Acceptance is a vital part of wellbeing and mental health. The word can be misleading, however. If I’m told, for example, that I just need to accept my anxiety, I might think that there’s no use trying to beat anxiety and that I just need to resign myself to it and retreat. Thank goodness that is not what acceptance means in the world of mental health. We don’t have to accept that we live with any mental health challenge. What, then, is acceptance? Acceptance is a concept that is empowering and puts you in control of your mental health and wellbeing.
Think of a struggle you’re facing, something that is making you unhappy and blocking you from living what positive psychologists call a life well lived. It could be anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, diabetes, financial trouble, relationship problems, an unreliable car, or a whole host of other problems of all scopes and sizes. Whatever it is, it’s highly likely that you want that problem gone from your life.
It’s human nature to focus on a problem we want gone. The human brain will think about it, argue with it, become emotionally upset with it, and otherwise tangle with it. It’s a normal reaction. However, therein lies the problem: when we engage in this very human, very normal way of struggling against problems, we are reacting. We’re not in charge. We live in response to our problems. A more effective choice is to accept the struggles we’re facing.
What Acceptance is NOT
Acceptance isn’t passive. (Reacting, as described above, is more passive than acceptance because we’re not taking the lead away from the struggles.) Accepting anxiety, for example, doesn’t mean avoiding everything that makes you anxious and retreating to live your life in an anxious state. Acceptance is not:
- Giving up
- Giving in
- Slinking away from the life you want
If acceptance isn’t allowing you problems to dominate you, what is it?
What Acceptance IS
In mental health terms, accepting is an action that you take with determined purpose. Acceptance is
- A mindset
- An action
- A choice
- A path to your purpose and values
Acceptance is the act of letting go of your resistance to the problems that are plaguing you. It’s a decision to acknowledge them, to accept that the problems exist, but to move past them rather than stopping and fighting with them. When you’re thoughts, emotions, and actions aren’t fixated on these problems (no matter how big they are), you are free to move forward.
Acceptance lets you say, “Yes, problem, I know you’re there. I’m going to just let you be there while I go forward and create the life I want to live.” By accepting the presence of something like anxiety, you make a decision to turn your attention gently away from it. This, in turn, allows you to pay attention to other, better, things.
Acceptance, too, is an acknowledgement that the problem won’t immediately disappear just because you’re not giving it your full attention. You accept that you’ll still experience anxiety (or whatever it is that you’re dealing with), and this helps keep you from being discouraged. You know it’s there. You’re working on strategies to reduce it while simultaneously taking small steps forward. This can only happen if you accept the problem rather than getting stuck in fighting against it. Acceptance isn’t something you do because you have to give in to a problem. You practice acceptance because you choose to do so in order to let go of struggles and move forward into the quality life you want.