In speaking with people about their acceptance stories for the new book I’m writing, The Blessings of Acceptance, I am often asked “why should I accept the unacceptable?” My short response is, “You’ve already answered that by your question. If something is unacceptable to you, you can’t accept it.”
The long answer, however, is more complex. Acceptance is a personal choice each of us needs to make. We can accept a person or situation, or not. And what may be unacceptable for one person may not be for another. The determination is typically based on one’s beliefs and values, but also on their anger, resentments, perceptions—and misperceptions.
Whatever your predisposition, I would offer that before you decide that something or somebody is totally unacceptable, you should first consider what it will accomplish and what adverse consequences may result—for you and others. In my personal experience, non-acceptance most often doesn’t give me the desired result or “relief” that I expect, and I suspect it may be the same for you. Moreover, non-acceptance can also impair close relationships.
Pauline Finally Accepts the “Unacceptable”
Pauline’s third husband of 18 years came home from a short trip and announced, without explanation, that he didn’t want to stay married to her. Crushed, she moved to another town. Six months later, she learned that her eldest daughter (from another marriage) left her husband and children and moved in with her ex-husband.
I think most people would agree that if there ever were unacceptable behavior, this clearly qualified. Pauline became very angry and resentful, and had a nervous breakdown. She became estranged from her four children and led a life of bitterness and regret for twelve years, until she finally realized that the onus was on her to change her unhappy life. Through therapy and self-help groups, she slowly found a way to live in acceptance of what had happened. In Pauline’ words,
“I learnt that by feeling sorry for myself and blaming everyone around me the only person that was suffering and hurting was ‘me’. I had finally accepted that what happened between my ex and my daughter happened and there was nothing anyone could do about it, and nor should we.
“Strangely because my attitude had changed and the rest of my family realized I had accepted the situation, life became so much better. I am once again looked upon as the “Matriarch” of my family of 4 children 12 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. I now have a great relationship with all of the family, including my daughter and son-in-law. Once I accepted that he was no longer my “ex husband” and was in fact my son-in-law, life was so much easier.”
The Impact of Our Negative Feelings
Admittedly, Pauline demonstrated tremendous courage in finally accepting what was intolerable. Yet, it is important to remember that with time, effort, and searching reflection, the unacceptable (and its impact on us) can eventually give way to acceptance, particularly as our negative feelings subside. It is not until we process these feelings that we can accept and let go of “what happened” and constructively move forward with our lives. (See Letting Go of Negative Feelings and Emotions)
As Carrier Fisher says in her book Wishful Drinking, “Resentment is like drinking the poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I would add to that, “Or until we are too sick to take it any more!”
It is not simply a matter of right or wrong. Even if we are in “the right,” it is to little avail if we remain ensnared in our negative feelings. And yes, retaliation is also an option, but at best, it makes us feel better for only a short while (if that), and far more likely, serves mainly to exacerbate our torment. Thus, as stated above, whatever has happened or been done to us, we do have a choice in the matter. We can remain enmeshed in our anger and resentment, or we can try to find ways in which to defuse them before we become “too sick.”
Part Two—Transitioning Toward Acceptance
In my next post, I will share some tools that will help you process negative feelings as a means of transitioning toward acceptance—even of the unacceptable!
In the meantime, remember to
Let It Go—and Accept “What Is!”
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