“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. “- Anonymous
One of the most difficult balancing acts that any human being has to perform is the juggling of the possible with the impossible. The quality of our life is largely determined by the internal dialogue that we constantly engage in and the quality of the questions that we ask ourselves continuously. Can I? Should I? Is it possible? Why? Why not? Why me? These are the kind of questions that can either allow us to have what we deem to be a successful, satisfying, life or drive us crazy. For some people, simple questions such as these are so overwhelming that they settle for whatever life gives them, believing that this will give them serenity. The irony is that these people are perhaps the most likely to be negative and feel unfulfilled.
As a psychotherapist, one of the most humbling experiences that I have is sitting with the emotional pain that clients bring into the counseling room. Over the almost 20 years that I’ve been practicing, I find myself struggling with my own internal dialogue when working with clients. Questions such as, “Can I help them fix this?,” “How can I help him/her see this in a more positive light?” and “What can I do to motivate them?,”are typical self statements that I make after the first session with a new client. More often than I’d like to admit, the answer to these questions is to help them accept an unpleasant and painful situation. More often than not, issues clients come to therapy with are things that can be fixed, improved, or changed. These are challenges for my clients and their success in these cases is extremely satisfying and rewarding for me. Sometimes, the situation clients are in calls for acceptance of some painful reality that cannot be changed and may never go away. In situations like these, acceptance is the only answer.
The idea of acceptance is certainly not new. It is a core belief in virtually all of the world’s great religions and philosophies, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism. Great minds throughout history have embraced the concept of acceptance as the only way to cope with the uncertainty and tentative nature of human existence. Life can be a wonderful, fulfilling experience, or pure torture, depending on what a person believes and focuses on. Acceptance, however, does not mean denial of life’s realities. Some psychotherapies teach a concept that is called Radical Acceptance, where one accepts a difficult situation while acknowledging, very clearly, that it is painful. The basic belief and thought process behind Radical Acceptance is, “I don’t like the situation that I am in, or this painful event, but I am powerless to do anything about it. It is out of my control. I cannot do anything about it, so acceptance is the only answer to relieving some of the suffering associated with this situation.” Radical Acceptance proposes that the pain and suffering is made worse by struggling against something that cannot be changed.
Acceptance of life’s realities does not mean that one becomes a doormat for unacceptable people and events that life puts in your path. It does mean, however, that a person must decide which battles to fight and where to place their emotional energy and focus. What a person focuses on determines their reality and plays a huge role in their emotional and mental well-being. Prioritizing where our mental energy goes is perhaps the biggest challenge of being human. While all of us don’t have the time, energy, or even interest to read the works of the great philosophers, there are some shortcuts we can use to help us decide where our focus should go. One of the best I know of is a written activity that I call Serenity Prayer 101:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
This exercise is designed to create clarity and to help you focus your efforts and emotional energy. Make three columns on a piece of paper. Label the first column Things I Cannot Change, the second column Things I Can Change, and in the third column for a question mark. Write in the first column, without judgment or analysis, all you cannot change about the situation. When done, proceed to the second column in begin to strategize things that you can change about the situation. There will be some back and forth between the two columns and you may find yourself erasing and crossing out before you decide which column something truly belongs. In the third column you will place everything that you are not quite sure of where they belong-column one or column two.
At the completion of the exercise a person usually has a much clearer sense of what is in their power to change and what they need to accept. Remember, acceptance does not mean that you like it or agree with it, it means that it is something you are powerless to change. It may be something from your past, someone else’s past, a natural event, or an illness-anything that you are powerless to control, influence, or change.
For many of life’s more painful events, acceptance is truly the only answer. However, don’t be too quick to accept that you are powerless over a situation. Doing the Serenity Prayer 101 exercise in writing will give you the clarity needed to decide if you have any ability to influence the undesirable situation. Before you throw up your hands and utter that overused cliche, “It is what it is,” sit down and logically decide if there is a course of action that you can take.
Remember, acceptance is always the answer, but it should never be an excuse.
P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.