“There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.” – Tara Brach
Acceptance has become an increasingly important concept for building resilience and maintaining mental wellness. Although it has a long history in spiritual practices, acceptance has more recently become a cornerstone for mindfulness practice as well as therapy approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Acceptance involves recognizing a process or condition without attempting to change it or protest against it. It means that we can see our own experiences clearly and also let whatever we see be what it is without pushing it away. This is much different from fighting against our experience or judging our experience as good or bad. It is also much different from avoidance or neglecting our responsibility to take care of ourselves or others.
Acceptance is a powerful way to cope with suffering. Perhaps the best example can be seen in the role of acceptance for coping with anxiety. If you practice being more accepting of your anxious feelings and thoughts, you will notice that they become less distressing and gradually diminish.
A concrete way to shift toward a more accepting stance involves a shift in our thinking. For example, rather than thinking, “I need to fight off this anxiety,” focus instead on thoughts such as, “I am aware of feeling anxious, but I have been here before and I know it will pass.”
Overall, it takes both trust and patience to develop an accepting stance toward our suffering. Therefore, it is perhaps most helpful to think of this approach as a practice that you can work on daily as you shift your relationship to the various forms of suffering or distress in your life.
These two steps are helpful for practicing acceptance:
First, notice your discomfort. Take a few deep breaths and pause for a moment. You may even comment to yourself on your discomfort as you identify and observe your experience. Keep this part simple as you practice observing the process around your distress. You may reflect to yourself, “ I’m starting to overthink this,” or “I’m starting to get myself worked up and I’m feeling more and more tense and anxious.”
Second, accept your discomfort. Using self-compassion, remind yourself that your distress is understandable. For example, it is natural to feel anxious when we experience a threat. Remind yourself that your thoughts are not facts and anxiety is a normal part of human experience. Accepting anxiety or suffering into your life is like accepting that it might rain when you’re trying to throw an outdoor party. Rain happens and we can do little to change that. Yet, a rainstorm does not last forever. Rain is a normal weather event just as our emotions and periods of distress are normal human events.
Although anxiety is a great example and a helpful place to start, acceptance can be applied to all forms of distress or suffering. As you work toward incorporating more acceptance into your life, practice speaking to yourself as if you were speaking to a best friend or family member. Remind yourself that emotions come and go. Remind yourself that all things are impermanent and always changing. Remind yourself that suffering is an inherent part of being human and you are not alone.
As you work towards greater acceptance you may notice a greater sense of freedom. You may also notice a shift in the way you approach everyday challenges as you develop an expanded capacity to deal with problems as they arise.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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