Why I have a love/hate relationship with “Acceptance”.
Back when I was worrying all the time, only seeing the negative, going over and over every conversation, stressing before anything social and generally living wound-up and in a panic, there were a lot of memes and quotes out there saying you have to accept where life is at and learn to live with it.
I’m so glad I never listened to that.
If I had accepted that I had anxiety and not gone further, I’d still have it.
I’d still have panic attacks. I’d still over analyse everything, I’d still hold back, I’d never put myself out in the world. I’d certainly never have been the opening speaker at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London training therapists in how to run their businesses, I’d never have run my own seminars in different countries, and I’d never have put out a message to the world that is now followed in over 100 countries!
I’m not saying this to boast, but because I ‘knew for sure’ and I ‘absolutely felt’ I was a loser.
I was someone who could never speak to people as an equal let alone offer an opinion and try to make the world a better place in even small ways.
Acceptance is such a buzz word that I keep meeting people who are lingering in suffering, worrying all the time, being anxious and holding back, but who argue that all they can do is accept it, because that’s all they’ve been told.
That’s a disaster. And it comes from all or nothing thinking.
We’re not all the same. Sure, some people will suffer anxiety life long, but many others can change that. If I’d simply accepted it, I’d still be suffering.
If we all think we must accept our lot, then those who can change and who can build very different happier lives, are also held back in suffering.
But what about people with diagnosed anxiety disorders? That sounds like something one has to accept, right?
Yes, but here’s the crucial difference: Accepting that it’s there, is the gateway to doing something about it. That is very different from accepting that it will always be there. I believe most people can change out of disorders.
Think about the very label: “Anxiety Disorder” what does it mean?
My office is currently in a state of disorder. There are books and papers piled on a chair, cases stacked on the floor, microphone cables dangling and so on. If I took a bit of time and effort, I could restore it to order (it might happen Friday 😊). This may seem like a flippant example, but bear with me.
When I suffered panic attacks, couldn’t sleep for hours every night, worried all the time, held back and believed I’d never pass an exam… my mind was in a state of disorder. It took a good bit of help to reorder it, but the office analogy really is a good description of what had to happen to my thinking.
We’re not all the same. Blanket statements like “we all have to accept our suffering and live with it” are as unhelpful as the happy-clappy ‘just be positive’ and ‘the universe will take care of it’. They lack the nuance that is life.
The UK has the ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’ program where more than 50% of people who attend with anxiety disorders, are recovering in less than 20 sessions. That’s a public, underfunded, and over-subscribed service (at least according to colleagues who work in it!).
My hope is that people who are suffering like I used to, will look at ways to make life better and not stay stuck in inaction and suffering. Sure, if someone has tried dozens of things and nothing has worked, they may have to accept life with suffering and build their happiness in that frame. But for most people, acceptance is better seen as an acknowledgement of where things are at and a stepping-stone to seeking ways to change for the better.
Happily, I found a therapist who didn’t settle for acceptance and was all about “let’s try for better”.
I’m eternally grateful to them for that.
Be careful what you accept. Accepting something as being life-long too early, can make it true.
Change is easier than you think.
I’m always happy to help people find help. I can usually find someone in your area who can help and am happy to chat about how life can improve so feel free to get in touch if you like.
Have a great week,