As a therapist, I often hear, “How am I supposed to accept something I will NEVER be okay with?!” It’s a valid question. And it is easiest answered by discussing what acceptance is NOT. Acceptance is NOT being OKAY with something. Acceptance does NOT mean we can’t change. Acceptance is NOT agreeing with something. Acceptance is NOT approving of someone else’s poor behaviors. We often confuse acceptance with harmony or seeing eye-to-eye with someone else. Acceptance is NONE of these things.
True acceptance means that we acknowledge our reality just as it is in the present moment. It means we recognize our current circumstances and our pain as real. It means we stop fighting reality. Remember, radical acceptance doesn’t mean we can’t change; however, we must accept our reality in order to know what changes we need to make. Fighting our reality only leads to suffering.
Let’s talk about a real life example. Most of us have experienced the loss of a loved one. Acceptance would mean that we recognize and accept our pain as a natural and understandable response to this loss. It doesn’t mean we are okay with the loss; it means that we acknowledge that we did, in fact, lose someone we love. Acceptance would allow us to take the time we need to grieve, to feel sad, or even to feel angry. If we do not accept the loss, we are in danger of burying these feelings, denying our feelings, and not allowing ourselves the emotional release that is an important part of the grieving process. This unresolved grief will only lead to long-term suffering. In the end, although acceptance in this case does not feel good, it allows us to feel our pain, and with time, it allows us to lessen the pain.
One thing that I believe to be true is that no one goes through life unscathed. Pain is part of life. Once we can accept this, once we can lean into the vulnerability of acknowledging what is actually going on in our lives, we can begin to practice the true art of acceptance.