Stress Resilience and the Power of Positive Acceptance

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Dr. Purushothaman
August 23, 2013

Using the strategy of acceptance in life to deal with depression and anxiety is a technique that is helpful for people who suffer from unhappiness of any kind.

To define acceptance in life the way we use it in therapy is complicated. I like this quote.

“Acceptance is observation of life and suspension of judgment about whether what is happening is good or bad, right or wrong.”

Ron Smotherman

This sounds very scary to people!

If you observe life with suspension of judgment, wont something terrible happen?
How can you do that?
You need to know whats “ good” and “ bad”, don’t you?

These are good questions. The idea is complicated and simple at the same time. Anytime you are in a state of struggle against reality, you create distress and cloud your problem solving ability. Dropping judgement assists you to eventually evaluate situations and make decisions about how to handle them effectively. Evaluating situations, actions, feelings, or thoughts as "good or bad" and "right or wrong" often triggers feelings of guilt and shame or conflict that are overwhelming.

The use of acceptance is a strategy of changing your reaction to situations that are unavoidable, to one that is less resistant. Another way to define acceptance is not arguing with reality.

Acceptance in Life: What is not Arguing with Reality?

Not arguing with reality, is essentially, not causing yourself more distress when there is something that is happening or has happened that that you don’t like.

Some examples of non acceptance are focusing on thinking how:

Someone or something shouldn’t be the way it is ( including yourself)
You shouldn't feel or think a certain way.
You or someone else should or shouldn’t have done something in the past

This focus in your thinking generates anger, jealousy, insecurity, and unhappiness. Also, it does not help you to solve relationship or life problems but causes you to get stuck in an emotional state that is not comfortable.

When you are in a state of non acceptance, you get stuck in the place of resistance, rather than being able to problem solve effective ways to deal with things.

Acceptance in Life: Non-acceptance and How it Keeps us Stuck


Strategy 1.

You ate a chocolate bar last night and were on a diet. You focus on how you shouldn’t have eaten a chocolate bar last night, that will begin to stir up feelings of guilt and shame about emotional eating. You can easily get stuck there rather than moving on.

You say: "Why did I do that? I shouldn't have! Whats wrong with me? Why won't I ever make a good food decision? I am bad and my eating habits are wrong."

Strategy 2

Acknowledging that you ate the chocolate bar, and that it is something that you don’t want to happen in the future, because you are trying to be healthy , is a nonjudgmental accepting way to approach the problem. This will enable you to get curious about what led to the chocolate bar eating incident and move forward so it doesn’t happen again.

Calling yourself bad, or insisting what you did you shouldn’t have done has a different effect on how you approach the problem, doesn’t it?


Another example of acceptance follows.

Strategy 1

Let’s say you are sitting in traffic. You did not anticipate the traffic and you will now be late to work. You become agitated and angry in such a situation. You may say in your head over and over how it shouldn’t be the way it is or how you should have done something differently to avoid the traffic. You may work yourself up into and angry and agitated state, at others or at yourself for your perceived failure to predict and outsmart the traffic.

In this situation, how will you feel? Likely angry, depressed, worried, distressed, stressed or even guilty. Yet you haven’t changed the fact that you are stuck in traffic.

Strategy 2

If you can practice acceptance, you reduce the stress that you cause yourself ( in the form of your thoughts and insistence that things be other than how they are). You many say, I don't like this, but it is the way it is. May as well strategize a way for it to not happen next time, and also enjoy the moment by listening to some music or making a phone call to a friend.

It’s a subtle difference between acknowledging and moving forward, or getting stuck in resistance or non acceptance.

Acceptance in Life:Acceptance is not giving up

Acceptance is not resignation. Acceptance does not mean that you give up and just “ accept” that you are overweight, or in an unhappy marriage, or depressed. It merely means that you honestly appraise the situation and stop insisting it should be different when it isn’t. From that point of acceptance, you are able to logically strategize how to address the issue to change it, rather than getting stuck in the negative emotions of thinking it should be different.

Marsha Linehan uses the example of a car to illustrate the concept. If you go to a mechanic, your breaks have been squeaking and not working correctly and he says you need new breaks. What would happen if you would spend time insisting it shouldn’t be the case. Arguing with the mechanic, and then refusing to fix the problem because “ it shouldn’t be that way?.” Well likely you would get in a car accident!

The concept of acceptance in life really functions the same way, even though we can’t see quite so clearly how it holds us back. Acceptance helps you drop the resistance and unskillful feelings that can keep your trapped. It then helps you move to a logical place of making a skillful decision about how to solve something in your life that is not working.

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