Acceptance (vs. Denial, Anger, or Should-ing) – Helps in Healing and Getting Through Painful Events and Dealing With Things You Cannot Change
Disclaimer: All names have been changed in the post below to keep people’s identities anonymous.
One of the things I’ve noticed in the last few years is that when I’ve accepted a situation, whether something current or something from years ago that once bothered me a lot, is that it speeds up the recovery process.
I used to hold on tightly to people or dreams or hopes. In the last few years, I’ve gotten better at Letting Go.
(I’ve not arrived at perfection at this, but I have improved a lot in the last couple of years.)
Instead of constantly regretting, feeling sad or angry about a past incident, or that my life is not where I want it to be now, I’ve learned to accept my past and present, and that has definitely been good for my mental health – and I’m more able to enjoy each day as it is, instead of sitting around angry or upset that things aren’t how I had hoped or planned.
I don’t get as upset by set backs as I once did.
I recently was turned down for a program I entered about a year ago.
While I was a little “bummed out” about it for a day or two, I reflected upon it (and this is where life experience comes in handy, because I’ve endured similar things before), and I decided to look at the rejection this way:
“You know, it’s okay. It’s okay I did not get accepted the first time I applied.
“I can just re-apply next year, if I choose to. It’s a very competitive program, they at least chose to interview me, and I tried.
“I at least gave it a shot. The old, anxiety-ridden me who was afraid to fail and make mistakes – because Dad would shame me all the time when I was a kid if I made mistakes or failed at any thing – would not have even tried at all.”
Of course, I am still a work in progress. I’m not saying that recovery for me out of codependency and out of depression and some of my related struggles is a straight line, and I still have an anxiety disorder to contend with.
I do have moments or days where I can fall into negative thinking, or my anxiety gets really bad, or what not – but I bounce back faster now, at least.
Feeling or Expressing Negative Emotions
I will say that acceptance does not mean denial or skipping over or repressing difficult emotions.
If you’ve gone through something infuriating, disappointing, or sad, it is mentally healthy to acknowledge it, and to acknowledge those feelings, express them, and maybe talk through them with a trusted friend.
I am not a supporter of people or churches (evangelicals and Baptists are really bad about this!) shaming people for having normal, human reactions to adverse effects in life, such as death of a family member, job loss, or some kind of set back in life.
A lot of Christians – it seems to mainly be the anti-psychology, fundamentalists, and very legalistic or conservative evangelicals – have this really un-biblical view of emotions that all emotions (at least the ones considered “negative”) are sinful or bad, where they will misquote and abuse the Bible to say things to upset people such as, “But the Bible says the heart above all is wicked, deceitful and not to be trusted!”
Such Christians tend to quote such Bible verses to “emotion shame” people.
So, if you are, I’d say, legitimately upset over some troubling aspect of your life, and you publicly express sadness, anger, or disappointment with it to one of these “having or expressing negative emotions is bad and to be avoided” Christians, they will encourage you to shut up about it, ‘suck it up buttercup,’ and just count your blessings.
Such Christians will discourage you from having negative feelings, talking about them, or from processing negative emotions.
They will shame you, give you all kinds of platitudes to get you to stop crying, to stop talking about your sad feelings, or to stop mentioning that you are angry because your previous church hurt you, or whatever it may be that has you angry.
Unhealthy, Prolonged Negativity
However, I’ve seen people who fall into that anger or sadness stage after something bad happens to them (or to someone they care about), and they stay in that stage for such a long period of time it begins having a detrimental effect on them and their life, and it can also turn into self pity.
So while I think it’s totally fine, normal, healthy, and acceptable to allow yourself to experience and discuss negative emotions for months to years after a bad thing has happened to you, there is a danger of staying too long in those emotions, when you need to learn to let them go, if you want to move on and start enjoying life again.
I’ve known and seen people who have gotten stuck in negative emotions for years and years on end, way, way past the time they should’ve already accepted, grieved, and moved on from whatever event or person had hurt them.
They remain in extreme sadness, anger, bitterness, disappointment, so that it consumes them, and the result is that they cannot live in the present and just enjoy life. They are too caught up in the past and being upset by the past.
There may be things or people in life that you cannot change and that will not change. These may be current events in one’s life, or a hurtful event from the past.
I used to see the “Serenity Prayer” when I was younger and didn’t fully appreciate it – until now.
Here it is:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference
I’ve come to better understand, and put into practice, the serenity prayer. It’s been very helpful.
My Mom – The Shoulding, Refusing to Accept Reality, Living with the False Hopes and Expectations
I had a glimpse of these issues years ago, with my mother.
I feel that sharing this story may help anyone reading this post better understand the points I’m trying to make.
I had spent years dealing with my mother’s turbulent relationship with my older brother.
My brother, Jim, (not his real name), got into the habit over a period of about ten or so years, of getting angry or stressed out over his marriage, and he’d phone our mother to scream and yell at our mother.
Understand, he was not phoning our Mom to scream at her ABOUT how angry he was with his wife, but he’d get angered at his wife, phone our mother and scream AT our mother insults ABOUT OUR MOTHER.
(My mother had nothing to do with his marriage. She was not interfering with his marriage in any way.)
Jim would call our mother to scream at her that he hated our mother, that he wanted her to have a heart attack and die – horrible stuff.
He was saying this garbage about our mother to our mother because he was angry at his wife.
This was all mis-placed or mis-directed anger.
(My sister has also been bad about this over the years; both she and my brother have played this game with me too, where they’d get angry at their job or significant other, pick up the phone and scream bad names at me, threaten me, etc)
Any way, I knew from previous discussions from a few years prior that my mother (being the very codependent, non-confrontational person she was) would never, ever do what she should have done with my brother (and other people who treated her poorly): have boundaries.
My mother was never, ever going to even so much as politely confront my brother, hold him accountable, and be assertive about his misbehavior that left her so deeply hurt and disturbed.
My mother’s other problem was two-fold: she kept “should-ing” (I will explain this in a moment), and, she was not accepting reality.
The fact she kept “should-ing” and living in this hope, fantasy, and expectation (not living with reality) was keeping her stuck.
It wasn’t until years later, by the way, that my common sense in-sight about “should-ing” was confirmed by some books I read in my mid-40s, by mental health professionals that talk about “The Tyranny of the Shoulds” (more on this later).
By my mid-twenties or so, I had accepted for myself that my older brother was never, ever going to have the relationship with me that I had wanted and hoped for.
If you remember those coffee commercials in the 1980s, like one where the college-aged, or high school-aged, sister made her visiting big brother a cup of coffee on his visit, and they have a pleasant chat over the coffee?
I had always wanted to have a close relationship like that with my brother (and my sister too).
With each passing year, though, it began dawning on me that my brother “Jim” was not interested in being close to me. He seldom answered my letters, seldom asked Mom about me when he called home.
In my 20s, Jim began screaming at me and about me, I found this very upsetting, it hurt my feelings badly, and I’d end up crying. (This all took place prior to the ubiquity of the internet in the late 1990s).
So, with much sadness, I realized by my mid 20s or so that my brother was an arrogant, angry jerk who had little interest in being friends with me, and he was never going to take an interest in my life.
But once I accepted this truth, I was able to mourn this expectation or hope that I once had that we’d have a close, loving relationship, and I let it go.
I looked to get my needs met elsewhere – I stopped looking to my brother to be my pal, my friend, and my buddy. I made peace with the fact he didn’t want to be that for me and likely never would.
This means by the time I got to my late 20s and my brother would scream and yell at me over the phone, he had lost the power to hurt me and make me cry like he had done for years previously.
My mother, though, as I got into my late 20 and early 30s, was not there yet.
By that point, any time my brother would phone Mom to scream at her, she’d sit there crying, and I’d try to console her.
My mother would reply to me, “But Jim is my son. He SHOULD love me. Jim SHOULD care about me and SHOULD be loving. He used to be nice to me years ago, before he got married!,” then she’d fall into sobbing again.
Part of my mother’s problem is that she would not accept the reality, which was that my brother was being an un-loving jerk, and more or less since he was a teen, he was an arrogant, un-loving jerk.
My mother didn’t want to believe that to be true.
She kept wanting to live with the hope, the fantasy, and dream that Jim was this loving son, and if she just gave him more time and waited and had faith, that one day, he would change and be really loving to her.
She kept waiting for that loving, great relationship to manifest, one that was not likely to happen.
And, secondly, the “should-ing.” My mother kept “should-ing” to herself.
According to my mother, her son, my brother, Jim, “should” be nice and loving to her.
I agree – he is her son, and he should be showing love and gratitude towards her.
He’s my big brother, and as such, he SHOULD have been showing loving kindness to me…
But the truth of the matter is that he was more or less being arrogant, nasty, and hateful towards her (and earlier to me).
Difference is, I accepted this as the current situation, that was the reality, rather than deny the reality, and I stopped “should-ing.”
You can live according to the rules and still have bad things happen to you.
You can be a good, kind, honest, decent person, and bad things will still happen to you.
You can be a great person who lives a good clean life, and your reality may be terrible at times.
If you sit around thinking in terms of, “But I’m such a nice, good, person, this bad thing should not be happening to me!,” or, “But I’m this guy’s mother, I gave birth to him, he SHOULD be nice to me, but every day, he’s screaming insults at me,” you will more than likely remain stuck in depression or being hurt or upset.
Once I was able to accept the reality of my brother’s personality and behavior towards me, once I was able to let go of the hopes and expectations, which came at times under the “shoulds,” I was able to mourn the loss, make peace with it, and move on.
I don’t think my mother ever made it to that point, not fully.
My mother wasted more years (maybe until she died), allowing my brother’s perceived rejection of her, and his verbal tirades, to negatively affect her.
If Mom had just accepted the fact, the reality, that her son was being a jerk to her, and stop thinking, “but he’s my son, he should be nice to me!,” she would’ve made a lot of progress in not letting my brother’s apparent rejection of her, or his rude behavior towards her, impact her as much as it did.
Here are some other people’s material on The Tyranny of the Shoulds and Acceptance of healing past or current hurts:
(Link): 5 Things Everyone Should Know About Acceptance By Megan Bruneau, M.A.
…As I got older, I began to understand why desiring something else—something that was, for the most part, out of my control—was causing me more pain than accepting that, at least for now, this was the way it was going to be. Here are five more things I’ve come to realize about acceptance that you might not have considered:
1. Acceptance does not mean liking, wanting, choosing, or supporting.
No one is suggesting you like, want, or support whatever it is that you’re accepting. But by struggling against the pain—by resisting and rejecting it—we create undue suffering. It doesn’t mean that you’ve chosen or endorse what you’re accepting. It doesn’t mean you like your anxiety, want your chronic pain, would choose your body, or support an injustice that’s happened to you or someone else.
2. Acceptance is an active process. It must be practiced.
Remember that accept is a verb. It’s an active process, one that must be practiced consciously.
It’s rare that we one day choose to accept our emotional or physical pain, our bodies, our difficult relationships, or our pasts, and never think about it again.
It can require effort at times (or most of the time, at least initially). It can be frustrating at times.
(Link): Acceptance: It Isn’t What You Think by William Berry, LMHC., CAP.
Acceptance, appreciation, and resonating with the positive result in happiness.
There is a movement in psychology, positive psychology more accurately, toward radical acceptance, focusing on gratitude, and resonating with the positive. And with good reason: it works.
…New theories of therapy have been developed with acceptance as the main focus. An example of this is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Training, (instead of therapy, to avoid the stigma).
ACT helps train mindfulness: an awareness of the present moment without judgment.
The individual is then better able to tolerate negative thoughts and feelings (although the judgment “negative” is removed in mindfulness).
Finally, the individual behaves according to his/her values. This type of intervention has been empirically tested for depression, certain anxiety disorders including OCD, in coping with delusions and hallucinations in those that have psychotic disorders, and with those looking to handle workday stress more effectively (SAMHSA).
…There is no better explanation than Jon Kabat-Zinn’s in Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness:
“Acceptance doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean passive resignation. Quite the opposite. It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is — especially when you don’t like it — and then work wisely and effectively as best you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in and with the resources at your disposal, both inner and outer, to mitigate, heal, redirect, and change what can be changed.” (p.407)
…There might be things hampering you from doing the suggestions in this post.
In a post called, (Link): “Why Don’t You Want To Feel Better,” I point to the reasons people do not act on the information that is out there to feel better.
I focus on defense mechanisms, how change is strenuous work, how often staying the same is easier (even if painful), and how some create the meaning of their life from suffering.
…Slow your life down, and appreciate all that you have. Even in the worst scenarios, there can be appreciation. A shower. A sunset. …
— end excerpts —
by Corrina Horne
Updated November 19, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Chante’ Gamby, LCSW
Radical Acceptance is a practice developed by Marsha Linehan. Used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), this particular practice was created based on the notion that reality must be accepted, rather than fought against, and that fighting and railing against a situation is a greater cause of suffering than the situation itself.
Radical acceptance, as its name suggests, means exactly that: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback.
Far from condoning or embracing what you are and what you are going through, radical acceptance advocates simply accepting yourself and your circumstances in order to better move through and past them.
…Accepting yourself, your situation, and your mental health status can actually help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with each of these things.
… What Causes Suffering?
…Suffering is a result of an attachment to an idea, a previous situation, or a determination of what should happen, what you should be, or what your life should be.
To acknowledge and accept the entirety of your life and yourself is to remove yourself from the possibility of experiencing this type of suffering.
Rather than being a thought or idea, radical acceptance actually contains within it several components that must be put into practice; it is all well and good to say to yourself “I accept myself just as I am,” but unless you live in a way that espouses that belief, the belief is useless to you and everyone else.
To practice radical acceptance, you must:
- Accept yourself and your life for what they are – not for what you want them to be
- Realize and acknowledge what you can and cannot control
- Survey yourself and your life without judgment or condemnation
- Acknowledge the facts of yourself and your situation
- Accept reality
- Practice mindfulness and live in the present moment
Part of refusing to accept reality is living in the future or the past, rather than living in the present moment.
Radical acceptance is a subset of living mindfully and requires you to leave behind any fantasies you might have about your past or your future and to root yourself firmly in your life as it actually is, without any judgment, anger, or denial.
This type of practice is not an easy one to adopt, and often it requires some help. You can read books, consult with a specialist, or see a therapist in order to develop the tools required to effectively use radical acceptance in your life.
Each of these options, though, will largely depend on you; ultimately, you must be willing to consistently practice and adopt the tenets of radical acceptance, or the treatment will not be effective or useful.
— end excerpts —
(Link): What Is Radical Acceptance?
By Arlin Cuncic
Medically reviewed by David Susman, PhD
Radical acceptance is based on the notion that suffering comes not directly from pain, but from one’s attachment to the pain. It has its roots in Buddhism and the psychological paradigm put forth by Carl Rogers that acceptance is the first step towards change.
What Is Radical Acceptance?
Radical acceptance can be defined as the ability to accept situations that are outside of your control without judging them, which in turn reduces the suffering that is caused by them.
Rather than being attached to a painful past, radical acceptance suggests that non-attachment is the key to overcoming suffering. Non-attachment does not mean not feeling emotions. Rather, it refers to an intention of not allowing pain to turn into suffering. This means watching your thoughts and feelings to identify when you are allowing yourself to feel worse than is necessary.
The lack of judgment that is an important part of radical acceptance does not involve approval of the situation. Instead, it involves accepting reality for what it is and not getting caught up in an emotional reaction to that reality.
What Radical Acceptance Looks Like
Radical acceptance is not an easy practice at all. In fact, it can require a lifetime of practice in order to truly get a handle on it.
Radical acceptance is most often applied in situations when you are unable to fix or change what has happened or when something has happened that feels unfair, like the loss of a loved one or losing one’s job.
While grief and disappointment are normal emotions, suffering results when the initial pain is prolonged due to a lack of acceptance.
While this can be hard to practice when things are going very badly, letting your emotions run wild will only add to your suffering and the pain you are experiencing. It’s true that you can cause more misery to yourself when you avoid or dwell.
Origins of Radical Acceptance
The concept of radical acceptance has its origins in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), proposed by psychologist Marsha Linehan in 1993.
This type of therapy was designed to help those diagnosed with borderline personality disorder who experience intense emotions.
However, it is also helpful for other issues such as depression and eating disorders.
During DBT, clients are taught how to practice distress tolerance which enables them to stop turning painful situations into longer-term suffering.
…Rather than signaling approval of a situation, distress tolerance signals acceptance and emotional detachment. It involves a focus on what you can control and a freeing of resources to allow you to practice self-care.
This means letting go of bitterness and releasing unhelpful emotions. Once these emotions are managed it is possible to find solutions and make plans for change (where possible).
Signs of Lack of Acceptance
While it’s normal to react to negative situations with emotions such as sadness or anger, blaming yourself or other people, or wishing that things could be different will keep you stuck.
Here are some thought patterns or actual thoughts that signal you might need to practice radical acceptance:
I can’t deal with this.
This is not fair.
Things shouldn’t be like this.
I can’t believe this is happening.
It’s not right.
Things should be different.
Why is this happening to me?
Why is this happening now?
This is horrible.
Why did this happen to me now?
What did I do to deserve this?
Everything is working against me.
I can never catch a break.
Bad things always happen to me.
Nobody else has to deal with this.
I wish things were different.
I can’t accept this happened.
I’m never going to feel OK about this.
People shouldn’t act the way they do.
I can’t get past what happened.
This is terrible and I’ll never get over it.
I shouldn’t have to deal with this.
— end excerpts —
Read that rest of that page (Link): here, on Very Well Mind
There are also certain skills people can use to make it easier to not let the difficulty completely take over one’s life.
One such skill is called Radical Acceptance and it is a skill taught in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which allows people to move on rather than getting stuck. …
And it is so very easy to get stuck, especially when the problem arises seemingly completely unexpectedly and we have little power over resolving the situation, at least in the short run.
…Accepting reality radically is hard work. It is also not all-or-nothing, so the mind often needs to be turned multiple times towards acceptance before any meaningful change can be felt.
However, when true acceptance comes and as you strengthen that skill over time, it can eventually take such a load of unnecessary suffering off one’s shoulders.
— end excerpts —
(Link): The Tyranny of the Should
‘Shoulds’ are a list of ironclad rules about how we and other people ‘ought to’ act. These rules are indisputable; and, any deviation from these is deemed bad (by ego). We feel we ‘have to,’ ‘must,’ ‘need’ or ‘ought to’ do certain things out of duty, obligation or compulsion, never bothering to question our actions because, “That’s the way it’s been.”
Known as “categorical imperatives,” shoulds, oughts, musts and have tos create unrealistic and overgeneralized absolutes.
When we don’t stop to look objectively at these inner statements, we live by an enslaving force of rules. This way of thinking was first recognized by psychiatrist Karen Horney who wrote about “the tyranny of the should.”
This psychologically destructive thinking pattern was further developed by Dr. Albert Ellis who coined the terms “shoulding” and “musterbating.”
According to Ellis, the three main musts are: “I must do well or I’m no good,” “You, you louse, must treat me well or you’re worthless and deserve to roast in hell,” and, “The world must give me exactly what I want, precisely what I want, or it’s a horrible, awful place.”
Let’s further explore these unrealistic demands.
…We also place these clear-cut imperatives onto others. We judge their actions and get annoyed when others don’t act ‘right.’
An inner voice exclaims, “They should know the rules and they should follow them!”
This form of demandingness often leads to feelings of anger (“How dare you!), guilt-tripping (“You should know better.”), jealousy, hurt and self-pity (“How could they have done that to me?”).
— end excerpts —
Read the rest of that page (Link): here
Completely and totally accepting this fact is still challenging and painful, but focusing on what we can control versus what we cannot, can be liberating.
It frees up all of the energy we were using to fight reality, and helps us use it to focus on how we can effectively cope with the situation and take care of ourselves.
— end excerpt —
(Link): Understanding Radical Acceptance – video directly below is 3.29 minutes long – the video below also mentions Anxiety and Panic Attacks:
(Link): The Power of Radical Acceptance – 5 minute long video:
(Link, video on You Tube): Tyranny of the Should – 20 minute long video:
(Link): Tough luck: accepting life’s unfairness will set you free | Holly Matthews | TEDxNewcastleCollege – 17 minutes long:
(Link): Change happens with radical acceptance – 9 Minute Long Video:
A great song about letting go and moving on is Lari White’s “Now I Know.”
The song seems to be about a break up or divorce, but can also be applicable to other kinds of losses, like a death or other of life’s obstacles.
(Link): Now I Know, sung by Lari White
I always wondered how I’d live without you
If you ever said goodbye
Would I just live in dreams about you
With tears in my eyes
Would I fall to pieces
When you go
I always wondered how I’d live without you
Now I know
I’m doing alright
I’m strong enough to make it on my own
I’m not afraid of the night
I’m learning how to face it alone
I’ve been good at holding on
Now I’m learning to let go
The song on You Tube, embedded below (it’s about 3 minutes long):
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
(Link): 10 Signs Someone’s Always Playing the Victim (6.05 long video)
(Link): The “Victim” Narcissist | How to tell who is playing the victim (17 minute long video)
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