Acceptance: An Approach for the New Year


As we welcome the New Year, many of us may be looking to start fresh and change certain aspects of our lives.

But maybe we are resisting making changes. This may be keeping us from living the life we deserve.

Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) and one of its key components — radical acceptance — may be the approach for you. A question that may come to mind is about the definition of the term “acceptance.” The word “accept” has many definitions. Two of those given by Merriam-Webster are “to endure without protest or reaction” and “to recognize as true.” To truly move on from things that are holding us back, we may need to first make peace with them through acceptance.

Radical acceptance involves facing issues that you have struggled with unsuccessfully for many years. They may involve the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship or the unfulfillment of a long-held dream.

These are issues that you may have pondered for a long time and have experienced a great deal of spiritual, physical and emotional suffering over.

People don’t want to suffer. They just don’t know how to move forward.

According to Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic monk known for his interfaith work, “We all want to be happy, be grateful. We need to stop, look and then go in order to see all of what we have to be grateful for.” The problem lies in how we move forward. We can take one of three steps:

  1. Solve it. This is the approach that many of us tend to take in our lives. Unfortunately, this rarely works because many occurrences in our lives, including the loss of a loved one, can’t be solved but need to be accepted. People also don’t want to live with chronic pain but may need to find ways to manage their physical discomfort.
  2. Change how you feel. Once again, sometimes our feelings of sadness and anger are valid.
  3. Accept it. Acknowledge your feelings, stop trying to change them and learn to accept them.

That being said, accepting something painful is not easy. There are many roadblocks to acceptance, for example:

  1. It is just plain difficult to accept areas of our lives that cause pain and disagreement.
  2. Anger may occur even though we agree to move forward. Maybe we feel the person or situation causing the pain deserves the anger.
  3. It is hard work to accept. We may have to accept something painful over and over again before we become comfortable with the idea.
  4. It is painful to acknowledge the end of a dream.
  5. Fear arises when we begin to accept change. Change is never easy and maybe you have lived with those painful feelings for a long time.

Acceptance involves several key components. They include:

  1. Being aware of the present moment. Live mindfully.
  2. Setting a goal to respond positively. Resist self-doubt, being a naysayer and not accepting compliments.
  3. Looking for areas of your life that you are grateful for. Maybe it’s nature, your family, your favorite dessert, book or song.
  4. Taking time during the day to do things that you enjoy.
  5. Asking for forgiveness.
  6. Understanding that we are not perfect.
  7. Setting healthy and realistic goals.

Acceptance is difficult but meaningful work, and it can be life-changing when achieved. It is a good time of year to reassess areas of your life that are roadblocks stopping you from moving forward. Remember that acceptance happens when the pain of staying the same is greater that the pain of change. 

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.


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