Thursday, May 15, 2014
Acceptance Does Not Mean Resignation
Every day, we are bombarded with messages that cultivate dissatisfaction with our lives and selves. Our culture valorizes a particular type of achievement, and we’re told not to “settle” for second best. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and being ambitious. But what do we do with ourselves in the meantime? Are we not OK until we have that prestigious job or perfect body?
We tend to confuse “acceptance” with “resignation.” Acceptance becomes equated with settling for less or giving up. “I’ll never stop eating.” “I’ll never find a partner.” “I’ll be alone forever.”
Acceptance means simply acknowledging the reality of a situation. Accepting the job you have today does not mean that your career has come to a screeching halt. Accepting that you’ve had to downsize to a small apartment does not mean that you’re stuck in your hovel forever. But why, then, does this all become so messy? Why do we resist? And why do we resort to self-blame or judgment?
Acceptance of Relationships
Think about your relationships with your family of origin, partner, friends, or coworkers. How much time do you spend wishing the relationships were different? How often are you disappointed or even heart-broken when the same scripts play over and over. By accepting the relationships as they are, we can calm this inner battle and alleviate some of our suffering. If your parent can be counted on to make a snide comment about your body, then you can plan and respond more effectively.
Acceptance does not mean we’re giving people permission to mistreat or abuse us. In fact, it’s just the opposite--we’re letting go of a fantasy and turning our energy inward toward self-protection and making decisions with clear eyes.
Most of our relationships are a mix of good and bad. Acceptance helps us put the “bad” in context so we can focus on the good aspects. We can also then set realistic expectations of our friends and family. If we accept that our mother loves to boil vegetables to within an inch of their lives, then we won’t be disappointed when she serves us pasty zucchini. Or perhaps we can offer to bring the side dish!
Acceptance of Our Bodies and Emotions
Given the messages we constantly receive about how our bodies “should” look, acceptance of our physical appearance can be tough. But it’s true--we don’t have to hate our bodies. We can accept our curves, our knobby knees, our weird toes no matter what the magazines say. When we don’t--when we tell ourselves we can’t be happy until we look a certain way--then we’re sending ourselves a message of self-hatred. If we need to make changes for our health, self-hatred does not help that process, in fact, it hinders it.
It can be difficult to let go of the fantasy of the “perfect body.” But genetics jumps in with its own plan, often conflicting with our ability to precisely sculpt ourselves. Accepting that our DNA has come together to form us as we are helps us appreciate all the intricacies of our body. Our form is the the visual representation of our family history. We carry the eyes, ears, noses, skin tones, hips, thighs, bellies, and so forth of generations that came before us, so our bodies are precious and deserve our tender loving care.
Emotions can be just as challenging to accept. We’re often told how we should feel and we can then become disconnected with our own emotional experience. We resist the tears that well up; we deny anger when our hands shake. We resist grief when we think we should just “get over” a painful loss.
We’re all born with a range of sensitivities and tender spots. Denying our vulnerabilities does not protect us from being hurt. And negating our strengths diminishes our spirits. The sadness, anger, or fears do not just go away quietly as we white knuckle through a difficult moment. The emotion inevitably returns with more intensity than before.
Acceptance is not a final destination but rather a process. When we connect with our own compassion and curiosity, we’re able to acknowledge an experience, thought, or feeling without judgment. We gain perspective and objectivity to see nuances previously hidden behind self-blame and resistance. Acknowledging that we’re stuck helps pry us loose.
So take a deep breath and dip a toe in the waters of acceptance. Pick something small and see how it feels to say “I accept ____ just as it is.” Once you’ve had some practice, move on to more vulnerable areas. Note emotions that churn and keep breathing. Let the judgmental thoughts float by like clouds, reminding yourself that your value remains constant no matter how much you weigh, where you work, or what your relationship status is.
Acceptance is a gift of kindness; take it in and enjoy!
Nancy is in the Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Northeastern IL University in Chicago. She is currently a graduate intern at The Awakening Center.