What comes to mind when I mention the word “acceptance?” Let’s be honest, for most of us, our first reaction is an eye roll. When we are reminded to accept reality, it normally means it is something we are unhappy with or do not want to change, so we are, understandably, reluctant.
For you, accepting may feel like caving or putting down your sword and armor and ending the fight instead of continuing to forge strongly ahead. The truth of what reality acceptance is, from a therapeutic perspective, could not be more different.
In fact, acceptance might actually be the missing factor keeping you from taking a huge leap toward recovery today.
As we let go of our preconceived notions of what it means to “accept,” we need a new working definition to replace it with. Marsha Linehan, the founder of the evidence-based approach, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), believes in the power of acceptance so much that it is a major tenet of her treatment.
In her treatment manual, she defines acceptance as “complete and total acceptance, from deep within, of the facts of reality,” which “involves acknowledging facts that are true and letting go of a fight with reality .”
Acceptance is a skill that is especially helpful when we are living a life that is not the life we want .
Accepting Reality is Not Approval
Linehan asserts this almost immediately after defining acceptance because it is often the first assumption we have, “so I have to just be okay with this?”
No. You can accept things as they are and still not like them.
You may not like how your family refers to food or the body, that your current disorder requires you to be hospitalized, or that you are missing out on key life experiences because you are in treatment or recovery.
Accepting these things does not mean you think they are great. It means you acknowledge they are your present reality.
Placing Demands on Reality
When we fight acceptance, we are fighting reality. We say things such as “it shouldn’t be this way,” “this is unfair,” or, “I wish ____.” The truth is, saying these things will only increase our feelings of helplessness and despair because no matter how much we assert them, nothing changes.
We are placing demands on reality and, ultimately, it does nothing for us. Reality doesn’t care what you think is fair or wish for or how you believe things should be. Reality is.
Once we accept this, we can let go of the perceived control we have to demand what we want out of the universe and reality and, instead, focus our energy on getting to work.
Consider the previous examples.
If you have family members that refer to food and bodies in an unhelpful way, then you are probably correct that it should not be that way, especially if they know your struggle. However, just asserting that won’t magically make it change.
Once we acknowledge this is how your family is, we can ask ourselves questions such as “how do I set boundaries with them considering this fact?” or “how can my team or I educate them to teach them a different way?”
The same is true with the other two examples – once you accept that you are hospitalized because of your eating disorder and that you are missing out on some experiences, you can begin to ask yourself what you want to do about it.
The Freedom of Acceptance
Acknowledging that we cannot change reality and accepting it as it is does not mean we give up. The goal of acceptance is the opposite, to “reduce suffering and increase a sense of freedom through coming to terms with the facts of one’s life.”
Focusing on what we refuse to accept about reality is wasting energy on things we cannot control. The freedom of acceptance lies in acknowledging there are things we cannot control and then committing to working within that to improvise, modify, adapt, and overcome.
Resources: Linehan, M. M., (2015). DBT skills training manual – 2nd edition. The Guilford Press.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published June 18, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 18, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC