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Why is acceptance so hard?

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Acceptance has a bad rap. Most people think of acceptance as giving up on something and this grates against the sense of being an active, effective person. One of my clients had a stroke and is doing quite well, but feels that she won’t be “whole” until her physical abilities have fully returned to her pre-stroke condition. We have talked a lot about acceptance and what that means for her and it is hard for her to leave the mindset that acceptance = giving up. For her, if she accepts her current condition, it means that she will give up on further rehab and will always be less than one-hundred percent.

There are two important things to realize here:

1. Accepting something doesn’t mean you have to like it.

Does my client need to like the fact that her body isn’t fully functional on one side? No. But what does resisting it and thinking that life will begin when she is back to her pre-stroke condition get her? A lot of energy-consuming angst as well as missing out on the life she has today.

Sometimes we justOne way resized 600 have to observe where we are and be okay with it, even if we don’t like it. I love blogger and author Colleen Haggerty’s post “Half Empty” about this very thing.

2. Giving in is not giving up.

In my last post about the wisdom of the Chinese finger puzzle, I mentioned that an approach to something you’re resisting is to “not give up, but give in.” This requires that really tricky (and somewhat mind-boggling) ability to hold two opposites at once. For my client, it involves still working on recovering her physical abilities (not giving up) and being okay with where she is right now (giving in instead of resisting.)

It’s hard, this holding of two opposites. As the poet William Stafford says:

Look: no one ever promised for sure

that we would sing. We have decided

to moan. In a strange dance that

we don’t understand till we do it, we

have to carry on.

Takeaway points: Accepting something is not about giving up or even liking the thing that we are resisting. It’s about being okay where we are, right now, even as we work our way out of an uncomfortable place.

Does accepting something feel like giving up to you?

 

 

William Stafford, An Introduction to Some Poems in The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Graywolf Press, 1999.

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.