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Are you troubled by what you think should be?
If so, you’re not alone.
Many people have difficulty accepting what is. They desperately cling to what they think should be.
That need to hold on to what should be drives so much suffering and unhappiness. The world isn’t often just or fair. We, as people, impose our vision of justice and fairness on the world where we can through social structures and laws.
But in your personal life? Well, that’s much different.
“I’m a good person. It’s not fair that this terrible thing happened to me.” You’re right; it’s not.
“I work so hard, but I can barely afford to pay my bills! This isn’t right!” You’re completely correct.
“I love this person so much and tried so hard, but my relationship still failed.” That is unfortunately how it goes sometimes.
By learning to accept what is, instead of clinging to what you think should be, you can alleviate many negative feelings and long-term unhappiness. You have the freedom and power to step into something new, make new choices, and find a way forward instead of living in a past that’s not coming back.
The first thing to understand is…
1. Accepting what is doesn’t mean you avoid all negative feelings.
Good things happen, and we feel good. Bad things happen, and we feel bad. That is a totally normal part of the human experience.
Unfortunately, far too many people are obsessively chasing some blissful happiness where they will never have to experience negative emotions again. That is unreasonable and unrealistic.
Some people walk around with a smile on their face all the time, presenting the image that they are always happy. Yet, people really don’t view that as strange. On the other hand, we look at sad people and wonder what’s wrong with them that they are so unhappy all the time.
People don’t exist in a singular vacuum of emotion. Learning to accept what is won’t make you happy all the time. Nothing will. You’re still going to experience heartbreak, sadness, pain, and all other negative emotions that come with just living life.
And that’s okay! In fact, it’s better than okay! Negative emotions tell you that something is wrong and needs to change. They are a signpost on your life’s journey to creating the kind of life you want and nurturing happiness in your life.
Problems arise when you experience those negative situations and emotions and decide to just live there by clinging to what you think should be. Instead, feel the emotions that you need to feel and then let them go. Don’t keep pushing your fingers into the old wounds to keep hurting.
2. Embrace the flow of life.
Some things will happen to you in your life that are far outside of your control. You will not have any say in how they happen to you. The only choice that you’ll have is in how you respond to the situation.
For example, let’s say you get called into the boss’s office one day at work, and he informs you that you’re fired. You have no control over that. Even your boss may not have control over that. It may be anything from economic factors to the big wigs at the company deciding that they need to downsize.
The only power that you have in that situation is the power to choose how you respond.
You may feel angry, afraid, sad, or any other negative emotions. But what good does it really do? Does being sad make it any easier? Does being angry get you your job back? Does being afraid get you into a new job? No. The answer to all of those questions is no.
And what’s worse is that a negative response may put other people off. Maybe your boss would have been willing to give you a letter of recommendation or knows of a job opening that you might be suited for, but they aren’t going to help you if you vent your anger at them.
Embrace what life throws at you, even when it’s terrible. Especially when it’s terrible. Your power lies in your ability to welcome it with open arms and figure out how to move forward from it.
3. Look for growth opportunities.
The hardships of life provide you a valuable environment for personal growth and development. Let those difficult things serve as a catalyst for you to try new things, look for different paths, and ride the wave of this little thing called life.
That may require some additional help. For example, you may need a mentor to find your way through a difficult situation, a therapist to deal with trauma, or a support group to just be understood.
That is not to suggest that you somehow deserved these terrible things or that they should be looked at as a positive. No. Terrible things happen to innocent people all the time. It’s not fair. It’s not just. It’s not some gift from God or any other such malarkey. It’s about seizing your power and moving forward from it. It’s being a survivor of circumstance rather than being a victim of circumstance.
4. Acceptance does not mean approval.
A major hurdle that many people face when working on acceptance is the idea that acceptance means approval. It does not. It also doesn’t have to mean disapproval, either.
To look at a situation with approval or disapproval is to judge. Judgment may not be necessary at all. You don’t have to approve or disapprove of the thing to just accept that it happened, and that what happened is outside of your control.
Ask yourself, “Do I need to judge this? Do I need to have an opinion on the matter?” And if you don’t, avoid falling into the trap of thinking about the problem in that context.
5. Expect and embrace the flawed nature of things by having no expectations.
Everything has flaws. Every person has flaws. Sometimes people do malicious things for negative reasons, like greed or power. On the other hand, sometimes people do insensitive things, not because they are malicious, but because they are human and sometimes make bad decisions. You’ve likely done that yourself.
They may be trapped in negative patterns because of their own problems. It could be that they thought they were making the right decision but weren’t.
They could also have been totally oblivious to how their actions might have affected you. Many people just aren’t that emotionally intelligent and may do wrong or insensitive things because they don’t know any better.
The easiest way to accept this reality is to just understand that everything can bring negativity with it. Don’t go into a situation expecting everything to be amazing, work out perfectly, or that there’s never any come down from all the great things that may or may not happen. After all, that outcome is something that is outside of your control.
The only thing you can control is how you respond to the situation once it’s there.
6. Develop and practice your mindfulness.
Mindfulness is an intentional act of present awareness. It’s helpful in accepting what is because it focuses on what is going on in the moment.
There are many situations where people have a hard time accepting what is because they are rooted in the past or the future. For example, a person who was wronged in the past may still be angry about what happened to them. Likewise, a person who was recently diagnosed with a chronic illness may be in denial because of the uncertainty and fear of the future.
Both people can stay trapped in those negative emotions for years at a time if they don’t find a way to shift their focus away. Yes, it’s reasonable to be angry about a previous wrong done to you. Yes, it’s reasonable to be afraid about an uncertain future. Still, those negative emotions don’t actually help or benefit that person in the present.
To be mindful is to come back to the present to deal with what’s here in this present moment. It helps with acceptance because you are distancing yourself from those overwhelming past and future emotions that can distort your present.
7. This too shall pass.
“This too shall pass.” is a quote with an unclear history that encompasses everything that can be said about acceptance. All of the pain and suffering, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, even life itself – it will pass. Sooner or later, it will pass.
The thing that you’re experiencing right now? It will pass. It may not get better; it may not get worse. It may just flow by like a leaf being carried downstream in a river.
This mantra can be helpful when you find yourself overwhelmed in the moment. Reminding yourself that this too shall pass can keep you grounded and peaceful when things aren’t going so well. Acceptance can also make you more appreciative of what you have in the present.
It’s so much easier to be happier and content when you stop to appreciate what you have in the moment before it passes.
8. Why not me?
People who struggle with accepting what is may have a difficult time with the fairness of it all. So you may find yourself questioning, “Why me?”
But that isn’t really the right question.
The right question is, “Why not me?” There are billions of people on this planet experiencing all manner of things. Some are grand, some are not. Some are joyful, some are terrible. Good things happen to everyday people every day, so do terrible things.
Why not me? What makes me so special out of those billions of people that I can somehow avoid the pains, trials, and tribulations that come with just trying to live life? Even a person living the most perfect life will experience the pain of losing a loved one or a dramatic change that is far outside of their control.
It is tempting to fall into self-pity and ask, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” And the answer may very well be “nothing” because that’s just how life goes sometimes.
9. To accept does not mean to forgive and forget.
Acceptance is not the same as forgiveness. If someone did you wrong, particularly in a traumatic way, accepting what happened to you is not letting them off the hook for their actions. You have every right to limit the harm they have done to you, can do to you, or to seek justice for a wrong they may have committed.
Practicing acceptance is not being a doormat, though some may interpret it that way. Once you get good at acceptance, they may see how you let things come and go and think they can use that; but don’t let them. Boundaries are essential because people may very well try to take advantage of that.
Acceptance does not mean passivity. It’s an interesting duality to both accept the things that are, yet still decide to fight to make them better. It’s less confusing when you remember that acceptance does not mean approval.
10. Keep practicing.
Make a regular effort to practice acceptance in your life. You’re probably not going to see results for a while. It may take a long time before you can welcome what comes and then send it on its way.
However, acceptance as a way of life is something that gets easier with practice. Eventually, you may find that things just don’t affect you as deeply because you realize that they are very temporary, and therefore not that important.
And, of course, some things are greater than others. Some things you won’t be able to just accept and let flow past you. That’s okay. That’s just part of being human.
Want to be able to accept what is and move on from it? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.
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