Acceptance, true acceptance, is something many of us struggle to achieve. It doesn't help that we are constantly barraged with messages reinforcing that we should not accept so many things...don't like the television show? Change the channel. Don't like your body? Go on a diet or get a cosmetic procedure. Don't like your boss? Quit your job! Don't get me wrong...sometimes change is just the thing we need and it can keep us nimble and flexible and, ironically, better able to accept challenges (after all, the only constant in life is change, right??).
However, the problem comes when, because we grow so used to changing the things we don't like (e.g., avoiding the real problem), we feel deeply and perpetually unsatisfied with what we ultimately cannot change. In human psychology the definition of acceptance is "a person's assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest it." Great! Sign me up! How do I accept negative and uncomfortable situations? Well, like most things, acceptance starts with practice and takes time to develop, but the following strategies can help you get a good start:
1) Adopt a "Yes, But" Attitude
This is actually something that comes up for so many of my clients while discussing acceptance. So often people say, "But I came to therapy to change!" and they find the mere suggestion to consider acceptance frustrating. Therapy is absolutely about change, but it is just as much about identifying and growing more comfortable with our limitations. By adopting a "yes, but" (e.g. "Yes I am unhappy at work, but I just started this job a month ago and perhaps I should give it some more time) attitude, we can both accept where we currently are while also allowing for the possibility of change.
2) Talk About It
The better we understand our discomforts, anxieties and fears, the easier it is to accept them. Talking about these things normalizes them, and helps us feel more comfortable with them.
3) Ask Questions & Create Meaning
Some good questions to start with might be, "Why do I want to change this so badly?" "What is the worst case scenario if I have to deal with this for the rest of my life?" "Do I want to change this for me or for someone else?" "What do I imagine my life will be like if this changes? What will it be like if stays the same?" These questions can help you understand what lies underneath your urge to change, but they can also help you to identify a new meaning of yourself and the things you're uncomfortable with.
4) Practice Self Care
Acceptance is hard. Getting caught up in a cycle of self abuse because we're not doing enough, changing fast enough or achieving goals successfully enough is far too easy. Be gentle on yourself when starting this practice and you may find that acceptance may even be easier than change!