More and more people in all walks of life are coming to understand the importance of acceptance to their overall well-being, not the least of which is the vital role it plays in improving (and healing) family, love, work and interpersonal relationships. Acceptance leads to a life marked by realistic expectations, greater humility, and new choices, discoveries, and possibilities, as well as reduced sorry, stress, and frustrations—a life where hope replaces despair.
The acceptance paradigm is the very essence of The Serenity Prayer and the widely practiced 12 Step Programs. It is an intrinsic part of many spiritual beliefs and practices and fundamental to most mind, body and spirit teachings.
Recognizing the benefits of acceptance is not difficult. Why, then, is it that we—myself included—find it so difficult to “practice acceptance”? And why do we continue to direct, pressure, resist, criticize, manipulate—almost anything except accept our powerlessness over others and most things.
Overcoming the Four Major Obstacles to Practicing Acceptance
I have given serious thought to this quandary and how we can overcome or at least minimize it. I have done extensive research, reflected on my own experience with hardships, and interviewed people who are blessed with the serenity of living in acceptance, even in the most discouraging situations.
In doing so, I have come to believe there are at least four fundamental, interrelated obstacles to our being able to effectively practice acceptance.
Fear is a powerful acceptance blocker. We are fearful that if we accept the way others are, we—or they– will somehow be harmed. For example, if we allow our children to schedule their homework or study for tests as they see fit, we may be fearful that they will falter at school (and not get into college!) Similarly, if we accept annoying aspects and quirks of another’s personality, we may be afraid we would be giving up too much of (or not be able to fend for) ourselves.
Consequently, facing and processing such acceptance fears make it much easier to accept others and things as they are. Our fears are mostly illusory or speculative. Apt acronyms for FEAR are False Evidence Appearing Real and Future Events Already Ruined. Think about this for a moment.
Isn’t it the case that most of our fears are based on suppositions, speculations concerning events that haven’t yet occurred?
If you constantly remind yourself of this, your fears will not undermine you.
2. We Expect Too Much of Others.
Simply put, if we expect, we can’t accept! We thus need to lower or moderate our expectations of others in order to accept them as they are.
Our expectations are often based on our perceived needs that we look to others to satisfy. The real truth is that only we can satisfy our core needs.
To help moderate your expectations, here are three pertinent questions you can ask yourself:
Are there any unfulfilled needs of mine underlying my expectations of another person?
Am I looking for him to fulfill those needs?
Can she realistically fulfill those needs– even if she wanted to?
3. We Lack Trust and Faith.
Many of us simply do not trust or have faith that things will work out okay (or that we will be okay) if we accept “what is.” At work, for example, we may be struggling with a complex business problem over which we have very little influence, yet are reticent to let it “play out” naturally because we don’t have faith that the outcome will be positive.
Trust and faith can be fostered by remembering that almost always there are multiple paths to acceptable destinations and solutions. You need only look back on your past life experiences and travails to realize this is the case. I have found that it helps to verbalize trust; i.e., “I trust that (fill in the blank) will work out okay”, “I trust that I will overcome this challenge.”
Accepting people and things as they are, requires humility. We have to be willing to let go of such beliefs as “my way is the best or right way” and “I know what’s best for others.” We need to understand that what works well for us might not work well for others–particularly our loved ones, children, and family.
It helps if we realize that we are not nearly as omniscient or omnipotent as we are prone to believe. Everyone is unique and responds to events and challenges differently. To believe that our way is best for others borders on arrogance.
The Practicing Acceptance Challenge!
Overcoming these acceptance obstacles—even partially—enhances practicing acceptance. Thus, during this week I challenge you to focus on accepting people and things as they are—which is to say accepting life on life’s terms—by reducing your expectations, being more humble, addressing your fears, and trusting that everything will turn out as it is meant to me.
In doing so, I am confident The Gifts of Acceptance await you!