How Does Acceptance Work?

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When we’re experiencing a painful memory, thought or emotion, it’s not uncommon to try to avoid this difficult experience. Some may try to fill every moment with activity after activity, they may even drink or use drugs to push the thoughts away; others might avoid situations altogether that could lead to difficult thoughts and emotions.

The problem is, this sometimes doesn’t work at all. Or, if it does work, it works for a very short period of time but then we end up more upset than before because we now have less time to do a task, or we are hungover, or we have simply expended some of the energy we have into avoiding the issue, as opposed to addressing it (as much as is possible).

As we have mentioned in a previous blog, the more you try to avoid any sort of thought or emotion, the more intense it becomes; in the end it just makes the suffering worse. If someone told you, “don’t think about purple elephants”, what are we going to do? Purple elephants are probably the only thing you’re going to think about then. So, when you tell yourself not to think about how anxious or worried you are about a situation, you’re actually reinforcing the anxiety itself.

Accepting Reality

Unfortunately, rejecting reality doesn’t change it. If you want to change the situation you’re in at all, it requires first accepting your circumstances.

For example, let’s say you’re on your way to an important meeting; however, you’re stuck in traffic. You continue to hit red light after red light. You might find yourself becoming angry at the other drivers and shouting in frustration. By the time you arrive at your destination, you’re now flustered, angry and less focused for what’s left of your meeting.

If instead, you say to yourself, “you know what, this traffic is really frustrating; however, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change the situation.” You’re more likely to show up more focused and relaxed for your meeting, still making it productive.

Pain Is Inevitable

Unfortunately, no matter what you do, it’s not possible to avoid pain entirely. Remember, pain is nature’s way of indicating something is wrong. If we never experienced pain after we broke a bone, we wouldn’t know we needed to go to hospital to have a cast put on it.

In this same way, if we never experience emotional pain we’ll never know what is working, what isn’t, and what our emotional needs may be in any given situation. And while we may go through a period of sadness or may still find it a bit difficult to accept situations at first, in the end it will generally lead to calm and relief. This will also free up additional internal resources to actually start responding effectively to a situation, as opposed to simply trying to ignore it.

How To Accept

If you’re unsure how to accept a situation, luckily there are a few things you can try:

Notice: Firstly, notice that you’re trying to avoid whatever situation it is you’re in. Some indicators that you might be avoiding or fighting reality are: feeling resentful, saying “things shouldn’t be this way” or trying to force others to change their behaviour.

Acceptance: If you’re in a situation where you’re struggling to accept the reality, try to at least find a way to stop fighting the reality. Try writing down only the facts of the situations to help identify what is your internal emotional experience and what is the external reality.

Relax: When we experience a lot of stress and anxiety, we are often physically tense. Try using relaxation or deep breathing to reduce muscle tension in the body. This should also help to decrease any anxiety and/or stress you may be experiencing.

Move Forward: Identify what you can to do cope with the current situation, while also behaving in a way that is consistent with what is important to you. Once you’ve accepted what has happened, you can then move forward and do something about it.

Remember, just because you accept what happened doesn’t mean you’re saying it’s OK. It means you’re giving yourself the freedom to be human and move forward.

Julie Farrar