My updated thoughts about acceptance
My updated thoughts about acceptance
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or indeed have sat in a therapy space with me for any length of time, you will probably have heard me talk about acceptance.
It’s a concept I’ve got something of a love / hate relationship with! I think it’s important after last week’s blog about hanging out in the ‘space in between’ to follow up with what I think often comes after that process…coming to a place of ‘acceptance’. So this week is all about what that might look / feel like, and how it can be super beneficial.
Acceptance is the sort of word that many people kind of shy away from because it conjures up so much ‘ick’ that you almost feel compelled to run away from it really quickly. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that acceptance is a concept. And honestly as a concept it’s something that I’ve spent an awful lot of time getting to grips with both personally and professionally. A couple of years ago now, acceptance was my word for the year, and I spent 12 whole months trying to make friends with the idea of it. And this week I have spent quite a lot of my time in session talking to clients about acceptance, so I figured it was something that needed writing about.
I have always (until the last few years anyway) been the kind of person that railed against things that I didn’t like or couldn’t understand. I would stomp my foot and get a bit ranty (my word for stroppy or shouty) before one of my parents, partners or more recently children said to me, “why are you getting so upset, you can’t change it, just accept it for what it is.” Harrumph. Then a few years ago life did what life sometimes does, and things got super complicated, and I realised that sometimes you really can’t do anything to change a situation. It was then that I learned the most powerful, liberating and honestly, best thing I could do was learn to accept it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an easy or comfortable, but it was life-altering. Here’s a little of what I learned:
- Acceptance is not the same as liking, wanting, choosing or supporting
Just because you’re opting for acceptance doesn’t mean you want the outcome you’re accepting. But when we struggle and resist something what we actually end up experiencing is undue suffering. Acceptance is more like choosing to allow it to be the way it is when you can’t make it any different in that moment. It allows us to make space for it, to feel what you feel without generating any unnecessary shame or anxiety about not being able to get it changed.
- Acceptance is a doing word – and it takes practice
So, to accept is a verb – it’s an active process and requires constant practice. Just because you’ve accepted something today doesn’t mean it’s done. It’s more like something you’re going to revisit time and again while you create new neural pathways. It is totally normal to swing back and forth between acceptance and resistance for a while. If you’re able to create space for this oscillation, you’ll find your inner critic gets quieter quicker.
- Acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t change things
It’s not like acceptance is the same as apathy or a passive process of giving up. Acceptance is not the same as relinquishing agency – far from it. It’s a way of acknowledging that today the situation is the way it is, but that tomorrow things may be different. Most things are changeable – moods, emotions, relationships, our bodies, and behaviours. Acceptance says that you accept it is the way it is in this moment, allowing for change later.
- Acceptance doesn’t mean you’re accepting that it’s going to be that way forever
There’s a sweet spot in this. We are aiming for acceptance for the present situation alongside an openly realistic perspective of the future, with neither position holding us too tightly.
- Acceptance is SUPER broad
Acceptance can be applied to all parts of life: appearance, emotions, past relationships or experiences, thoughts, other people’s beliefs / ideas and the present things that cause us anxiety.
Above all, acceptance can be an empowering choice that reduces suffering in the present and fear of the future.