Acceptance Vs. Struggle: What You Need to Know

Photo of acceptance street sign

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,

  1. Radical means all the way, complete and total.
  2. It is accepting in your mind, your heart, and your body.
  3. 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.Aerial view of 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:

  1. Can this thing be changed?
  2. 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.”


11 thoughts on “Acceptance Vs. Struggle: What You Need to Know

  1. Hi there, James!
    I loved reading your post about acceptance and struggle.
    These are very wise words and I can see how by following your suggestions can make Life a whole lot easier for all of us.
    I already practice a few of the philosophies here but I’m going to pay more attention to my acceptance of situations we can’t control.
    Thanks, Jeff.

  2. Excellent post, thank you!  I do believe most of us need to learn to accept things instead of trying to fix it, instead of trying to change it, or even approving of it, as you mentioned.  You can accept that your boss is just a jerk about the printer ink or you can struggle against it, vent about it, try to mention it to him to make him stop it, whatever.  Or you can just shrug and accept that fact.

    I’ve been lucky in that I learned acceptance early.  I accept that my mother is the way she is.  That doesn’t mean I like it or approve of it, but I no longer get angry about her not changing or trying to help herself.  It is the way it is. Life is the way it is.  You can get mad it’s snowing, or you can accept it.  You might as well.  We have no control over anyone but ourselves!  ^_^

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post!

  3. I must start by saying I love this article, I got to understand alot about acceptance. Acceptance, in my opinion, is the key to convert momentary happiness to enduring happiness. It helps you move from feeling happy to actually being happy. Practicing acceptance prepares one to live in this changing world, where you never know what’s going to happen next. Acceptance is like protecting yourself with your own shield and is no where related to weakness but strength.

  4. For us to really accept things, we must learn to come to terms with the fact that things happen and the world keeps on going without ever stopping for anything or anyone. Things just happen for no reason sometimes. Hence, there is need to accept the feeling and take it without struggle.  Acceptance requires a higher sense of reasoning and maturity to make us understand that things happen and we need to just accept hatever feeling has cone up rather than struggling with what cannot be changed. Really, I found this to be very lovely and helpful

  5. Hello James, thanks for sharing this amazing post. There have been so many situation that becames seriously bad because someone failed to accept reality. Acceptance for me is simply realizing that which cannot be changed and not forcing it to go away or stay. Like I said earlier some people have gotten themselves into difficult positions because they fail to accept that which they can’t change. For me whatever you cannot change, you should let it be and with that, you’ll have great peace.

  6. Excellent article on Acceptance and Struggle, having said this and well explained by this post , I deduced that acceptance is a simple concept. Simple but not easy. It can be a long and winding road.Very interesting and lovely to read and benefit greatly,SWOT Analysis is very important,concentrate on the strength to battle the weakness,and the opportunity to face the threat,thank you for sharing .

  7. Acceptance is something i personally know I fight and I don’t usually give a chance sometimes back, as I grew older, I started realizing the true importance of accepting one’s self. I discovered self acceptance is self realization, knowing who you truly are and accepting yourself as you are. Thanks for sharing  this article, I’ve really learned a lot and I can’t even imagine knowing as much as this if not for me stumbling on this wonderful article. I’ve really enjoyed reading through and I’ll share it with some of my friends too, I know they’ll love it.

  8. Nice article to read! Being an immigrant and working in a place dominated by natives has been difficult for me in the beginning of 2015. I felt like I need to do this and that to be accepted and honestly I struggled for few months before I was able to adjust. I think acceptance is quite difficult to give at first but it will be a journey. Everyday will lead closer to being accepted. 

    Thanks to your article I get to understand radical acceptance aside from understanding more about acceptance and struggle.

    1. I’m happy to hear that this may help you in your work place. Unfortunately just because you can accept something doesn’t mean those around you will offer their acceptance in return. It takes honest work but the peace it brings when you truly accept things the way they are is something that can not be taken away from you.

  9. Wow, I must admit the importance of this post can’t be over emphasized. Acceptance in the lifes of an individual means alot of thing. Accepting things that are beyond our control may be quite difficult but when you’re able to do it, you’ll feel this relief in body. It feels like having a burden lifted up off your chest. Its hard, yes, but it’s worth the try. Nice being here.

    1. Dane,
      Thank you for your comments. I have to agree about the feeling in your body. I always heard people say things like that but once I practiced accepting myself and my personal situations I found it to be true.

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