“Even the unacceptable is acceptable.”– Lao Tzu
Sometimes life is just hard. Sometimes things just feel stressful no matter what we do. Obstacles or unexpected difficulties come up from time to time that
When this happens, it can be easy to become discouraged or overwhelmed. We feel powerless. We ask, how can I feel better? How can I feel happy again? How can I feel better about myself?
But here’s where we get into trouble: forgetting that we actually always have the power of choice. We can choose how to interpret and respond to situations; choose what we think about, what we tell ourselves, and how we act.
One of my favorite quotes is from
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The freedom to choose your mindset is something that no event, no circumstance, no person can ever take away from you.
In this case, we’re going to explore the choice to accept, and I’ll explain in more detail what that means.
But first, think back to a time when you were struggling; a time when everything just felt hard, when you were in a
Maybe it was a time in the past, or maybe it’s happening now. In either
I also love the Lao Tzu quote above from the Tao Te Ching (often called the “wisest book ever written”). Well over 2,000 years ago, Lao Tzu spoke to something universal and timeless that each one of us still has to contend with: What is our relationship to what is?
In other words, when we call something “unacceptable,” or even have a vague thought or belief that something is unacceptable, we’re resisting it. And resistance creates suffering, struggle, frustration, tension, heartache
Maybe you’ve heard this one from the great psychologist Carl Jung:
“What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
This is because resistance requires energy. By putting your energy and focus on whatever you’re resisting, you’re giving it your time, effort and mental capacity. It
What you put your attention on grows—positive or negative.
Now, it’s important to emphasize that I’m not saying you should simply ignore things. But consider for a minute the difference between pain and suffering.
Pain is stubbing your toe, getting burned, losing a loved one. In other words, pain happens. It’s a natural part of life. However, suffering can be thought of as pain amplified, sustained, and prolonged. Suffering (although most of us experience this too) is not actually necessary. Suffering stems from resistance and struggling against whatever is painful or difficult. It’s calling something “unacceptable.”
Sometimes in therapy, “when all else fails” so-to-speak, it can be helpful and even transformative for people to learn and practice a concept called “radical acceptance.”
Marsha Linehan, the founder of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)–one of the most widely used and supported evidenced-based approaches in psychotherapy–explains radical acceptance this way:
“Radical means all the way, complete and total. It is accepting in your mind, your heart, and your body. It is when you stop fighting reality, stop throwing tantrums because reality is not the way you want it, and let go of bitterness.”
It’s also important to understand what radical acceptance is NOT.
Radical acceptance is NOT:
Rather, it’s simply acknowledging the reality of something, whether you like it or not, and then figuring out what to do from there.
Another way to understand this concept is to picture a plane going down in a tailspin. It’s plummeting toward the earth in a downward spiral. If you were piloting this plane, your first instinct may be to fight and strain and struggle to regain control–to do anything you can to muscle that plane back to stability. But the way to safely correct and keep the plane flying is actually to let go of the controls, in order for the plane to recover and right itself naturally.
When you can accept the reality of something that’s unpleasant on the surface, you open yourself to possibilities of learning, growing, and changing for the better.
There are many benefits to acceptance:
But the best way to experience the benefits is to try it for yourself.
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