What do you need to accept?

A common theme among people who are challenged to make positive changes in their lives is an inability or unwillingness to accept what is happening now or what has happened in the past. People struggling with self-defeating behaviours are often described as being in “denial”.  Acceptance is the way through denial.

How does denial show up? Common examples that I come across:

  • I have to say yes to new requests, even though my workload is unmanageable
  • I have to stay in this relationship even though it’s harming me … things will get better if I just try harder
  • I have to stay in this job; it’s really not that bad. I can deal with the stress.
  • I don’t have a problem with alcohol, I can stop any time
  • My daily use of marijuana is OK, it helps me to relax. It’s not an addiction
  • Everybody has credit card debt – I can handle it
  • I can control my eating… I’ll start a new diet next week
  • I will win it all back next time I’m at the casino

Acceptance is the first step toward understanding, clarity, healing and taking positive action. People who are struggling often receive over-simplified advice like, “just let it go”. You can’t “let something go” until you have accepted its reality.  Sometimes the trickiest bit is to identify what the “it” is that we need to let go.

rowling quote

Compounding this is that often, the events that are causing us misery today happened long, long ago. As the layers of resentment pile on, we are weighed down by them, and they emerge as low energy, fatigue, irritability, difficulty coping or concentrating.  Sometimes buried resentments are signaled by anxiety or depression.

A wise person once told me that “the only way out is through”. In other words, we have to experience the buried, negative emotions in order to release them, heal and move on. As long as the negative emotions remain buried, we will be driven to cope with them in unhealthy ways. Examples of this maladaptive coping include substance abuse, numbing through compulsive behaviours or self-harm.

Acceptance does not imply that you agree with or condone what happened. It doesn’t even require forgiveness, although the latter is a prerequisite to serenity. Forgiveness requires acceptance.

What are some things that people have difficulty accepting?  Significant changes or losses. The inherently flawed nature of all humans and all relationships. Acceptance of our selves and others as imperfect.  Acceptance that we are making choices that are harming us. Acceptance that others have harmed us.past can be changed

There’s a reason that acceptance is the first step in twelve-step traditions. Accepting what’s really happening now is the spring board to making positive change. Accepting what has happened in the past is the first step on your path to healing and serenity.

 Serenity is what we get when we quit hoping a better past

If you are concerned that your choices and behaviours are causing problems in your life, see if you can clarify what’s really happening and then work toward accepting it. You might talk to a friend or write in a journal about the feelings that come up for you. It might be helpful to seek counselling to help you to get clear about what’s happening in your life and identify what it is that you need to work through and let go.  I have yet to work with a client who wishes they had waited a little longer to seek support.

Delay is the deadliest form of denial (C.N. Parkinson)