3 Things Everyone Should Know About Acceptance
by Rikke Kjelgaard
3 Things Everyone Should Know About Acceptance
“Are you seriously asking my to accept this sh*t? Really? Ehhh… Thank you, but no thank you!”.
“I am in pain! Why are you talking about acceptance? I don’t WANT TO accept. Can’t you just make it go away?”.
“Should I just give up then???”.
I get it. I really do.
For most people acceptance sounds like “liking”, “tolerating”, “wanting” or even “wishing for” something. And as a therapist working with acceptance as one of my main tools, I am often faced with resistance whenever I mention acceptance.
And that is because the kind of acceptance that I am referring to is often being misunderstood as it means something completely different for the person I am talking to.
An example of a difficult situation I got myself into was with a mother who tragically lost 3 of her children.
I was kind of new as a therapist and I was totally in love with the concept of acceptance.
So I would talk about acceptance as the solution to Every. Problem. In. The. Universe (ish).
My client – the mother who lost her children – was of course drowning in grief. And my invitation was to find a way to carry that grief so that she could live a valued life, be the mother she wanted to be for the child that she didn’t loose and be the partner she wanted to be towards her partner. With grief.
Sounds good, right?
The problem is that I used the word acceptance.
And because I used that word, what she heard me say was: “why can’t you just accept that you’ve lost 3 children?”.
(I can barely write this).
*face turns read from shame*
You hear how that sounds, right?
And so I had to spend several sessions trying to repair the damage that was done.
My intention was kind and friendly.
I never said what she heard.
And. It. Doesn’t. Matter.
It broke her heart.
(And mine was broken too by that).
So despite the shame of telling you about my mistakes, I’d like to share what I have learned (sometimes the hard way) about what acceptance is and what it isn’t.
1. Acceptance does not mean wanting, liking, wishing for, choosing or supporting something.
Who on earth wants to experience the heartbreak of loss?
Who on earth likes to have anxiety?
Who on earth wishes to go through grief?
Who on earth chooses depression?
Would it be fair to say that most people don’t?
But what I am asking you to do, is to hold space for what it is you are experiencing inside of you.
You might have been in situations that were really, really horrible. And you might then now be feeling really, really horrible.
And while it’s not okay that bad things happen to anyone, it IS okay to feel what ever it is that we feel.
See, the more we try not to feel something the bigger it tends to get.
And life then becomes about not feeling or not having certain thoughts or not experiencing inner experiences.
Acceptance – then – is all about being willing to experience your inner universe as it is in order to pursue the life you want to live and do the things that matter to you.
2. Acceptance is a practice
- not a feeling or a destination.
Many of my clients come to me asking to feel acceptance.
Like, “If you could just teach me how to feel acceptance, then this [unwanted inner experience] will go away, right?”.
Sorry, precious. It doesn’t work like that.
Acceptance is not a passive proces. It’s not a feeling that you will find inside of you. It’s not a destination that you arrive at.
Acceptance is a verb. It’s a continuous practice. It’s an active choice you have in every moment to be with and make room for what is.
And frustrating as that might be, it’s like a muscle that you can tone. A muscle that get’s stronger.
Most of us are finding ourselves dancing back and forth from acceptance to resistance. That is normal. And that is okay. And that dance too is something that we can hold space for.
3. Acceptance is not about tolerating an unacceptable outer environment
Acceptance is all about making room for your inner psychological universe in the service of connecting with and pursuing what matters to you.
It is NOT about accepting that your boss acts like an asshole or that your partner hits you when they’re drunk.
There are many situations in life that are completely unacceptable and where you should change something.
(I could talk about setting boundaries and taking sh*t from no one forever, but that shall be another post!).
If you can change something and that change is based on what you value in life, then you should go for it.
But if you’re trying to control your inner environment at the cost of keeping you from living well, then you might want to let go of your control efforts and practice willingness to sit with discomfort instead.
(It might suck a
little lot. I know.)
Can you be with that too, precious?