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 website, 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!

6 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


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