One of keys in self-realization or to unlock the door to more professional/personal success, satisfaction or happiness is recognizing the difference between “Acceptable Flaws” and “Unacceptable Flaws.”


During a job interview, a candidate is asked to name a weakness or an area that needs improvement. How often have you heard something like this?

"Oh, sure, I know I am not perfect, I could manage my time better, I know I could be more patient …” 0r " ... well, I worked so hard at my weaknesses that they are now my strengths …”

What is the interview candidate doing? He or she doesn’t want to avoid the question, but and doesn’t want to appear arrogant. AND the candidate also doesn’t really want to admit to an area that actually needs improvement.

So the interviewee pulls out an “Acceptable Flaw.”

When accountability is asked for, we often pull out our deck of “acceptable flaws.” In fact politicians do this all the time. Let’s say Senator Joe Punch Clock has been caught having an affair and can no longer deny it.

How many times have you heard Senator Joe Punch Clock pull out an “acceptable flaw” response:

"I showed poor judgment … I let the community and my family down. For that moment, I did not take the responsibilities of my job with the respect it deserves."


This is a flaw that brings embarrassment or shame. It’s something that people may initially believe would be too disastrous to admit. So it is very unlikely you would hear Senator Punch Clock say:

"I am essentially a self-loathing individual that has low self-value and poor ability to cope with disappointment and rejection ... I have affairs because it gives me temporary moments of pleasure and relief from my own primitive reaction to anxiety … I’ve been having affairs for so long that I can’t see to stop.”

When we perceive certain flaws within us as “unacceptable,” we immediately place shame upon it as well as some internalized form of blame.

So what happens when a person feels shame? There are several common reactions designed to help a person block that heart-pumping, red-faced, discomfort of end-of-the-world embarrassment that shame typically produces:

1) Avoid it completely.
2) Deny it completely
3) Make up some plausible excuse or story
4) Blame it completely on something or someone else.

The irony is that these “unacceptable flaws” that we hide, avoid, and deny at all costs are “unacceptable” because we MAKE them unacceptable. We create them. We pull in assumptions, distortions and any thing we can to justify that which we believe to be “unacceptable.” In other words, we avoid at all costs that which we create and maintain.

We can’t face what we have created. "I am a monster," "I am unlovable," "I am fat and ugly," “I am stupid and incompetent."

After using some form of avoidance to shield ourselves from the pain shame, we then go about creating an “acceptable flaw” story to further hide from the shame. Our deck of acceptable flaws represents safety. It allows us to address areas of growth which are safe and acceptable by ourselves and our peers.


Here are two internal responses that CEO Judy Lunch Pail has with herself. Which sounds more “acceptable” or “comfortable” to hear?

“Yes, I do take a lot of time with decision-making – because I care about this company and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t take the time to understand the risks to this company.”

“I have a problem with decision-making because I am terribly afraid that I am stupid and incompetent, and that any decision I make will be a disaster.”

It’s these negative pieces of “self-talk” “negative assumptions,” or “automatic negative thoughts” on which Cognitive Behavioral Therapists and REBT interventionists are focused.

Ever try to come up with a solution to a problem you were ashamed to admit you have? Not easy, is it? In fact, it is impossible. You can't solve a problem by shaming it. You can’t come up with a solution to a problem of which you are ashamed.


Now of course, rationalizing and reframing how a person perceives himself is also a hallmark trait of people who are considered by Dr. Robert Seligman (pioneer of Positive Psychology) as “optimists.” We shouldn’t be going around heaping blame upon ourselves. And sometimes giving an “acceptable flaw” answer in an interview is could be key to getting that job.

What we are talking about here is the internal dialogue, the core thoughts, that we have of what is acceptable and what is not. In the long run, by eliminating the perception of “unacceptable” and creating a more balanced thought … people have a better chance to grow and change.

So what might this balanced thought read like?

"I accept the perception I have of myself which is unlovable. In fact, it is a distorted perception - because there is plenty of evidence that I AM LOVED. I do not shame it and I am not embarrassed by it.”


The way I view myself will continually taint the way I view others and the world. And without self-acceptance, I will not see how my actions influence the behaviors of others.

Hence, I will continually blame others. And I will continue to use denial, shame, guilt, and "I'm always right," thinking. I will continue to create assumptions and false perceptions of my co-workers, my husband, my wife, my children, my friends, my bosses. They will seem like absolute truths to me, but in reality they are not.

My dreams will be more difficult to attain. And my nightmares will be more difficult to give up.

Author's Bio: 

David Lim (MBA, MSW) is a therapist and coach in Seattle - with an emphasis on motivation and change. David is also a writer and has extensive experience in marketing, communication and journalism as well. In Los Angeles and Orange County, he served as a clinical counselor for several agencies; held three marketing directorship positions; and served as a non-profit program director. He also taught a graduate course in social policy at the University of Southern California. In Washington D.C. he was a journalist and a senior writer for a political consulting firm. David has also been a sports coach, music teacher and writing coach.

He holds BS and BA degrees from Purdue University and his MSW from the University of Southern California, and MBA from the University of California, Irvine.