Acceptance and distress tolerance
Life’s not fair. I can think of many things that seem unjust. I just have to watch the news or listen to people’s stories to confirm this. If you’ve ever found yourself saying “Why me?” or “It’s not fair”, you may be someone that finds it hard to accept the hardships of life. I know I find it difficult to accept certain things.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you necessarily like the status quo, but there is a healthy acknowledgement that the resistance within you creates unhappiness despite there being nothing you can do to completely fix the situation. Acceptance helps improve emotional regulation.
The goal of acceptance as an emotion regulation strategy is not to change the experienced emotions, but to receive them without control attempts.
For example, I can’t stand animal cruelty. When I focus on animal cruelty around the world, it gets me really worked up and completely miserable. I feel helpless. If I accept that it happens and that I cannot stop it right here right now, my focus changes a little and I channel into something more positive. I donate to three animal charities each month to help animals further afield, and if I ever saw someone mistreating an animal I would step in. This is realistic and helps me feel happier. Whilst I abhor the fact that animals get abused, when I tune my focus on to areas where I can make a difference, I feel a whole lot better.
The truth is life is hard. The more you try to resist this truth the more frustrated you will be. As we cannot make life perfect we need to learn acceptance of the things we cannot change. Acceptance does not mean being passive. It does mean a healthy acknowledgement but there are certain things we cannot change. Knowing the difference is key for good mental health.
No one likes to feel uncomfortable or unhappy. I am currently trying to lose weight and it is a period of discomfort for me as I hate being hungry. If I want to lose weight however, I have to accept that there will be some discomfort while I am dieting. I realised that I had been telling myself that I couldn’t stand being hungry. I couldn’t cope with not eating what I wanted to when I wanted to. I’ve always had a good metabolism and never had weight issues but now that I am getting older, it is clear that my metabolism is slowing down. It has taken a while to accept this fact but only once I had accepted this could I actually begin to change my behaviour.
When I realised that I must accept the discomfort, I changed the way I spoke to myself. Instead of saying I cannot stand to be hungry, I told myself that I can actually cope with being hungry as it is temporary. When I feel the hunger pangs, I tell myself that this is a good feeling because it means I am losing weight. Discomfort comes in waves, it only lasts until my next meal so it’s not that bad.
Discomfort is a part of life. Whether it’s reading that report that you don’t want to be bothered with, losing weight or speaking to somebody about something unpleasant. We all have to face times when we feel uncomfortable. We make it harder on ourselves when we try to keep life happy and comfortable all the time. (that’s an impossible task – give it up). Denying that discomfort is a part of life will increase anxiety and depression.
Accepting that life has its ups and downs can allow you to be more relaxed about the downtimes. It’s far better to tell yourself that you are just living life (with imperfection, mistakes and failure etc) like everybody else rather than resisting what is. When we resist we create more stress and this stress is over things we have no ability to change.
Acceptance in life is key for a positive mindset. That may seem paradoxical but studies show that this is indeed the case.
I like myself far more than I used to when I was younger but I still struggle with self-acceptance. Even though I know I need to love what I have, it is hard to do this when we are bombarded by images of perfection on social media and online, in general.
Many people have low self-acceptance. There can be many reasons for this, but one widely accepted theory is that because we develop our self-esteem, in part, from others appreciating us, people with low self-acceptance may have had parents who lacked empathy during their childhood. Consequently, in their adult lives, they may need much stronger affirmation from others than most people do. In other words, ordinary levels of approval do not “move the needle” on their self-esteem.
The key to self-acceptance is working with what you have and showing yourself compassion. I’m working on this and it is improving. Getting older doesn’t help either but the irony is that I was very insecure when I was younger anyhow. I look back at old pictures of myself when I was in my 20’s and think how lovely I looked. Yet I can remember at the time not feeling very confident about myself at all. This has made me realise that I need to be okay with where I am right now I will never be younger than I am now and looking after myself and accepting myself the way I am helps me feel a lot happier. Of course, I can improve what I have but it’s good to feel at ease with all my current flaws.
So if you have things in your life that you are finding difficult to accept, think about the disadvantages of this way of thinking. It will only be creating negative emotions and life is too short to constantly feel miserable.
Look after yourself, do the best you can to be the best version of yourself, but don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t where you would like to be. Whether that’s related to your appearance, your financial status or your relationship status, be okay with where you are right now and work from there. You will find that you are more successful in your endeavours if you start from a place of acceptance.
Photo by Jernej Graj on Unsplash