by Andrea M. Darcy
Does your life always have a conflict or two on the go? Constantly dreaming of being somewhere else? Or fighting your way forward? Accepting what is could be a tool you need.
What is acceptance?
In psychology, acceptance is closely linked to allowing, and to the present moment. What is happening right here and now, what are you feeling in this moment? And can you allow that to be what it is?
The opposite of acceptance is resistance. We refuse to allow things to be as they are, convince ourselves we can control and change everything, and enter into conflict, or live with ongoing resentment.
And acceptance is a powerful tool when it comes to our psychological health. Research shows that acceptance of negative experiences leads to less mental health issues down the line, and is particularly beneficial with high stress experiences.
A dual study lead by the University of Denver in America found that accepting over avoiding negative emotional experiences buffers us from experiencing negative psychological effects, including making us less likely to experience depression in the face of a highly stressful situation.
How to know what you are not accepting
“What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” Carl Jung
If you aren’t sure what you are and aren’t accepting in life, look at what areas of life always seem to be more, instead of less, of a problem.
- What/who are you always trying to improve or change?
- Where or with whom are you always in conflict?
- Is there something/someone that always makes you defensive? “No, but…”?
- What/who leaves you experiencing feelings of resentment?
- Or gives you a never-ending sense of fatigue?
- What/who are you always going out of your way to avoid?
- What/who do you complain about constantly?
Make a list of everything you know about this person or situation. What are you okay with, and what do you find unbearable? Of the things you marked as unbearable, are they really within your power to control or change? What could you just accept as is? If you can’t accept this person/situation, why are you sticking with it and not moving on?
Myths about acceptance you need to know
What are the myths about accepting things that you need to know?
1. Accepting what is is not resignation.
photo by: Jeffery Erhunse
It is not about saying, ‘it is what it is, and that’s that’. It’s rather clearly seeing a situation for what it is, including acknowledging (not denying) the power you do have to change things.
2. Acceptance is not laziness or weakness.
It’s not lazy to accept what is. It takes courage, focus, and honesty. And again, it’s not about accepting what is so that you can do nothing, but so that you know what your options really are.
3. Acceptance is not accepting abuse.
This is where acceptance can be used incorrectly and is NOT a good thing. If we use it as an excuse to stay in an abusive situation, it’s not acceptance, it’s self-sabotage.
It is never acceptable to be abused, whether that is verbal abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or financial abuse. If you are in an abusive situation, seek support.
4. Accepting what is is not letting yourself off the hook.
To the contrary, it can mean taking responsibility for a situation. When we accept what is over what we want to tell ourselves is, then we have to also by default accept how we got to this place in our lives.
One of the main reasons we can avoid accepting what is is to stay mired in the victim mentality. We avoid accepting that our relationship is beyond repair, for example, because we are hooked on feeling sorry for ourselves. To accept that it’s time to leave would mean accepting we have made a bad choice.
The incredible benefits of acceptance
The benefits of acceptance can be:
A bit about self-acceptance
photo by: Fares Hamouche
What if it’s yourself you can’t accept? That all your conflict is with the critical voice in your head?
You are in good company; a large-scale survey by UK charity Action for Happiness found that almost a half of Brits rated themselves very low on acceptance. And the less we accept ourselves, the more we tend to judge others.
Lack of self-acceptance does not come out of nowhere. It tends to come from a childhood where we weren’t taught our own value. We had to ‘earn’ love by being pleasing, or lived with a critical, demanding caregiver. Which leads onto the next point.
Resisting the past
One of the areas we resist – and at a very high cost — is the past. We resist accepting that we experienced a childhood trauma, or received poor parenting, and felt unloved. And we spend a great amount of energy repressing our feelings of sadness and rage.
The result is things like difficulty with relationships, constant fatigue and distraction, addictive behaviours like alcohol abuse or overeating, and an inability to live up to our potential.
Accepting the past for what it is can seem terrifying. We can worry it will overwhelm us entirely. Or that by accepting it we are condoning it, when what happened is simply not acceptable. Or we might simply worry about what people would think if they knew.
But accepting the past allows us to stop it from constantly colouring our present and future. Acceptance becomes the line in the sand. “It ends here”.
Of course it’s not done in a day. It takes courage, commitment, and hard work, preferably with a therapist who can create a safe space to remember and feel, and can help you stabilise your life to support you better as you process the past.
What types of therapy can help me with accepting what is?
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) has acceptance as a core concept.
Compassion-focused therapy is great if you need to accept yourself, and by so doing expand your capacity to accept others.
And cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you recognise your negative, unhelpful thoughts and turn them into more balanced and useful ones.
Ready to stop resisting and start accepting? Harley Therapy connects you with top-rated London-based therapists who are happy to help. Alternatively, find an affordable UK registered therapist or online counsellor via our booking platform.
Andrea M. Darcy is a health and wellbeing expert, trained in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and advises people on how to plan their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy