Imagine that you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway, with glowing tail lights stretching ahead of you for miles. You anticipate that it will take at least another hour to get to your destination.
You’ve been up since 5:00 a.m., your work day was hectic, it’s now 7:00 p.m., you haven’t eaten since noon, and you feel frustrated and impatient.
What do you do? Yes, you could honk your car horn. You could utter a few (or more) choice obscenities. You could cast angry glances and gestures at nearby drivers. You could mentally beat up on yourself for not taking a job closer to home.
Or you could try accepting your situation.
It turns out that this final option may be your most powerful and effective choice.
- Acceptance requires us to develop some humility, whether it’s the state of the world, our neighborhood, our colleagues, neighbors, or family members which upsets us. With acceptance, we acknowledge that we are not in charge of the show and that we are not the director of the world. We are reminded to practice “right-sizedness”.
- Acceptance helps us to be aware of our experience as it actually is, rather than how we would like it to be. Acceptance does not necessarily imply that we agree with or condone a behavior or situation. This stance is sometimes referred to as “life on life’s terms” or “it is what it is”.
- Acceptance helps us become better problem solvers. Maybe we are loathe to accept that we have an addiction problem, or that our job no longer fulfills us. However, once we acknowledge reality, rather than staying in denial or resistance, we are in a better position to consider our options and choose an appropriate action plan. After all, rejecting reality does not change reality.
- Acceptance supports our emotional and physical health. Resistance or denial can throw our equilibrium dramatically out of whack, due to the stress we create when we say, through our thoughts, feelings, words, or behavior, that “this is something I cannot stand”. With acceptance, we’re likely to have a lot more energy at our disposal, because we no longer have to exert effort trying to avoid, deny, or push away our feelings or skirt a scary situation.
- Acceptance contributes to healthier relationships. Acceptance allows us to assert our own needs, while also accepting that someone else may feel differently from us, for instance, and while understanding why they might feel that way. This approach paves the way for mutual respect and cooperation, as opposed to the “my way or the highway” perspective.
- Acceptance is one of the four options we have when facing a challenging situation. We can either leave something, change it, accept, it or stay miserable, as pointed out by psychologist Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Sometimes we’re not in a position to alter something or walk away, so acceptance becomes our only viable choice if we want to live with some degree of contentment and equanimity.
- Accepting our feelings helps us to know ourselves better. Our feelings give us and other people valuable information about what’s important to us, and to try and police our emotions can result in our being estranged from ourselves and not sure who we are. Without accepting our feelings, we cut ourselves off from our Emotion Mind, which, together with our Rational Mind and Wise Mind, help us to make healthy decisions.
- Acceptance reduces the chances that feelings will resurface at a later time, due to our not resolving the issue the first time around. It’s been said that “when you bury feelings, you bury them alive”. Acknowledging our emotions, without being overwhelmed by them or denying them, is an important aspect of self-compassion, without which it can be almost impossible to live with ourselves.
- Acceptance is a form of forgiveness. To quote comedian Lily Tomlin, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past”. Whether it’s something that happened long ago, a current quandary, or a concern about the future, with acceptance we are better equipped to let go of bitterness and its attendant suffering.
- Acceptance frees us from analysis paralysis. Often we go round and round in circles trying to figure out why something is the way it is. This can go on for years, with or without therapy. The first step to moving forward is acceptance of reality.
- Acceptance contributes to inner peace. When we “let it go” or “let it be”, we relax into reality. We are more able to appreciate all aspects of a situation, without judgment.
- Acceptance can be a gesture of gratitude. Instead of assuming the role of a victim and “why did this happen to me”, we can choose to say (sometimes with gritted teeth), “Thank you for this experience. I will learn what I can from it. I will be part of the solution.”
- Acceptance strengthens us psychologically. If we avoid feelings or a situation, our “courage” muscle atrophies, and we become weaker over time. We also become more inclined to avoid things in the future, due to our avoidance becoming more and more of an engrained habit. When we accept something, we stand our ground, and we learn that we can indeed take what we thought we couldn’t take. This builds our courage, which we’ll need for the next challenge that comes along.
- Acceptance is an assertion of control, in that we are choosing our attitude and our actions. Once we accept a situation, complete with the uncomfortable feelings this entails, we can shift our attention to what we need to do to live in accordance with our chosen values. We can let go of lamenting the problem and instead say to ourselves, “Okay, this is how it is. I see the situation clearly, and I may not like it, but what am I going to do about it?”
Try saying “Yes, and…” to life, rather than “No”, regardless of your circumstance or uncomfortable feelings. Fully take in what’s going on, internally and externally. And then take choose to do what is within your power to do.