Whenever events or relationships do not turn out the way you imagined or thought, it’s only natural to feel some degree of disappointment, perhaps also grief, frustration, or anger, and other fear-based emotions. Regardless whether the emotion is directed toward your self or another, it can hurt.
Did you know, however, that it is how you respond to disappointments, and not how hurtful the events or outcomes themselves were, that determines the extent to which they may harm or prosper you and your life?
Your responses have life shaping power over the direction of your personal life and relationships. And one of the most powerful responses is one characterized by acceptance, i.e., a conscious opening of your heart to understanding what happened, self and others, what you can and cannot change, and so on.
What is conscious acceptance?
Conscious acceptance is a learned skill that, when cultivated, brings an essential quality of emotional balance into your life. From this place, you experience the power you have, at any given moment, to flow and keep flowing like a mighty river in life.
Acceptance liberates your brain to work optimally. It focuses your emotional energy, so you may better access the amazing powers of your cerebral cortex to reflect on possibilities, opt for wise choices, make changes, etc., rather than succumb to the lures and snares of reactivity, limiting beliefs, rigid or toxic thinking, etc., which can imprison the mind and imagination.
This is beautifully summarized in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
It is natural to have expectations for what you want, how you want your life or relationships to be, and so on, whether personally and professionally. Some of these yearnings are hardwired; others soft wired. It is also natural, however, to experience disappointments, and learn to deal with them is paramount to your success in any area of your life. Obstacles and challenges are inevitable on the path to realizing your wants, yearnings and aspirations – your response deterines whether they turn into impediments or springboards to realizing what you, as a human being, really, really want – happiness.
Having expectations, and experiencing disappointments on the way to attaining them, work together like oxygen and water – or a pair of pliers. What could be more natural? Have you known any one that experienced great success without being transformed by facing obstacles in their way? (If you have, you may be lying to yourself, believing someone’s lies, or both.)
A healthy mix of emotions can fire up momentum and deepen passion in healthy ways. You may not like facing a disappointment. In fact, ‘not liking’ can actually energize the passion you need to make changes.
Unless checked, however, fear-rooted emotions can quickly take over the imagination, and in the process, subconsciously control what you think, feel and do. Defensive reactions can turn disappointments into hatred or resentment, for example, putting you are at risk of activating your body’s protective reaction – the parasympathetic nervous system.
When emotions of despair, rage and the like take over, they can keep you stuck in problem behaviors and interactions. At best, they are a huge waste of energy.
Your willingness to be accepting of what is acknowledges that the only place you can build is always where you are standing. Growing your capacity for ‘conscious acceptance’ is key to taking charge of ‘how’ you respond in critical situations that personally disappoint you, and doing so wisely.
Not unlike solving equations, acceptance is a balancing factor in resolving life issues or day to day frustrations.
Ineffective Responses to Disappointment?
When disappointment or other painful emotions drive the bus of life, frustration tends to be expressed in one of two ways. It’s either exploded outwardly to blast others, more often, loved ones – or it’s kept mostly hidden inside, stewing and simmering, perhaps with occasional sudden and unexpected outbursts.
Thus, overall, some persons primarily express their disappointment (and lower their own anxiety) through actions that hurt, blame, or scorn others – and others achieve the same primarily by internalizing the hurt, directing hurt and blame toward themselves.
Naturally, both approaches are harmful, ineffective, and provide only temporary relief. They deepen pools of resentment, harm relationships, and cause unnecessary personal suffering, emotional, mental and physical.
Conscious acceptance, in contrast, gives access to the understanding you need to potentially transform what is at the root of disappointment – grief, fear and anger – into positive energy, in ways that can sustain your momentum though challenging moments in life.
Why grief, fear and anger?
- Grief because the brain is hardwired for happiness and meaningful connections to life, thus, propels you subconsciously to do everything you can to not miss out on the best life offers. Grief expresses a sense of loss felt when you lose a connection to some one or some thing that brought meaning to your life.
- Fear because you’re also hardwired to seek to grow the courage you need to love authentically with your whole heart, and that requires you to develop your capacity to feel vulnerable, face your fears and vulnerabilities, mistakes and failures, and transform them into assets, rather than allow them to discourage you, or weaken your self-image or belief in yourself and abilities. Paradoxically, the ability to be open and vulnerable is a key strength in building healthy relationships.
- Anger because you are hardwired to take creative action — and anger energizes low levels of stress to give you the momentum you need to get past obstacles, thus, climb the mountains you need to realize your potential to manifest your dreams.
Acceptance allows you to work together with your Life or the Universe. It’s not unusual for persons to get what they want, and yet still be unhappy, because they focus on what they lack, the details of what they do ‘not’ have. Absent the understanding and wisdom of approaching life with acceptance, emotions of grief, anger and fear can can be negatively intensified by toxic thinking, harsh judgments or limiting beliefs, etc., to form pockets of hatred and rage, or even pools of resentment and bitterness — all of which can keep you stuck in the past, thus, disconnected from creative sources of energy that can energize a forward momentum.
If you give disappointment that kind of power — and, yes, you have a complete say in the matter — it can imprison the mind with lies and illusions, tricking you into blaming others or circumstances for your own unfulfilled expectations or lulling you into believing that, just “because things did not turn out” the way you expected, it somehow means others or life is “against you” and things will “never turn out” for you.
Resentment builds stagnant pools of energy inside, which, like stagnant waters, squeeze out life as there is little or no flow of fresh energy ebbing in and out.
Wow! What a huge mistake that would be to not stop that from happening.
Conscious acceptance as a bridge to a life of balance?
Disappointments can be assets, depending on how you deal with them. What decides how you respond is the extent to which you can apply ‘conscious acceptance’ to balance the equations of life.
The point of power is always in the present moment. Your life can be your own creation. One of the most brilliant minds, Carl Jung, put it this way: “”I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
The experience of disappointment doesn’t have to be a burden that lingers like a visitor who overstays their welcome. The beauty of an unfulfilled yearning is that, if you look past the frustration, you may find a bridge to a place that is filled with other energy choices, such as understanding and compassion, gratitude and appreciation, harmony and peace of mind, faith and hope, love and joy – all of which can be useful to get you though challenging moments.
All of the treasures you’ve been yearning to find, right? This bridge is the emotional experience of conscious acceptance.
The practice of conscious acceptance can help you better understand your self and feelings of grief, fear and anger and, potentially, transform them into the assets they are designed to be.
Believe it or not, you can be happy … just because. Just because, for example:
- It is healthy for your mind and body.
- It frees you to ponder the limitless possibilities for solving problems.
- It energizes creative energies you need to create the beautifully fabulous life experiences you desire — right where you are.
So how do you put this into practice? In the next post, Part 2, we explore four aspects of acceptance to cultivate a practice of conscious acceptance.