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Acceptance is key to change

Acceptance means seeing situations and people, including ourselves, as they actually are. However, situations are often difficult to accept (e.g., medical diagnosis, the end of a relationship) and demand the acknowledgment of potential and real losses, feeling the accompanying grief, and taking action to move forward.

We sometimes spend much time and energy resisting and denying what is already true. We may try to force situations to be as we wish they would be, rather than seeing them for what they really are. This makes for tension and angst as our ego struggles with what it desires and is more comfortable with rather than accepting what is. When we don’t accept, situations do not flow – we become irritable and feel stuck.

Acceptance does not mean we have to like what has happened (e.g., we can’t get into those pair of pants or the restaurant is out of salmon). It also does not mean we take a resigned or passive role towards things. However, we cannot take action if we have not first recognized the situation. As Jung said, “We cannot change anything until we accept it.”

In order to accept, we need to identify ego’s judgements (“This restaurant sucks!”) and expectations (“I wanted salmon tonight.”), as well as any feelings and behaviours (e.g., disappointed, sulking, mad) associated with the situation. With this awareness, we can shift our expectations, lessen our judgments and can now act in a more mature and responsible way (e.g., we contently order something else on the menu).

Although we may be more accepting of outer situations and others, we often have difficulty accepting ourselves. This lack of self-acceptance has huge psychic ramifications. Psychologist Carl Rogers noted that when people lacked the ability to accept themselves, they are unable to make meaningful change. He said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

At times we truly are our own worst enemy. We can readily list the daily inner critical and judgemental voices, playing worn-out and untrue tapes of who we are (e.g., “You can’t” or “I’m not good enough”). We may also become highly reactive by others’ comments, an indication that a part of us actually believes their views about us.

As Jung suggested, the dilemma comes when we discover that “the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then?”

We get to acceptance by looking at the origins (most likely in childhood) of these offending messages, feel our lingering feelings around them, journal or voice the truth about who we are, and finally make the changes aligned with these new truths.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.