We cannot change anything until we accept it. – Carl Jung. The balance of acceptance and change is integral to the therapeutic process, particularly when seen through the lens of dialectical behaviour therapy. Initially, people usually seek counselling because they want to make a change – maybe they want to change how they feel or how they respond to certain situations or emotions. But change often requires some form of acceptance from the individual. For example, if a client wants their partner to want kids, the focus needs to be on their acceptance of that fact since they cannot change how their partner feels.
The balance of acceptance and change is integral to the therapeutic process.
I’ve noticed how many people continue to fight their acceptance of reality in ways that aren’t as noticeable. It’s essentially like being stuck – it’s a refusal to accept that “this really is how life is right now.” Pain plus a lack of acceptance can lead to even more suffering because fighting reality often makes us feel both stuck and miserable.
As counsellors and helpers, recognizing these five warning signs of resisting reality can help us cultivate a shift in perspective:
Ruminating about whoever caused the “problem” can often feel more comfortable than thinking about solving the issue. After all, it’s easier than adjusting to living with the consequences or taking responsibility for our part. The more energy a client puts into blame, the less they face the facts that there is a problem. Even though they may not be fully culpable as the cause, it may still be their mess to clean up.
Putting things off and waiting for some unknown change to happen before taking action is often a sign someone hasn’t fully accepted reality (e.g., “I will work on myself when . . .”). But if they’re seeing reality as it is right now and the outcome is important to them, what exactly are they waiting for? For example, I avoided exercise during the pandemic because I wanted the gym back! Working on acceptance meant letting go of needing the gym and doing online workouts in my living room instead.
“Poor me, this shouldn’t have happened because I’m a nice person!” Although there are times when we do need time to heal and lick our wounds, the longer someone embodies this mindset, the less likely they are to help themselves by taking action. You can help someone out of this state by having them identify and name their feelings as legitimate responses to hard circumstances, which is a form of self-validation – it’s very different from the immobilization and helplessness that accompanies self-pity.
Sometimes clients may refuse to participate and do what’s needed when faced with making a change, almost like throwing down their hand in a card game. It can often sound like “I can’t stand this!” “I won’t!” or “Nope!” Anger often underlies this unwillingness to take action, and it can get in the way of doing what’s actually going to help them solve or learn to live with this new circumstance. A willingness to do what is needed is movement toward accepting their current reality.
Focusing on the details and trying to increase control is often a means to avoid feelings. Controlling tendencies may sound like shoulds. For example, a cllient may have an idea of the way things should be (the way they want them to be), and anything else is deficient! This makes it hard to open up and accept that things aren’t as they want them to be and that it’s not a catastrophe.
Accepting reality means seeing the moment as it is and seeing ourselves as we are.
Why is working on acceptance helpful?
Accepting reality means seeing the moment as it is and seeing ourselves as we are. When we see, acknowledge, and accept something without judgement, we are better equipped to react in an effective way. Acceptance doesn’t mean approval, endorsement, giving up, or giving in. If we want to make changes, we can! But only after we truly acknowledge what’s going on.
Accepting reality involves making an inner commitment to seeing reality as it is. However, clients may need to be reminded of the fact that they are trying to accept: “This really is happening right now.” Often once someone has accepted something difficult, grief and sorrow follow in the short term. And their level of acceptance with certain issues is subject to change – sometimes they may have more acceptance of reality, sometimes less. It is not a one-and-done thing, and non-acceptance may pop back up.
Many people I work with accept reality as a way to increase peace with the many things they cannot control. Although they may not like what’s happening, it’s still happening. Seeing things clearly without fighting the facts is the first step towards deciding what to do next: strive for change or turn their mind back to acceptance.
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