. That’s the gospel truth!

You can see from the dialogue that the Acceptance Paradox is quite different from the usual strategy of defending yourself. You don’t try to defend yourself or build yourself up. Instead, you do just the opposite: You simply accept the fact that you are broken, imperfect, and defective. You accept your shortcomings with honesty, self-esteem, inner peace, and a little humor. The surprising result is that you can gain invulnerability when you make yourself completely vulnerable and defenseless.


The idea that Christianity causes mental illness doesn’t hold up to the scientific evidence of psychology and medicine. Here’s the Calvinist view of self-worth by John Piper:

What does the term “self worth” mean to you?

It means first a humanistic effort to solve man’s problems by helping him make peace with himself so that he ceases to be displeased with anything that is truly him. Since this is the overwhelming meaning of the term in our society, I find it unprofitable to use and I oppose it with a radically God-centered anthropology which aims to preserve a proper and profound appreciation for the mercy of God.

But if I am forced on certain texts like Matthew 6:26 (Luke 12:24) “You are of more value than the birds.” I will use the word worth or value and define it like this: man is valuable because he is created in the image of God and is therefore an expression of God’s glory. Humans have value in that they unlike all the animals have the unique potential to consciously honor God by thanking him and relying on his mercy alone.

Indeed R.C. Sproul says in "The Hunger for Significance’, page 110:

Dignity and Sin

There is a road to redemption where every human being has dignity. Many reject this road because they think Christianity destroys self-esteem, disparaging human value with woeful denunciations of the evil of man. Preachers rail against corruption, calling man a wretched sinner

God Takes Sin Seriously Because Mankind Has Value

These grim statements make it seem that Christianity has a low view of human dignity. But the point often overlooked is that the character of sinfulness in no way diminishes the worth of persons. It is because humanity is so valuable that God takes sin seriously.

Indeed, Sproul says this in an online article:

The image of God in the narrow sense concerns mankind’s ethical capacity and behavior. In creation, man was given the ability and the responsibility to mirror and reflect the holy character of God. Since the fall, the mirror has been splotched by the grime of sin. We have lost our capacity for moral perfection, but we have not lost our humanity with this ethical loss. Man may no longer be pure, but he is still human. Insofar as we are still human, we retain the image of God in the wider sense. We are still valuable creatures. We may no longer be worthy, but we still have worth. This is the resounding biblical message of redemption. The creatures God created are the same creatures He is moved to redeem. ~~ R.C. Sproul