“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation, that the circumstance goes away, or that we necessarily feel better about it. The impact and emotions it evokes is present irrespective of whether we accept it or not. The question is whether we’re layering on the pain and further intensifying and exacerbating what already exists.” – Michelle P. Maidenberg (psychologist and professor)
The post you are about to read has been challenging for me to write, taking considerably longer to complete than any in recent memory.
While the subject matter for this post was clear from the onset, as were my intentions for writing it, I found myself staring at a blank page for hours, even days, jotting down a cluster of ideas, ultimately leading to nowhere.
Anyone who writes understands there are occasions when the artistic energy necessary for content creation is deficient for one reason or another.
Such deficiencies result from inclement weather, a lack of adequate sleep, an extensive to-do list or an onslaught of emotions brought about by situations you are still trying to process.
The subject matter for this post is acceptance, and the motivation for writing about it came from an unlikely source.
My wife and I stream workout programs for strength and cardio. As is often the case, this particular instructor began her program with a positive thought she later expanded upon during the episode.
I am paraphrasing here, but she said by not fully accepting a situation for what it is, our brain cannot close the loop and move on.
Inherently searching for ways to achieve closure, our brain rehashes the same negative thoughts and displeasures about a situation as it tries to find some resolution.
This futile attempt at rectifying what the brain identifies as a problem only robs our lives of energy, creativity, gratitude and joy.
Because by refusing to accept reality, we often naively believe we can change what is factual to rewrite the narrative for a more desirable outcome in our favor.
Intrigued, I did a little research, and the instructor’s thoughts on the subject of acceptance echoed those of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
They believe that trying to change reality, whether situational or interpersonal, is a guaranteed losing proposition, leading to feelings of bitterness, anger and extreme sadness.
The more I learned about acceptance, the more I understood why I struggled to write about it with clarity and depth.
After spending some time in self-reflection, I uncovered something about myself. There is a duality between what my brain is able and willing to accept about my reality and what it simply cannot.
Sometimes, I can digest and compartmentalize my thoughts and emotions and return to normal bliss. At the same time, others seem to haunt me as I repeatedly replay my negativity on a situation, making it nearly impossible for true acceptance to happen.
You see, my life is bursting with enduring and irreplaceable memories I have experienced earlier.
They are intangible and forever immortalized in my heart and mind, unable to be accurately shared and thoroughly understood by others due to their intimacy, though I recall them regularly.
I am not talking about memories generated by experiences or occasions but about sharing time and appreciation with people.
People like my grandparents, mother-in-law, cherished family friends and so many more whose attention, thoughtfulness, compassion and selflessness made me feel valued and loved.
Unfortunately, their absence now serves as a constant reminder of what I had, what I have lost and how my current circumstances pale in comparison.
Finding myself caught in a sea of nostalgia, I struggle to accept that my life will never be the same again.
The people in my current sphere are more superficial with their relationships and unwilling to embrace opportunities to strengthen connections, foster understanding, offer unsolicited support and expand communication.
As such, I fight my reality with feelings of bitterness, anger and extreme sadness, hoping that such juvenile behaviors will eventually encourage the angels above to return even a small part of the care and attention I once received.
But that’s NOT reality.
Acceptance Requires a Different Mindset
In Mitch Albom’s excellent book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, he writes, “Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”
For me, reminiscing walks a fine line between beneficial and detrimental.
On one hand, such memories help to remind me of the people from my past who genuinely loved and cared for me just as I was without issue, who understood that the rewards of the heart are what we will all remember as our lives continue to evolve and people disappear.
On the other hand, such memories can leave me feeling empty compared to my current circumstances.
Acceptance is difficult, especially when your current reality is unfamiliar and unfeeling.
I wish I could say I have discovered some magic skillset that would enable us all to limit our longing for the past and better accept our realities, but there is not one.
As we grow older, we begin to see that many times, it is what it is, and no amount of fighting against reality is going to change it.
As Maidenberg says, resistance toward acceptance is “layering on the pain and further intensifying and exacerbating what already exists.”
I need to reverse my negative narrative with daily affirmations highlighting all the gifts I so often take for granted during my refusal to accept reality.
- While not always content with current situations compared to my past, I am incredibly blessed to have shared life with so many wonderful people for so long, creating countless memories that no one can take away. Memories that not everyone is so fortunate to have experienced with another person.
- I often take for granted how my partner in life mirrors those cherished people from my past with attention, thoughtfulness, compassion, and selflessness. She is a daily reminder that there are still people in the world who understand that the rewards of the heart are what we will all remember as our lives evolve and people disappear.
- Perhaps most importantly, no one’s life is perfect, and everyone has a story of loss, loneliness, and the difficulties associated with acceptance. We must keep moving forward, leading with gratitude, humility, and respect for the people around us, including ourselves.
Life coach, therapist and author Shannon L. Alder writes, “There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.”
The book of my past will always be there for me, providing comfort and solidarity when my reality is too much.
But there is a new book starting whether I choose to accept it or not. While it might not feature the characters and themes I’m familiar with from the past, there are reasons to appreciate where the story is right now.