What do we mean by Acceptance?

We are going to be talking about Acceptance a fair amount round these parts, so we may as well define our terms.

If you are suffering or in pain, the idea that you should practice acceptance can seem counter-intuitive. It would feel as if you were being told to resign to misery. That is hardy what we are promoting!

So what do we mean by acceptance, and how is it beneficial?

In his book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn offers a helpful definition of the kind of acceptance we are talking about:

…Acceptance simply means acknowledging reality as it is right now. When we accept something, we are simply acknowledging that it exists. We don’t judge it as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, desirable or undesirable; we simple acknowledge it as being present.


Acceptance can be difficult to do, or to even think about attempting, when we are faced with pain and distress; but when it comes to things like emotions, thoughts, the past and external situations beyond our control, the alternatives to acceptance—such as denying, or suppressing and avoiding—only make the things worse.

Too much time can be spent resisting reality as it is, whether that is the diagnosis of an illness, or events out of our control. This kind of resistance often does little more than exacerbate the pain that life is already causing us.

To quote Kabat-Zinn again, he says of such resistance:

This actually prevents positive change from occurring. We may be so busy denying and forcing and struggling that we have little energy left for healing and growing, and what little we have may be dissipated by our lack of awareness and intentionality.

Acceptance is not the same as resignation, approval or tolerance. You do not have to like the reality you are facing, but sooner or later you have to face it. It does not mean that you are happy with how things are, or that you have adopted a passive attitude towards whatever you are going through.

In their excellent workbook, The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression, Kirk Strosah and Patricia Robinson write:

Please don’t mistake acceptance for resignation, or giving in to a life of misery… Many people are unclear about the concept of acceptance in therapy. They believe that accepting something means it will never change, and since they can’t live with the way things are, talking about acceptance seems impossible.
However, acceptance merely means accepting the way things are at this particular moment in time. It doesn’t require that you agree with the circumstance, that you like the circumstance, or that you hope it will always be this way. It is merely acknowledgment of what is.
It is an acknowledgement of the present condition without judgment of the condition being good or bad. It is only from this posture of acceptance that you can objectively determine the appropriate course of action.

We can see then that Acceptance is simply seeing things as they actually are in the present. And this is the first step towards moving forward.

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