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This is the second part of a blog posting on Problem solving vs. Acceptance. For the first blog posting click here.
Examine this picture. Has this ever been you?
From a therapist’s perspective, this image is about the battles we get in with ourselves or others in our lives. Like the picture depicts, certain issues become an unproductive tug-of-war. We ruminate: “why can’t I be more disciplined” “why can’t my boss be more considerate” “why can’t my partner be more attentive” “why can’t my coworker work as hard as I do” and spend a lot of mental energy on a reality we can’t change.
But how do you actually let go of the rope? (And what will happen if you do?)
The first step is awareness – sometimes we use thought patterns or assumptions that are unrealistic, and put us in a position of fighting reality. Here are some thoughts that may indicate you are fighting reality.
“I shouldn’t have to deal with this”
“It’s wrong and I can never accept it”
“I shouldn’t have the feeling I’m having” or “I need to get rid of this feeling”
“My [friend/coworker/boss/family member] needs to be different”
Some behaviors may also indicate non-acceptance, such as trying to get in and out of a government office in 15 minutes. Notice if you are clinging to a view of the world that you wish was true but may not be universally true. Similarly, notice if you are clinging to a view of people that you wish was true that may not be universally true. For example, “People should always tell the truth,” “people should always do what’s right for others” “if someone can help – they should.”
Another thing you can do is remind yourself that there are causes to this situation even if you can’t readily see them. Given the history and circumstances present in this situation – this was bound to occur just as it did. For example, I had a good friend whom I have known for many years. He was a reliable friend and we shared many good experiences together. However, he was always late. Whenever we met for lunch he would always be late. I found myself waiting for him at a restaurant one day, and he arrived 20 minutes late. I felt frustrated and I let him know this. He turned to me and said, “you have known me for 15 years – I am always late – why did you expect anything different?” He had a point – why was I expecting someone who hadn’t been on-time in 15 years to be on-time? I was refusing to accept the reality of who he was and the habits he had developed over many years. Now, I could work to try and change his behavior but that’s for another blog post.
Remember that just because you acknowledge the causes of a certain reality and accept it, that doesn’t mean you approve of it. Sometimes it can help to list all the behaviors you would do if you did accept the facts. Then engage in these behaviors, as if you already fully accepted the situation. For example, if I fully accept that my friend has a tendency to be late, I have more options. I can arrive 10 minutes late, I can bring a book to read while I wait, and I can make sure I don’t make plans with him on days when my schedule is very busy.
Finally, sometimes acceptance entails allowing disappointment or grief to arise within you. Honor the painful feelings associated with this difficulty in your life by allowing those feelings to occur without judgment about whether they should be there or not. You can offer comfort and compassion to yourself as you accept painful realities. Sometimes, meditating on very basic compassionate messages to yourself and others can be helpful (for example, “I want to feel safe” along with “others want to feel safe” or “I did the best I could under the circumstances” along with “others did the best they could under the circumstances").
The fear with acceptance is often that it will make us complacent about the issues in our lives that are truly important to us. But many studies indicate that when we accept certain realities, we actually become more flexible with how we interact with them. Instead of wishing or regretting or ruminating or wrestling, we can move into a posture of greater understanding and greater choice and possibility.
Some material adapted from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition By Marsha M. Linehan (2015).
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