Often, much of the misery we feel in life (the suffering) comes from resisting what is. This then falls into two categories, what we can change and what we can’t change.
Spinning around these two categories are judgments of what is (or what isn’t), generally couched in phrases like, “X SHOULD be…!” Or, “X SHOULDN’T be…!” And, yet, here we are, confronted with something indicating its the opposite, refusing to accept it. Stubbornly. And suffering for it.
So how to change things so we aren’t in mental pain?
We accept what is.
It’s necessary to pause here and point out that acceptance in this line of thinking doesn’t mean acquiescence. Giving up. Allowance. Acceptance, in this manner, means realizing what we have power over and what we have no power over. It’s is the first step towards healing and change, either from within or in our immediate surroundings.
You also don’t have to like what you’re accepting. Adopt a “Pollyanna”-like way of thinking. In fact, you can accept something you loathe. And then, when you do, you can do one of two things: Take action to make a change (if you have power over it), or let it go (if you don’t have power over it.)
I realize doing so is challenging. So here are six ways you can practice acceptance, even if you feel like you can’t. (And here’s the interesting thing: accepting that you cannot accept something is still acceptance.)
6. Accept that you can’t, for right now. At all. Practice this until you reach a point where you can.
Notice the phrase “for right now”. It’s a powerful collection of three little words. An equally-powerful single word you can use is “yet”.
Think of a current situation you’re struggling with. Something that seems unacceptable. Doesn’t matter what it is. Now, notice:
- Is it something I can change? (“I” being “you”.)
- Is it something I can’t change?
- Is this something I have power over?
- Is this something I have no power over?
So let’s say that this situation is something you can change, something you have power over, but it still feels unacceptable to you. Even impossibly unacceptable. (Keeping in mind that if you tell yourself it’s impossible to change, it’s impossible to change because you’re programming yourself to keep it impossible to change by telling yourself it’s impossible to change.)
Now, say out loud:
“Right now, I can’t accept what’s happened.”
“I can’t accept what’s happened—yet.”
Now, pay attention to how you feel internally when you say those phrases out loud. Does the situation still feel impossible to accept? Or was there a small, even tiny, change towards the possibility that you can?
If you can’t…yet…accept the situation—right now—ask yourself if you can accept that you cannot accept it and pay attention to any internal shift. If you still can’t, ask yourself if you can accept that you can’t accept that you can’t accept (yet). Keep going backwards until you reach something you can accept.
And if you still can’t, that’s okay. Accept that. Meaning: You can accept that something is unacceptable.
5. Ask yourself what acceptance means to you.
Is acceptance somehow a negative? Do you see it as saying that what’s happened is something you can ignore? Something kosher? Something that is full of societal etiquette even though it’s horrible?
Or does acceptance mean a relief from a burden you’re carrying unnecessarily?
Acceptance is the first step towards healing. Without question. Acceptance gives you the power to change—either your internal reaction to what’s happening or has happened, and/or the ability to take action steps to change a situation.
You can change the landscaping and color of your home, but you cannot change the landscaping and coloring of your neighbor’s home. Even if you think it’s ugly. You have about as much luck influencing your neighbor’s choices as you do how a tree decides to grow.
4. Ask yourself when you might be able to feel more accepting.
If you’re in a situation that you simply cannot accept (yet), ask yourself when you might be able to do so. This is borrowed from The Sedona Method. In a nutshell, it’s about giving yourself permission to not change in the moment, but setting yourself up to realize you might want to in the near future.
Forcing yourself to initiate change or acceptance when you don’t feel it is not going to work. At least not well. That’s why it comes back to what I suggest above: Accepting that you cannot accept X situation (yet or right now). You can even accept that maybe you never will.
As you can see, there are levels of acceptance. And, again, it’s like what I said above: Keep moving backwards until you reach a point you can accept.
3. Ask yourself what the payoff is for not accepting what is (or isn’t).
“Payoff” doesn’t mean feeling good, necessarily. If you continue a behavior, even one that leaves you feeling unhappy or you know isn’t healthy (find me a smoker that is fully convinced it’s as healthy a habit as drinking water and eating well), there’s some kind of payoff happening, a reward, most likely on an unconscious level.
Once, I had a client tell me that the reason he refused to accept (or, in his case, forgive) something that happened to him was that he’d convinced himself not doing so somehow punished the individual who had acted against him…and that he could some how change what had happened. Of course, this wasn’t happening. The “payoff” was the belief that he could create suffering in the other person.
“But then I realized that he had no idea what was going on,” my client said. “The only person who was suffering was me. I also thought by accepting what happened all that time ago was letting him off the hook.”
By accepting he couldn’t change what had happened (and that he had no power over the other person’s suffering, only his own), he was able to move forward.
So what’s your internal payoff, do you think, for not accepting a current (or past) situation? Is the payoff beneficial, or merely causing you more pain?
2. Ask yourself what you’re resisting about the situation.
This is connected to the payoff. Resisting a situation, past or present, resisting acceptance adds further suffering.
What is it about what’s happening that makes it seem like you can’t accept it? Even work towards it? Does it feel like you’re giving up? Acquiescing? Giving in?
Are you perhaps resisting acceptance because people are telling you to “get over it” and “move on”? (This is a common and very dismissive comment.)
On one hand, someone telling you this may be speaking a truth. Is that possible?
I do want to be clear that I’m not saying to “get over” whatever it is and move on. It’s possible you can’t. It’s possible you may never want to. And that’s okay. What I am saying is that if you are in a place where you can’t accept something, to allow for that. It’s okay to accept you can’t accept something.
That’s the best I can do at times. And if you can’t or don’t want to accept something, that’s all right. Just be mindful that resisting that it’s okay not to accept something adds more suffering.
In other words: You have permission, fully so, to not accept something. Maybe someday you can and will. But when (and if) you do is wholly up to you.
1. Ask yourself why a situation is unacceptable, while next exploring what you can do about it.
This would either be from within (your reaction to it, including the amount of resistance and suffering you’re generating), and/or action steps you can take.
And, again, you can accept that something is unacceptable. Because this is what gives you the power to make new choices of action or reaction.
- Someone accepts that they find it unacceptable that there’s animal abuse. So they start a non-profit organization to generate awareness and shelters.
- Someone accepts they find it unacceptable that there are laws being proposed (and passed) that they feel are abusive to human rights. So they start an organization to bring awareness to why they feel this way.
- Someone finds it unacceptable that the homeless in their city are dying of cold in winter and heat during summers. So they start an organization to find unused land to build tiny houses out of discarded pallets and shipping containers to create shelter.
You can also find all those situations unacceptable, but decide not to take action steps to fix them. It all comes down to what you feel you can personally do. There are many situations I agree are unacceptable, but I don’t feel there’s anything I can personally do to change them. And so I let them go and focus on what I feel I can change.
And that’s something I can accept. Even if I can’t.
Questions? Comments? Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum.