What is Acceptance?
It seems like an easy concept. Accepting something for what it is, should be simple, right. Even if we don’t accept something, then at least we still understand what it’s like to accept it. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that, but it is possible to explore the idea further and how it relates to embodiment and the truth.
Acceptance is simply being with that which is. We don’t look away and we don’t reject. We don’t start thinking of other things and we don’t try to imagine it to be something else. We don’t project and we don’t try to change that which is. We simply accept a fact, even if it’s painful and uncomfortable. We cannot grow as a person without first accepting the factors that held us back.
Acceptance is probably the most important and profound step in any healing process.
Acceptance is very powerful. Only once we are capable of accepting a problem in its entirety can we even start to solve it. We need to accept that other people have different opinions if we wish to have any meaningful discussion with them. We may also need to accept that our long-held opinions that we clung to for identity, were wrong. We need to accept that we have an illness before we can start treating it.
To accept something doesn’t mean we have to like it. We don;t need to admire it or hate it either. It is just what it is. Accepting is acknowledgement and recognition. It does not require an opinion.
Acceptance might mean that the very ideals we held true all our lives, were misleading and motivated by deep wounds. Accepting could therefore be one of the most painful things a human can experience—which shows how powerful it can be. It is when we accept that we did something wrong that we can move past the feeling of guilt towards reconciliation and redemption.
It might therefore come as no surprise that true acceptance is rare. Simply knowing a fact is not the same as accepting it. We often avoid the truth and turn it into something else in our minds. One might know that a friend you trusted lied to you, but it doesn’t mean you accept it. We might feel envious of others’ lifestyles, but it doesn’t mean that we accept our own envy. We’ll make up stories to justify our own attitude as if we had no choice. This is avoiding acceptance.
Acceptance is internal
You might think that taking a bribe, stealing for food or lying to protect someone is a form of acceptance of how the world works, but we’re actually capitulating. We give up part our own inner moral viewpoint in support of another goal. There may be situations where this is morally correct, but the difference is that the acceptance is in action only. It is expressed acceptance. If we are to be at peace with ourselves then acceptance must include internal acceptance of our own state of being.
Forgiveness can be an incredibly strong expression of acceptance of another person’s state of being. We forgive someone when we accept that they make mistakes and that it doesn’t define who they are. In exactly the same way, you accept that you are not defined by your past actions and you decide to forgive yourself. It’s a beautiful process and more difficult to do than we think. If we still feel terrible about our past actions and it affects the way we make choices in the future, then we haven’t forgiven ourselves yet. We haven’t accepted ourselves as we are.
What about belief? Is that also a form of acceptance? It could be if we choose to believe in that which is, but most of the time people form beliefs specifically because they don’t know have the full extent of facts. You could say that a search for truth is the search to reduce the need for belief such that we can accept it. Accepting that we don’t know the facts can be quite scary and make decision making difficult. Belief is therefore often a substitute for acceptance in the face of uncertainty. Our beliefs can be a great source of strength and motivation in these circumstances, but try to ask yourself what it is that you’re not accepting. A person might not know whether god exists, but believing in a god helps them tremendously. There is however great insight to be found within ourselves when we accept our reasons, fears and ignorance of that which is.
Acceptance and relationships
People are different in so many ways and understanding acceptance is again one of the most powerful tools to heal, strengthen and enrich our relationships with others. Accepting another person for who they are is how we love. True love accepts all aspects of that person, not just parts of them or projections of what we want them to be.
How do we wish to be accepted by our loved ones? If I told a loved one something secret about myself, then I hope they’d accept it. They might not like it, but in the very least I wish them to accept it for what it is and not try to deny it or accuse me. Acceptance is therefore best used when it is not conditional and done so in the present. If I decided not to accept a person for who they are, then they might not share anything with me again. Relationships struggle in these circumstances and it’s how people start distrusting each other and slowly drift apart.
If we disagree with someone then maybe it’s because we just aren’t accepting their point of view—a very common phenomenon. Both people probably have very good reasons for different opinions, but a solution or compromise is only possible with acceptance of the other person’s point of view. True communication requires acceptance.
Acceptance can however often be used as a judgement. For example, if someone decided to accept that a family member had a gambling problem, then it could be seen as a judgement. They pigeon-holed their family and will now only relate to them in a certain way. What happened here? In this situation the person is not accepting the reasons for their gambling problem and therefore not accepting them as they are. The idea of “who they are” is determined from a perspective of a final judgement and capitulation that healing is impossible. Acceptance is therefore only possible as starting point for change. It sounds like a contradiction, but any other option is simply a judgement.
Our own brain’s neural networks work very similarly. Many mental health issues have been healed when patients accepted themselves and their experiences for what they were.
But what should we accept, exactly?
In complex situations it is not always clear what it is we’re accepting, or should be accepting. It is especially difficult when there are other people involved.
Let us first start with an example excluding others to make it simple. I eat too much chocolate and have promised myself I’m going to eat less of the sugar rich stuff I love so much. I however crave it and it makes me happy for a short while when I’m consuming it. There is a clear conflict inside me as my lusts seem to conflict with my health and the promise I made. If I am to solve this conflict, then I first need to accept the problem. But what is the problem? What is it that I need to accept? Should I accept that I have cravings? Should I accept that I made a promise, but struggle to adhere to it? Should I accept that I cannot discipline myself? Maybe I should accept that I’m just a weak person and cannot keep promises I make to myself. If I accept my weakness then maybe I could be happy. Maybe I should accept that I’m stronger than my cravings and not eat any chocolate. Or I should probably just accept all of these things and take each moment at a time. I know, I’ll just accept that the conflict exists and won’t go away. Then I’ll be happy, right? Or maybe if I accepted that there is no real conflict, and it’s all in my head, then I could easily overcome my urges for chocolate and be healthy. What is it exactly I’m supposed to accept? It seems that if I choose to accept certain truths, then the outcome is very different. What is acceptance?
It gets even more complicated when there’s another person involved. I found out a lover of mine lied to me and cheated. I feel terrible because they broke my trust. I now doubt whether they were really truthful from the beginning and if I was attractive in the first place. I feel betrayed, hurt, uncertain, angry, jealous, resentful and doubt myself as a sexual being. I feel I want revenge, but also wish to understand my lover’s motivations and reasons. I want closure, yet maybe there’s a way we could resolve the issue. What should I do? Should I accept their explanation and stay with them? Or should I just accept that I was betrayed and move on? Should I accept my own pain? Should I accept my lover for everything they are, including their weaknesses or should I accept that these things happen and it’s not really their fault? Which form of acceptance would give the best solution with the least amount of pain? A friend told me to just accept the situation and I wanted to smack them! Which part of the situation should I accept? Why does acceptance feel so painful and why does it feel like I’m being asked to be a slave to the pain? Why should I do all the accepting?
Let’s just stop here for a moment…
In our moment of uncertainty, it is difficult to know what is true. Here’s the crux: we can only accept that which is already true. Accepting an idea that we came up with after the fact is not true acceptance. We could come up with many new stories in our heads and tell ourselves that we accept them. We do this all the time. We choose a story and then tell ourselves we accept it. We then believe it. We do so because we have to do something in a painful situation. We have to move on and move away from the pain, so accepting a projection or story is a way to avoid pain.
If I accept that I am not worthy of love or that I cannot keep promises to myself, then the pain I felt is less. I feel that I made a decision about myself and therefore make sure I won’t be hurt again. Accepting myself to be unworthy is bad, but not as bad as the pain of betrayal or eternal inner conflict.
This is how we form opinions of ourselves and it forms part of our ego. It is also how we store past experiences with baggage within ourselves. It is how scars of past experiences form that never get resolved. The acceptance of an opinion of ourselves becomes a shield and protection against future harm. We keep these ideas that we accepted and they affect our future decisions even long after the initial painful or conflicting event. We arrive at new experiences with so much armour that we cannot fully appreciate it. We lose our freedom.
Let’s just stop again here for a moment again…
Could it be that we don’t really understand acceptance? Really?
If I was angry at my lover for cheating on me, then what is the truth of situation? I am hurt, but why am I hurt? I feel as I could never trust again, but why does it hurt so much? What is the truth under all of it? Where should I look to find this truth beneath it all? Let’s say my lover tells me everything about their decision and their reasons? Still, is that the truth of the situation?
Why does my craving for chocolate make me happy and why did I promise myself to eat less? What is the real reason? If I want to be healthier, then why? If I want to be happy eating chocolate, then what is the real reason?
What should I accept?
Most of the time we don’t know what it is we need to accept, but in the attempt to do so, we start our journey of healing.
Acceptance as a journey toward healing
What is the truth behind the situation that existed before the event? What was true then that is still true now? Is it this truth that I didn’t accept? What deeper truth could I rather accept such that I do not need to accept any new ideas about myself? How could I accept the situation and still avoid losing my freedom in the future? If I do find the simple truth to accept, then does that mean I will have a lot of pain right now?
How do we release the pain? We cry. We suffer. Face the pain inside us and express it. We release it and let it go. Why do we do this? Because accepting our real truth and our real pain is a promise of freedom for the future. It is tremendously difficult and requires and acute honesty and knowledge of ourselves—and that takes practice and bravery. It requires inner work. It requires a journey.
If I knew the real reason for making a promise to myself to eat less chocolate, then maybe I wouldn’t be in conflict with myself. Maybe there wouldn’t even have been a problem. I’d just eat less chocolate because the reason seems obvious every time. If I understood the reason for feeling hurt by my lover then I could cry it out and accept the pain. I’d then be able to heal. It however requires a deeper acceptance of myself and how I chose to relate to my lover in the first place.Whatever the answer is for you, it probably lies very deep inside.
There are layers of truth inside us all that we journey to find.
This journey is called healing.