By: Shaila Anjum
Why is acceptance so hard? Perhaps it is because it involves a sense of defeat or failure in your level of understanding. Acceptance involves letting go of your former truth or belief to make room for something new. Acceptance does not need to mean we are happy or content with the new information, but merely that we have acknowledged it. For some, acceptance can mean giving up control. It involves coming face to face with the existence of a problem or issue which we were trying to avoid.
Like many things in the human psyche, there is often a domino effect at play. A thought about a concept affects your behaviour and future perceptions. How you think about one construct can affect how you think about another. Sometimes accepting something in one realm of your life may call for reassessing something else.
Imagine yourself under a big beautiful tree in the fall season with the leaves changing colour and a breeze. You try to gather the leaves but the wind keeps blowing your pile away. You try again, and again. Now, you are frustrated and sit there in anger. Then, you try again. Slowly realizing, no matter what you do, the wind will blow away the leaves.
Though it may sound silly, this is what most of us are guilty of doing at some point in our lives. If we accepted that the leaves could not stay still the first time, we would not have reached frustration.
The truth is, the longer we avoid accepting something, we end up causing more harm than if we had accepted it in the first place.
Chronic inability to accept reality can be one of the causes leading to depression, anxiety and related disorders. The American Psychological Association recognizes ACT as “an empirically supported treatment for depression, mixed anxiety disorders, psychosis, chronic pain, and obsessive–compulsive disorder” (Dindo et al., 2017). Many key factors associated with poor acceptance include learned avoidance, cognitive defusion, struggling to use various perspectives, hard time focusing on the present, difficulty understanding core values and thus gauging what is most important to devore our energy to.
How can we get better at acceptance?
Chronic inability to accept reality can be one of the causes leading to depression, anxiety and related disorders. Building acceptance typically involves a level of self-awareness and is achieved through mindfulness exercises. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is devoted to reaching acceptance through six core principles outlined by psychotherapist, Harris R. (2006):
Cognitive Defusion - stepping from a situation, thoughts, behaviours, perceptions and trying to see them for what they really are.
Acceptance/Expansion - Allowing unpleasant thoughts, feelings and emotions come and go without becoming emotionally invested or attached to them.
Contact with the Present/ Connection - When intrusive thoughts and emotions arise, rationalizing and bringing yourself back to the present moment.
The Observing Self - This is a part of our consciousness that is always present while thoughts occur and while we make sense of those thoughts - attach meanings, dissect and interpret those thoughts. The observing self helps us choose our stance on thoughts which is dictated through our values.
Values - This is the easier said than done part - to understand and dissect what is truly important to the deepest part of ourselves, not just superficially. Sometimes it is unclear what we value because some values may conflict one another. Feelings of disappointment may be a hindrance to acknowledge what you really want and value. Clarifying our true values can help us commit to action.
Committed Action - If you have reached this stage, you have an understanding of how to see things for what they are, let intrusive thoughts come and go, rationalize and come back to the present moment, and pick a stance based on values closest to you. Now you can make realistic goals that are close to your values and help you reach a more fulfilling life.
How are these six steps achieved through ACT?
Typically, ACT revolves around several mindfulness exercises to help you become more attuned with the self and slow down the damaging coping mechanisms you have adapted to which take us further from reality through panic and unrealistic thought processes. Though this article is devoted to ACT used in psychological distressors (not only used for disorders), it is also used in physiological conditions and medical symptoms such as migraines and chronic pain (Dindo et al., 2017).
If you think you can benefit from ACT, please do not hesitate to reach out!
Dindo, L., Van Liew, J. R., & Arch, J. J. (2017). Acceptance and commitment therapy: a transdiagnostic behavioral intervention for mental health and medical conditions. Neurotherapeutics, 14(3), 546-553.
Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia (2006); 12, 4. Retrieved from https://www.nph.net.au/project/embracing-your-demons-an-overview-of-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/