Why Acceptance is Empowering
Acceptance gets a bad reputation when we associate it with having a lack of agency. But mindful acceptance is actually the opposite: it’s a way of choosing how we respond to challenges that is extremely empowering. This approach can shift us out of an avoidance-based existence, towards one of greater agency, freedom and fearlessness. I sometimes describe this as emotional confidence.
Building a practice of acceptance does take time. Rather than expecting ourselves to do it all in one go, it can be more helpful to just find a starting point (or a next step). This can definitely be enough to create growth.
With this in mind, I’m sharing three of the starting points I discovered in the early days of my own practice, which I find valuable to revisit even now, years later. Your journey may look different to mine, as we each inhabit our own unique process, so it’s worth experimenting to find your own next step.
1. What’s Your Resistance Style?
Resistance is the flip side of acceptance: it’s a tense and rigid ‘not-wanting’ response that can happen mentally, emotionally or physically when our experience isn’t how we’d like it to be.
In my classes I often ask ‘what do we do when we experience something unpleasant?’, and people are usually pretty quick to recognise that they either push it away (try to get rid of it), or ignore it (pretend it’s not happening).
These are the ways that we practice resistance. When these strategies fail, we can end up overwhelmed by the feelings we’ve been trying to avoid.
I used to struggle a lot with anxiety, and I see now that much of this battle came not from the feeling of anxiety in itself, but from my unwillingness to experience it. When we develop the alternative practice of acceptance, we can work much more creatively with these challenges, and learn true resilience.
Starting point: it can be interesting to get to know your own style of resistance, to begin noticing any patterns without any judgement. What do you do when you experience something unpleasant?
In my younger years, I believed that accepting myself as imperfect would get in the way of my efforts to create positive change. The way I related to the parts of myself that I didn’t like was to reject them. But when I started to befriend these parts of me – by getting to know them better instead of dismissing them as unwanted – I began to accept all of myself, just as I am.
Only once I got to know these struggling parts of myself could I begin to give them what they need. This was the doorway into true growth. I discovered the truth of psychologist Carl Rogers’ observation that ‘the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change’.
Even when we notice we’ve got sucked into our usual style of resistance, we can accept that we are doing our best right now.
Starting point: mine was to notice the parts of myself that I didn’t accept – the ones I wanted to shoo away when they showed up; initially these were my vulnerable, angry and scared ‘selves’. What parts of your self do you tend to reject?
3. Embracing Imperfection
Life is imperfect, but we are conditioned – by various experiences and influences – to chase a perfect life that doesn’t exist, and that can include a doomed attempt to be perfect ourselves.
Sometimes it still surprises me that I’ve recovered from perfectionism enough to be able to screw something up without it being the end of the world. It used to provoke crippling shame, but now if I make a mistake, I’m usually able to see it as a learning experience. The big shift is that I can accept myself as imperfect. As all human beings are.
This form of accepting is massively liberating. Not chasing after perfection not only allows me to be kinder to myself (and to others), but also free to actually enjoy life, just as it is.
Starting point: a big step towards accepting my own imperfection was learning that ‘ good enough is good enough’. In every area of my life, I started asking myself the question ‘What would “good enough” look like?‘ – from job performance, to physical appearance, to housekeeping, to how I spend my free time. Letting go of the unrealistic expectations I’d held for myself had the effect of freeing up so much energy for enjoyment, creativity and connection with others (who are also imperfect).
Other blogs I’ve written about this area of practice include:
Guided practices to help develop acceptance can be found in the ‘Self-Kindness’ section of my Meditations page.
If you’d like some help with finding your own starting points for mindful acceptance, you might be interested in my ‘Steps To Freedom’ coaching series – it’s a 6-step programme of tools for developing emotional confidence, via 1-to-1 sessions on Skype.