How do you usually respond when life just isn’t going the way you want it to? Maybe your spouse forgot your birthday, you got a flat tire on that day when you simply have to get to an important meeting, or you received a scary health diagnosis.
What to do? Yes, you could yell at your spouse, throw a temper tantrum on the side of the road, or fall into despair about your medical condition. Certainly most of us have done one or all of these things.
However, there’s another alternative: acceptance of your present situation.
This last option may be your most effective choice.
- Acceptance requires us to develop some humility and recognize that we are not the director of this show called life. We cannot control the world, our local community, work colleagues, friends, or family members. With acceptance, we remind ourselves to practice “right-sizedness” – we are neither more or less important than anyone else.
- Acceptance entails awareness of our present circumstances as they actually are, as opposed to how we would prefer them to be. Acceptance does not mean that we agree with or condone a behavior or situation, but that we take the approach of “life on life’s terms” or “it is what it is”.
- Acceptance improves our ability to problem solve. We may be reluctant to accept that we have an addiction problem, or that our job no longer fulfills us, for instance. However, once we accept the truth, rather than remaining in denial or resistance, we are in a better place to look at our options and pick the best action plan. After all, rejecting reality does not change reality.
- Acceptance nurtures our emotional and physical health. Resistance, willfulness, or burying our head in the sand can throw us dramatically off-balance in mind, body, and spirit. We create a lot of stress when we proclaim through our thoughts, feelings, words, or behavior, that “I cannot stand this”. When we’re in acceptance, we generally have much more energy available, because we’re no longer expending effort trying to avoid, deny, or push away our feelings or circumvent a frightening situation.
- Acceptance benefits our interpersonal relationships. Acceptance enables us to express our needs, while also acknowledging that someone else may feel differently from us, and with some understanding of why they might feel the way they do. This tactic facilitates mutual respect and cooperation, as opposed to the “me vs. you” perspective.
- Acceptance is one of our four options when we’re dealing with a challenging situation. As stated by psychology researcher Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy ,we can either leave something, change it, accept, it or stay miserable. Often it isn’t feasible for us to adjust something or walk away. In such cases, acceptance becomes our only viable alternative if we want to live with some degree of peace and well-being.
- Acceptance of our feelings helps us to know ourselves better. Our feelings provide us and other people with valuable clues regarding what’s of utmost concern to us. Attempting to police our emotions can lead to our feeling out of touch with ourselves and unclear of who we really are. Unless we accept our feelings, we deprive ourselves of access to our Emotion Mind, which, together with our Rational Mind and Wise Mind, help us to make healthy decisions.
- Acceptance decreases the chances that our feelings will resurface at a later time due to our not resolving the issue the first time around. It’s been said that “when you bury feelings, you bury them alive”. Acknowledging our emotions, without being overwhelmed by them or denying them, is an important aspect of self-compassion, without which it can be almost impossible to live with ourselves.
- Acceptance is a form of forgiveness. To quote comedian Lily Tomlin, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past”. Whether it’s an event from our past, a current challenge, or a concern about the future, with acceptance we are better equipped to let go of bitterness and its resultant suffering.
- Acceptance frees us from analysis paralysis. Often we go round and round in circles trying to figure out why something is the way it is. This can go on in years, even if we’re in therapy. The first step to moving forward is acceptance of reality.
- Acceptance contributes to inner peace. When we “let it go” or “let it be”, we encourage ourselves to relax and cease struggling with what is. We can better appreciate all aspects of a situation, without judgment.
- Acceptance can be a gesture of gratitude. Instead of assuming the role of a victim and “why did this happen to me”, we can choose to say (even if it’s with gritted teeth), “Thank you for this experience. I will learn what I can from it. I will be part of the solution.”
- Acceptance strengthens us psychologically. If we avoid feelings or a situation, our “courage” muscle atrophies, and we become weaker over time. We also become more inclined to avoid things in the future, due to our avoidance becoming more and more of an engrained habit. When we accept something, we stand our ground, and we learn that we can indeed take what we thought we couldn’t take. This builds our courage, which we’ll need for the next challenge that comes along.
- Acceptance is an assertion of control, in that we are choosing our attitude and our actions. Once we accept a situation, complete with the uncomfortable feelings this entails, we can shift our attention to what we need to do to live in accordance with our chosen values. We can let go of lamenting the problem and instead say to ourselves, “Okay, this is how it is. I see the situation clearly, and I may not like it, but what am I going to do about it?”
Experiment with saying “Yes, and…” to life, rather than “No”, regardless of your circumstance or uncomfortable feelings. Accept that this is reality. Open yourself up to what’s happening, within you and around you. Then make a decision to both release what is beyond your control, and to do what is within your power to do.