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The Key To Avoiding Self-Destructive Behaviors In The Face Of Failure

June 1, 2014
Amanda L. Chan

An effective strategy for avoiding self-destructive behaviors in the face of failure might be to practice self-acceptance, according to a new study.

Denial and avoidance—and accompanying self-destructive behaviors—are common, if unhealthy, coping strategies when confronted by self-deficit. But Northwestern University researchers found through several experiments, detailed in a Journal of Consumer Research study, that self-acceptance could help people avoid these bad behaviors.

In addition, self-acceptance may be a better thing to emphasize than self-esteem, since self-esteem boosting can often come in the form of undeserved praise, which “can give students unrealistic beliefs and expectations about their traits and abilities,” the researchers wrote in the study.

“Unlike self-esteem, self-acceptance is inherently unconditional and therefore may better buffer individuals’ self-worth against inevitable failures and hence serve as a less volatile alternative to self-esteem for promoting well-being,” the researchers wrote in the study.

In one of the experiments in the study, researchers had nearly 300 study participants either read an article about self-acceptance and write about a time where they had to practice self-acceptance, or write about their last grocery store trip. (The researchers had previously established that engaging in the self-acceptance exercise does in fact increase levels of self-acceptance.)

After engaging in these tasks, some of the participants were then asked to think about a time where another person had power over them; meanwhile, the others were asked to write about the room they were in.

Then, some of the participants were shown an image of a luxury travel magazine, while others were shown a Power and Influence for Dummies book; they were asked to say how likely they were to pay for the reading materials.

The researchers found that among people who were not asked to think about self-acceptance and only thought about their last grocery trip, they were more likely to say they’d spend more on the luxury travel magazine when asked to think about a time a person had power over them.

Meanwhile, people who were asked to think about self-acceptance weren’t willing to pay more for the luxury travel magazine when they were asked to think about a time a person had power over them.

“This finding provides support for our account that self-acceptance leads to an appraisal of self-deficit information as relatively benign to self-worth, thereby allowing individuals to act to improve in the area of deficit via adaptive consumption rather than to deny or avoid it via compensatory consumption,” the study said.

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