Why acceptance is essential.

Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.

William James

 It sounds simple enough, but there’s a difference between simply acknowledging what you’ve been through and accepting it 100%.

Victor Meldrew, a character in the British sitcom, One Foot in the Grave, had a catchphrase: I don’t believe it!

Do you ever find yourself exclaiming, ‘Unbelievable!’? (Usually about something you’d rather not have happened)

Of course, what is can’t be anything other than believable; but we can struggle to accept this fact. Non-acceptance of what is causes resistance, which can at best keep you stuck and at worst shroud you in denial.

It took me more than ten years (and six months of intensive CBT) to realise that I hadn’t accepted what I’d been through. I fully acknowledged the occurrence of the traumatic event, however there was an underlying sense of ‘this should never have happened’. My inability to get past the grotesqueness of my experience paralysed me; every time I recalled a memory associated with that time I literally shook my head in disbelief. I had been so terrified that my way of coping was to resist reality.

Working through those memories with a therapist helped me to process them; I realised that rather than put my life back to how it was pre-trauma (which was what I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to do), I had alternatives. My therapist loaned me a copy of Stephen Joseph’s What Doesn’t Kill Us and I learned about the ‘shattered vase theory’:

When adversity strikes, people often feel that at least some part of them – be it their views of the world, their sense of themselves, their relationships – has been smashed. Some people try to put their lives back together exactly as they were. But like a vase which is held together by glue and sticky tape they remain fractured and vulnerable. In contrast, those who accept the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living.

That made a lot of sense to me and I resolved to restore my life with what was available to me rather than trying to recover what was lost forever.

Adopting the concept of acceptance, then, makes life easier and opens our minds to solutions to the inevitable challenges that life will put on our path. But what about acceptance of the self? If we don’t accept ourselves, we can’t fully accept others; this leads to judgement and criticism. If you find yourself judging or criticising others, try reflecting on whether or not your annoyance is a projection of something you find unacceptable about yourself.

Western society is becoming increasingly obsessed with appearance, with regard to the physical as well as the psychological; everything has to look good. Advertisements for ‘anti-aging’ potions proliferate in the media; women, in particular, pay to be injected with poison in an effort to keep their faces wrinkle-free and endure other painful cosmetic procedures to attain the ‘perfect’ body.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the best of what you’ve got as long as you know where to draw the line; it’s when people go to extremes to achieve ‘beauty’ or maintain a youthful image that I start to wonder what’s really motivating them. It can be because of a tendency to compare yourself with others, which is also a rejection of who you are. You can only compare like with like; we are all unique, therefore can’t possibly make valid comparisons of ourselves with other people.

Everybody ages, no matter how hard they try to prevent it. And we are all fallible. These are universal givens of life, part of the human condition: to oppose our human reality is deluded, to say the least, and it ultimately victimises us. Fear is then telling the story, and fear-driven stories are limiting.

I know people whose lives are success stories according to society’s norms – a builder, an accountant, a journalist – but who drink to the extent that the term ‘alcoholic’ is applicable. I’ve put away more than my fair share of booze in the past, and know that I drank to self-medicate; alcohol numbed the emotional pain that I couldn’t bear to feel and that I’d hidden deep inside. I can’t say whether the alcoholics I know drink for the same reason, but it’s safe to assume that anyone who anaesthetises themselves in this way is trying to escape some part of their reality. In this way, material achievements become meaningless.

The way things appear, then, can often belie reality. Are you wearing a mask, telling a cover-story that is suffocating your truth? Practicing acceptance helps you start to reconnect with your essential self, where it’s okay to be exactly who you are. If you can reach a state of approval of yourself, others’ opinions of you become insignificant. When your essential nature takes centre stage, you can impact the world in a positive way.

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