Today we will explore what it means to have acceptance. From traditional Buddhism to modern day psychology and recovery programs, acceptance plays a vital role in our emotional, psychological, spiritual and even physical well-being. As vital as it is, it is often times misconstrued, misunderstood and therefore misused. Hopefully we can shed a little light on the matter and give you a better understanding of what it is and how to use it in your life.
Definitions of Acceptance
According to Wikipedia, acceptance in psychology, “is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest it.”
Self acceptance is described by Merriam-Webster as “the act or state of accepting oneself : the act or state of understanding and recognizing one’s own abilities and limitations.”
Psychology Today tells us that, “Radical acceptance” means completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind.”
The True Meaning of Acceptance
Simply put acceptance means allowing. Allowing unwanted and private experiences (your thoughts, feelings, and urges) to come and go without struggling with them. The absence of struggle.
Please note that none of these definitions talk about things such as giving up, simply “getting over it”, minimizing somethings significance, understanding, or our approval. Approval requires consent. I may not approve of the way that woman/man is yelling at their child in the grocery store, but I accept that it is not my child. I accept that I may not know the whole story. And I may not fully understand why my wife likes the toilet paper to face a certain way, but I accept it.
At the end of the day acceptance is an active choice. We might want things to be different in the future, but to get to that place we must first accept that at the present moment this is the way things are.
There is a Buddhist philosophy that states: Suffering = Pain x Resistance.
Resistance and rejection of the way things are is the opposite of acceptance. It helps create more of what we don’t want. It gives space for unproductive feelings, emotions, and attitudes. It causes the unwanted situation to linger. Accepting the situation for what it is allows us to inspect it honestly and without judgment. Through that process we can then let go of any unwanted situation and move past it.
I have found no better description of acceptance and how it is meant to be applied than in the Big Book of AA page 417. It goes as follows;
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I
am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or
situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no
serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being
exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing,
absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could
accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life
completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not
so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be
changed in me and in my attitudes.”
I understand that not everyone is an alcoholic, but you get the gist.
What is Radical Acceptance?
In the early 90’s Marsha Linehan an American psychologist and author coined the phrase “radical acceptance”. As she put it,
- Radical means all the way, complete and total.
- It is accepting in your mind, your heart, and your body.
- It’s when you stop fighting reality, stop throwing tantrums because
reality is not the way you want it, and let go of bitterness.
Another big advocate for this type of acceptance is a Mindfulness teacher and author Tara Brach. In 2004, she wrote the book on Radical Acceptance. Literally. Brach tells us that accepting ourselves doesn’t mean that we then lose the battle and are now forever stuck the way we are. Quite the opposite in fact,
Acceptance Commitment Therapy
ACT is a form of mindfulness based therapy, suggesting that greater well-being can be attained by overcoming negative thoughts and feelings. It focuses on three main steps:
1. Accept your reactions and be present
2. Choose a valued direction
3. Take action.
This focus then allows you to accept reality and start working with what you have. It also allows you to cognitively diffuse your reactions to potentially harmful situations. This is done by realizing that these thoughts and feelings are just that. Thoughts and feelings. They may or may not be based in reality. And just like every other thought or feeling that you have ever had, they will pass. You can then make a more rational decision on how to proceed.
How to Cultivate and Show Acceptance
Acceptance is a simple concept. Simple but not easy. It can be a long and winding road.
“When you pay attention to feelings in a detached, “oh, that’s interesting” sort of way, you begin to change your relationship with them.” Says, Tom Board founder of NueroJitsu.
Some acceptance strategies include:
1. Letting feelings or thoughts happen without the impulse to act on them.
2. Observe your weaknesses but take note of your strengths.
3. Give yourself permission to not be good at everything.
4. Acknowledge the difficulty in your life without escaping from it or avoiding it.
5. Realize that you can be in control of how you react, think and feel.
When evaluating something you are faced with ask yourself:
- Can this thing be changed?
- If it can be changed, do I possess the ability, opportunity, time or strength to change it successfully?
If a thing can not be changed …. then you must accept the nature of that thing.
Acceptance is hard. Plain and simple. It doesn’t always mean you win. But without it we can not grow. We can not learn. We can not evolve. Haruki Murakami put it very eloquently when he said, “Pain is inevitable, struggle is optional.”