According to Dictionary.com, acceptance is defined as follows:
“favorable reception; approval; favor.”
“the act of assenting or believing.”
Now, I am not one to argue with fact. Truly, I love facts; my brain thrives on facts, evidence-based science, and rational description. However, I have a real problem with this definition of the word acceptance.
In my opinion, acceptance does not necessarily equate to approval. We don’t have to like what we have to accept; we don’t have to be okay with it. This is an important facet of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Accepting something doesn’t necessarily mean that we approve of it; we just accept the situation or state for what it is–its reality–regardless of how our minds judge it (good, bad, unfair, etcetera). Discovering this notion and applying it to my own personal journey has helped me greatly.
For years, I have struggled with accepting who I am, the way my brain works, and how I respond to my environments when I’m stressed, anxious, angry, or sad. I sought approval outside of myself for years, waiting for someone or something to give me that validation I was so desperately seeking. When I stumbled upon the book, The Happiness Trap, I learned about “radical acceptance,” and how simply accepting our reality for what it is can actually help us move forward with our lives. Of course, I had my hesitations: How could I possibly accept the many character flaws I have, the years of mental illness that wreaked havoc on my body, physical illness, how I see myself, and the way I feel about myself?
It wasn’t until I dissolved the connotation of acceptance and approval–separated the two words entirely–that I was able to take a step toward accepting myself and my reality as it is today. I began to reassure myself, recognizing that accepting my flaws, my past, my battle with mental and physical illness, and my highly sensitive emotional nature did not necessarily mean that I approved of them. This is where I began my journey of self-acceptance: Realizing that it didn’t require approval from others or myself. It just required acceptance. Acceptance was my first step.
To this day, I still don’t feel okay with my reality. Of course I would rather be struggle-free, have normally regulated emotions, not be at war with food and my body, not be so reactive and defensive, be more of an intellectual, and be a few inches taller. And that’s okay. It’s okay not to be okay with our reality, with what we feel, see, or experience. However, just because we don’t feel okay about our reality or what’s currently going on with us does not mean that we can’t accept it for what it is.
Now, this isn’t to say to take the approach of, “It is what it is, I can’t do anything about it!”. That is not the point I’m trying to get across here. We can make and take committed actions toward self-acceptance and acceptance of our current reality. How do we do this? Well, there is one method I’ve found very helpful in my own journey. In ACT, the method I’m going to try to explain to you all is referred to as “defusion.” When we fuse with our thoughts, we become our thoughts; we become failures, worthless, undeserving, unintelligent, unattractive (insert any emotion/feeling that suits your mind and your own self-limiting thoughts/beliefs). Fusing with our thoughts blocks our perception; it’s as if we’re wearing glasses without our correct prescription, distorting our sense of self and experiences. The opposite of fusion is defusion, which is defined as creating space between our thoughts and feelings and seeing them for what they are (helpful, unhelpful), not what they say they are (all-truths, facts, self-fulfilling prophecies).
The first step to engaging in the practice of defusion is to simply notice your thoughts. Noticing your thoughts doesn’t involve fusing to them or believing them as all-truths. All it involves is noticing the thoughts you’re experiencing in that moment without judgment. Next, you can either journal in a notebook or say aloud the following script:
“I am having the thought that I am __________________.”
To go one step further and create a little bit more space between your thoughts, try this script:
“I am aware that I am having the following thought that I am __________________.”
When I first did this exercise, I felt pretty silly writing down all of my thoughts. However as I began to read over my thoughts, I noticed that I felt a slight distancing from the unhelpful thoughts that reside in my mind. I have continued to do the exercise daily, and it has increased my self-awareness greatly. This is only one example of practicing defusion from our unhelpful thoughts, and there are many more to explore. If you are interested, check out the link below:
If you take away anything from this blog post, my hope is that it is this: Acceptance does not equate to approval. Please, don’t wait until you feel “ready” or approve of yourself enough to make the changes you need/want to make in your life. Our reality is not permanent, but if we ever want to change our reality, we must first accept it as it is today. In accepting it as it is in the now, we can take committed action toward shaping our reality in the future.