What is acceptance?
Psychological acceptance is a habit of mind in which unwelcome experiences are not resisted or rejected, but accepted for what they are. Such experiences include life events, as well as the thoughts and feelings that come with them. The basic attitude is that setbacks and sorrows are an integral part of human experience, just as are the good moments.
Acceptance doesn’t mean thinking that bad experiences are OK. Just that they do happen. Another way of putting this is that resilient people see things the way they are, not as they wish they might be. In a crisis they deal they face the facts head on rather than hiding from them. This makes them hard realists.
In the same way resilient people see negative thoughts and painful emotions as another feature of human experience, this time rooted in the way the brain works. On average each human being will have about 6000 thought chains each day; some negative, some helpful. It is to be accepted that we will get some of each. Here acceptance doesn’t mean we have to take negative thoughts seriously – instead we can gently defuse from them, focusing instead on thoughts that can make a difference.
So far as emotions are concerned, since they are a vital part of the dialogue each person has with her body, emotions are to be accepted as conveying important information about life experiences. To be accepted, listened to with respect, and acted upon appropriately.
People who don’t practice mind control can get lost in thoughts about existence (wishing it were different), the future (hope it doesn’t happen) and about problems (wish they weren’t there). Resilient people live in the present and, mostly, focus on making the present work. For this reason resilient people tend to be very clear-sighted; one reason why other people tend to go to them for advice.
How acceptance works
As problems in life emerge resilient people will do a number of inter-related things first:
- Look at what they can influence
- Ignore what they can’t influence
- Identify the best short-term outcome
- Focus on each small step, one at a time
- Look at thoughts rather than through them
- Check what their emotions are guiding them to do
- Connect to their values and priorities
The key to all these responses is not to hide away from problems but first to accept, then work through them. Operating on a can-do basis rather than from anxiety or despair.
Non-acceptance leads to a loss of resilience
Non-resilient people, by contrast, tend to engage in experiential avoidance. Based on a variety of dysfunctional responses to problems.
- Worrying that you won’t be able to cope
- Thinking about the worst that could happen
- Wishing that you didn’t have to go through this
The result is they will either avoid the problem, or will seek to distract themselves from it. Distractions can take the form of alcohol, drugs, entertainments, or material binges. They can also take the form of procrastination, over-thinking and the refusal to make a decision.
None of these reactions is realistic and none of them will help you take the next step forward. Acceptance focuses on actions to take; negative judgments keep you stuck in the theatre of your own mind.