I consider acceptance to be the first step in the process of engaging with the truth of our experiences.
Sometimes coming to acceptance is a struggle, but—for me— the struggle is satisfying because it shows me that I am growing. I only recently (this year) started working with acceptance as an intentional practice. I resisted it for so long because I resented the negative parts of my life, and I didn’t want to “accept” them because I worried that meant I was consenting to experiences that felt unfair or painful.
As I started valuing presence and practicing being in the moment, acceptance shifted from feeling scary to feeling empowering, like a first step in a process for making meaningful changes in my life. I now believe that acceptance occurs when I choose to accept the reality of what is currently happening. It does NOT mean that I have to approve of or celebrate or even agree with what is happening, but it does mean that I am actively aware of the reality of a situation. Once I accept the reality of what has happened or is happening, I can much more easily name my feelings, ask for support, and make a game plan for moving forward. Check out this video for a short description of acceptance by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Three Ways I Practice Acceptance
Accepting my trauma history and my Complex PTSD. This took me an extremely long time to accept, because I first had to develop awareness and healthy coping mechanisms before I could even begin to differentiate acceptance from approval. I don’t excuse or approve of abuses I encountered, but I do accept the fact that they occurred and, as a result, I live with Complex PTSD. This process of acceptance involved (and still involves) processing a lot of grief with a therapist trained in EMDR, and is sometimes uncomfortable. However, practicing acceptance enables me to feel much calmer, safer, and more present in my daily life.
Accepting that I have chronic health issues that affect the way I live my life. At first, the onset of my chronic pain in 2017 devastated me. Specifically, I was heartbroken that I could no longer participate in my usual routines and hobbies and speed of life. However, over the years I have intentionally shifted to a practice of satisfying and nourishing low-impact activities and a slower pace of life with less stress and fewer obligations. Recently, my health issues have expanded to include illness, fatigue, and a new set of medical treatments, so I am once more practicing accepting that I may need to shift my actions and allow for more rest. The process of accepting my chronic pain was difficult, long, and often depressing, but I experienced an overflow of relief once I shifted from obsessing with finding “a cure” to rebuilding my lifestyle to offer my body and mind more comfort and ease.
Accepting that I’m a recovering alcoholic who cannot drink in moderation. I got sober in March of 2013, and since then have committed myself to long-term healing and developing healthy coping mechanisms (versus short-term hiding from the issue by getting drunk). Accepting that I cannot drink alcohol in moderation has allowed me to examine and make healthier decisions in my relationships with other more slippery addictive practices, such as codependency, workaholism, or the pursuit of wellness (e.g., obsession with eating “healthy”). Perhaps most of all, I accept that this will be a lifelong practice for me.
Acceptance is the first step in the process of engaging with challenging situations. So, once you accept that something is reality, what do you do?
- Educate yourself about the situation. Make an informed decision about how to proceed.
- Recognize that not everyone will share your truth. Choose how to interact with them.
- Seek out a support system of friends who understand you and share your values.
How to Practice Acceptance & Take Action Under Oppressive Systems of Power
It is essential here to recognize that each of us is impacted differently by oppressive power structures, and that often times challenging situations arise from trying to survive within capitalism/colonialism/white supremacy/patriarchy. In the process of surviving, different people may relate to the idea and practice of acceptance differently based on life experience (see my three experiences above as examples). The ease or difficulty of acceptance hinges also on what resources people have available to them.*
Please do not allow your acceptance to become apathy. To accept something—such as the fact that the United States is forcefully separating young children from parents and forcing refugees and asylum seekers into inhumane migrant detention camps (see this article and this article for a breakdown of the terrifying application of Trump’s xenophobic policies and why the term “concentration camp” is fitting)—as reality does not mean that we must accept the terms of the reality. It simply means we acknowledge “Yes, this atrocity is happening. How will I respond?” Acceptance should not dissuade activism or resistance; instead, it actually allows us to grasp the truth of what is happening so that we are able to make conscious, informed choices about how to respond.
To educate yourself more about the reality of the violent separation of families and detention of people along the southern U.S. border and to learn ways that you can help, please check out these resources:
- Taking Action on Immigrant Detention: a summary of reported recommendations
- Resources and Support for Transgender Immigrants
- What You Can Do to Close the Camps
- How to Help: Links to Post Bails
- A Trans Asylum Seeker Support Network is being organized in Western Mass. You can support them via Venmo: @transasylumsupport and email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*I’d like to thank April Grayce Dunlop for her attentive suggestions in revising this post. I’m particularly thankful for her suggestions for this paragraph.