Getting Over “It”
By Tracey Soghrati BSc.N RN, MA, RP
Acceptance is touted liberally (in psychological circles) as a balm to managing our reactions to the world. More specifically, acceptance is supposed to help us manage our reactions to our internal experience (what’s happening in our minds) and with our relationships. So, what is acceptance (practically speaking)? And how do we actually do the work of accepting in the moment?
The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) model of psychological well being characterizes acceptance as the willingness to experience the present moment just as it is. To do this, we have to simultaneously relax resistance that’s related to our preferences and expectations. This can also be thought of as making contact with the present moment without acting out defensively, and while still acting effectively.
Let’s go through an example of this. Imagine that you’re going through a divorce or break-up that’s initiated by the other person, in relation to unresolvable conflict. You may want to avoid feeling the grief (due to the lost relationship and hopes for your future or your kids’ future), guilt or shame (in response to the meaning you’re making about relationship termination), and loneliness or isolation (because you’re having an experience that is different than some of your friends). In your resistance to experiencing these uncomfortable feelings, you might defend yourself by attacking the other person. This behaviour then recreates the cycle of interaction that triggered the break-up, while also blocking you from acting effectively (or adaptively).
Practically speaking, the first step of acceptance is to make contact with the present moment. This is most easily accessed by noticing body sensations and the feelings they represent. The next step is to feel those sensations while noticing the meaning you make out of what you’re feeling. For example, if you’re feeling the physical constriction of grief, are you also telling yourself that it’s unbearable, or that you can’t handle it? Once you notice the story you’re telling yourself, you can practice accepting that too. The final step is to choose to act effectively while staying present with yourself.
The final step is often a huge barrier for people because acceptance means that you’re willing to feel all your stuff while still making decisions in alignment with your values. This might look like feeling rage towards a cheating spouse while choosing to engage in cooperative decision-making over shared children. It might also look like scheduling a massage and an early bedtime rather than drinking until you’re numb. While some mistakenly believe that acceptance is giving up or approving boundary violations, acceptance is the precursor to adaptive action.