Self-Acceptance–Are We All Defective?

hike photo 9Hi everybody,

I’ve been getting lots of great emails with questions recently, and will try to get to as many as possible. Here is one from this morning.

Hi Dr. Burns,

I really hope you get to see this! I just wanted to say how I love your book and it has been helping me a lot I bought and read Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, and I’m currently reading your book on anxiety, When Panic Attacks.

But I did want to say one thing. On page 216, near the bottom, it says, ” … in fact, we’re all defective and you can view your ‘defectiveness’ as a reason for suicide or a cause for a celebration….”

I didn’t understand that. That we should view us being defective as a reason to kill ourselves?? It threw me off and I asked my friend to read it over. I just want to know what you meant!

It’s near the bottom second to last paragraph on page 216


Hi Nicole,

Sometimes I write things that may be hard to “get” at first, so I appreciate your question. First, let me emphasize that suicide is never appropriate or needed for someone who is feeling depressed and hopeless. However, was writing about something I call the Acceptance Paradox, where you achieve enlightenment by accepting your many shortcomings with a sense of inner peace, or even with a sense of humor. I call that “healthy acceptance.”

And when you “grasp” this notion that it is okay to be flawed and defective, or even wonderful, you can achieve liberation from feelings of depression, anxiety, shame and self-doubt. And it brings you a lot closer to other people, too, because, believe me, there are TONS of other defective people out there, so we can have a party and lots of folks will join us, and we can just hang out and not worry about having to impress each other.

But people who are depressed usually have what I call unhealthy acceptance. They wrongly believe that because they are defective, they should kill themselves.

If you CLICK HERE, you will find a chart that distinguishes healthy from unhealthy acceptance.  As you can see, healthy acceptance is characterized by joy, intimacy, laughter, and creativity. In contrast, unhealthy acceptance is characterized by cynicism, depression, hopelessness, and loneliness.

This is sometimes hard to “see” at first on an emotional level, especially if you are depressed, or prone to depression. But when you suddenly “get it,” it’s like seeing the grand canyon for the first time. It simply takes your breath away, and you discover that it’s only okay to be defective, it’s actually great–in fact, the very BEST way to be!

I am writing something more ambitious on this topic, and I’ll publish it here soon. This is just a beginning note intended to whet your appetite, hopefully at least! What I am writing about now are some of the more philosophical underpinnings of TEAM-CBT, although the notions are actually ancient, and go back at least 2500 years. I will try to address two questions:

  1. Is it possible to be worthwhile or to be worthless?
  2. Do we have a “self”?

Although these themes may seem abstract, they have powerful, practical, emotional consequences. Just one small example, let’s say you struggle with anxiety and shyness. You may have the fear that others will judge you because you are inferior, or not “good enough,” and this thought can cause tremendous suffering. But this thought is based on the notion that you have a “self” that can be evaluated or judged. When you see through this notion, you can experience liberation from your fears.

The Buddhists called this “The Great Death.” Of course, we all fear death, and struggle to keep our egos alive. But once you’ve “died,” so to speak, you can join the Grateful Dead, and then life suddenly opens up in unexpected ways. And for those who may misread me, or interpret my words literally, I am not referring to physical death, but death of the “self.”

So, stay tuned if this type of dialogue interests you! And thanks for reading this!

Doctor David

If you are reading this blog from Facebook or Twitter, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my, and register there as well. You will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, plus all my Feeling Good Podcasts to date, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along tons of resources, including videos for mental health professionals as well as patients and the general public!

14 thoughts on “Self-Acceptance–Are We All Defective?

  1. I don’t understand why you don’t have more followers…. I’d love for you and Eckhart Tolle to collaborate on something together….

      • You are funny😊 I found you by accident on I’ve never heard of you before and people need to hear you. Send some books to Oprah….sounds true….Eckhart Tolle…. Buddha magazines….seriously…. talk radio….you’re worth hearing … reading …. I’ve already bought a few of your books and have given them to two friends and I have a few more coming in the mail through Amazon …..and needs all your work because I’d own it and if I am wanting it so are a lot of other people…. and I just heard of you not even a week ago. Anyway thank you…. I’ve been following Eckhart Tolle for a few years…. he talks a lot about a book called “A Course in Miracles” which I’ve read a few times and even done their daily lessons for two years as of now and listening to audible read your books it’s all starting to make sense…. anyway I truly thank you for your serious contribution to humanity and your sense of humor. Thank you Dr. Burns….p.s. I’d apologize for gramatical and punctuation errors however I don’t think you will mind😂 Lovely to have stumbled upon you. Thank you again ….

      • Thanks, Tamie! I am flattered by your kind words! And no problem on punctuation errors, I did not even look for any! I’m glad you found things funny, although I don’t know what exactly you were referring to. At my free weekly Stanford psychotherapy training group for mental health professionals, I often blurt out absurd things and it usually (but not always!) makes for a good laugh. I also do this in my workshops for mental health professionals, and in my psychotherapy sessions as well. Sometimes it seems bizarre to be treating someone who’s been severely depressed due to one or more horrific traumas, and we end up laughing a good bit of the time. But I think laughter is really fun, but also teaches us something about not taking ourselves so seriously.

        I don’t know what is, but I’m glad I’m there at any rate! And you are right about national TV shows–they have incredible power. My book, Feeling Good, was released in 1980, with modest printings that kept selling out, so the publisher printed more, and more, but always kind of a slow and steady increase in sales, but all by word of mouth. Then, in 1988 I finally had my chance of a national TV show, the Phil Donahue Show, which was the Oprah show of that era. It was a tremendous show, and within five minutes of the end of the show the book had sold way more than in the eight previous years combined, and went to the #1 position on all the best-seller lists. I have not had any of that kind of publicity recently, but hope I get my chance again, as I have an even more powerful message now, and may do a new book, too.

        Thank you tons for your deeply appreciated support!


  2. “But this thought is based on the notion that you have a “self” that can be evaluated or judged. When you see through this notion, you can experience liberation from your fears.”

    So glad you are going there, Dr. Burns. I think the ultimate resistance is against seeing the unreality of the self.


    • Hi Nick, Wow, thanks, cool comment. Very interesting, And I will be addressing this shortly (already drafting the material on “self” and “defectiveness,” etc.) Really appreciate your chiming in! david

  3. Dear Dr Burns,
    I am from India and your follower from last almost 15 years . I feel lucky that i got depressed else i could not have come in touch with FEELING GOOD. and i strognly agree it to be the turning point of my life for the positive:). so i believe depression was a very less cost that I paid for it.

    “Death of self “is great concept and i am very curious to read your complete thoughtS /book on this.
    Gandhi’s biggest achievement as per me was that he was almost able to achieve that his EGO was touching Zero but it took him more then 30 years of self help. Everything he has written in depth in his autobiography , MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH . it would be my pleasure to send it to you( or to any other reader of this website) as a gift 🙂

    some queries
    1, these days the concept of MINDFULNESS is taking lot of importance. i feel its a technique that by concentrating on our breath , one can go out of himself and can monitor his thoughts as an outsider. This will help us to see our distortions better as an outsider. I feel it is the same concept as you taught us in FEELING GOOD to suggest the solution to yourself the way you suggest your best friend.
    i want to know your thought on MINDFULNESS as a technique .

    2. in one of your answers you had explained as as how once you took the big decision to leave your medical practice for becoming a table tennis player . you eventually learned you were mistaken about your abilities as a tennis player and finally came back into your psychiatric practice.
    i am still not discouraged by the outcome 🙂 and standing on the verge of doing the same as you ,did ,, but i hope a better studied decision ( i wish i am correct ) 🙂 so wish me luck or your cautions ,, both are most welcome.

    3. India has a population of almost 1/5th of the total world. and we have 24 different languages and only 5% people can read english. so i want that FEELING GOOD be translated and be distributed online in at least one more language of INDIA ie HINDI so as to reach the vastly needed by depressed indians. i can get this done but need your permission,

    in the end i am glad to see you online and also on Twitter ,, you are one of the precious gift to us by GOD,, and i wish you great health and happiness 🙂

    warm regards
    new delhi

    • Thanks, Sanjay. Hopefully, a publisher in India will contact Harper-Collins to purchase the rights to publish one of my books in India! Will address some of your questions in subsequent blogs. With regard to mindfulness, lots of people find it helpful and appealing. I’m not convinced it is a specific treatment for depression or other problems, but if you find it useful, there’s certainly no problem with it! On average, I don’t prescribe non-specific practices like meditation, exercise, and so forth, since my skills are more specific for the negative thoughts that trigger depression, anxiety, and interpersonal conflict.

      Personally, I don’t find meditation or self-hypnosis to be interesting or appealing, but feel that my life is my meditation. Again, that is just my own individual preference, and many others react and feel very differently!

      Good luck in your own endeavors! Will get to death of self soon, hopefully, and working on it!


  4. Hi Dr Burns,

    Thanks SO much for your acceptance paradox technique… it’s been the most amazing help for me, more effective than other CBT techniques.

    I’m always telling people about your books… unfortunately they don’t seem that interested…very frustrating, they’re missing out big time!! A lot of people moan, but then don’t do much to help themselves!?


    • Hi Sally,

      Thanks so much for your terrific and much-appreciated comment on the recent Self-Acceptance blog. This is also my favorite technique, both in my work with patients, as well as in my own personal life, dealing with my own negative thoughts when I screw up at this or that, which is often! I see the Acceptance Paradox as a spiritual technique as much as it is a TEAM-CBT technique.

      Yes, I am familiar, too, with your frustration and sometimes have similar feelings. Sometimes, it is really hard for people to get “unstuck,” and this also includes therapists when I am teaching. I was comforted a bit when I heard a program, I think on PBS television, about the Buddha, but take my comments with a grain of salt because my memory on this point may be faulty. Apparently he had more than one hundred thousand followers, but only a few actually “got it” and experienced enlightenment when he was still alive. I think that might be why he is depicted so often as sitting with open hands. I think the open hands mean “I can receive you and show you the path if you are interested, but I can also let you go, since my ego does not depend on teaching you.” I actually have a technique like this that I teach to therapists, and I call it Sitting with Open Hands. but it is as much a ind-set as a technique, and it involves the death of the therapist’s codependent, or “rescuing” ego. And this is difficult for many therapists to grasp or accept, since we therapists sometimes struggle with the notion that we MUST help everyone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, or a troubled relationship.


      • Thanks for your reply!
        I can definitely see how very difficult it must be for therapists to let go of the helping ego… especially when you really do have the skills to change someone’s life!
        People have their own minds & I guess we’d be behaving like dictators if we forced our beliefs/treatment on others.

        Yes it does explain the Buddha’s open hands, I love the Buddha statues, I find them ‘calming’ to look at.

        Thanks again Dr Burns for all your work…do you have any more books coming out? I love your writing, it’s really engaging as well as helpful.

        Best wishes Sally

      • Thanks, Sally. I appreciate your comments and yes, I am working on a new book. Will give more details when I get a bit further along on the project, but I am doing some writing almost every day, and really enjoying it. Feedback like yours gives me encouragement, too! david

      • Hi David, I forgot to ask in my reply about how often to do CBT exercises. The acceptance paradox I’ve found I need to do every few days to keep my mind working well, or I can slowly slip back into low moods. Is this usually the case with CBT for most people? I enjoy the exercises, so it’s no problem, sometimes I just forget to do them & then realise I’m getting down/moody again.

        Thanks, Sally.

      • Hi Sally, That is an individual thing, but whenever you start to get low, that’s the time to do the CBT exercises again. Of course, when someone is in treatment, and not yet recovered, I encourage them to work with the Daily Mood Log, for example, every day for ten or twenty minutes. The ongoing practice is important from multiple perspectives. Following recovery, we will all drift in and out of enlightenment, so when you fall into the black holes of self-doubt, that’s when you use your tools again. For me, the Acceptance Paradox is also one of the best tools, by far, both for my self as well as my patients!


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