Do you feel you are not in control of your life? Do you want to make meaningful changes to your life? It’s time to practice self-acceptance.
KEY POINTS: Acceptance is key to making meaningful changes in your life. You can't become self-possessed without self-acceptance. Accepting what is isn't the same as saying it's OK.
In the first episode of the Hulu sitcom “Shrill,” there’s a scene in which the heroine, passive, deferential Annie, sees a beautiful plus-sized woman in a flower shop, walking around like she owns the place. Socialized to believe that her size is a problem and she should try to be invisible, Annie is enthralled. She follows the mystery woman out the door, mesmerized, her eyes asking, “How does she do it?”
The woman sashays through an intersection, not questioning her right of way, judgment, or place in the world. In contrast, when Annie tries to follow, she ends up in an absurd dance with the on-coming traffic, not sure if she should stay or go, giving the drivers unclear signals, and thus being stuck on the side of the street as a result.
The narrative arc of Shrill revolves around Annie’s growing confidence in who she is despite having a body society rejects as “too big.” She decides that she has problems, but for her, being fat isn’t one of them. The show celebrates big bodies, big love, big ambition, and big humor. It’s a show about a woman rejecting the narrative others try to impose on her and taking ownership of her story.
Self-Acceptance and Self-Possession
The formal definition of self-possession is having composure, especially under stress. I like to think of self-possession as a sum of its parts—possession, to take ownership of one’s self, an individual’s character or behavior. Self-possession begins with full acceptance of what is. It requires us to lay out the facts of our history without attaching to how things “should” have been, and to regard the facts of our present without attaching to what “should” be now.
Many people I speak to resist this step because acceptance, to them, indicates approval or resignation. “If I accept that my grandfather abused me as a child, I am minimizing how traumatic the abuse was,” or “If I accept that my 15-year-old daughter smokes pot every day, I’m saying it’s OK.” The opposite is true.
Only by accepting what is can we take our power back from the abusive grandfather or rebellious child and take actions to make things different. Then we can say, “I can never change who my grandfather was or what he did, but I can heal from what happened.” Or, “I have a lot of fear and anxiety about my daughter’s choices. I can tolerate my own discomfort in order to get her the support she needs.”
Not accepting facts puts the steering wheel of your life into the hands of the most challenging person in your orbit. As author Byron Katie says, “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” Nothing is a bigger waste of time than hoping someone will change without you having to do anything about it. Better to experience other people’s behavior the same way you would accept the weather and then decide how to proceed.
Can you ignore a drizzle as long as it doesn’t start raining harder? What if the wind picks up and your umbrella blows inside out? How massive does the hurricane have to be before you’d consider moving to a different climate? Each of these weather events suggests a different response. The right response is never to howl that you wish the weather was different. Nor is it to insist on wearing a bathing suit during a snowstorm in August because that’s what I had planned. Consider my client Jamie.
Jamie and her boyfriend, Max, had been together since college. Max had never worked a steady job or contributed to their household expenses. Jamie has many hopes for the future, all of which hinge on Max working a full-time job. She wants to get married, buy a home, and have children. These dreams seem impossible on one income.
Before moving in with Jamie, Max lived rent-free with his brother, and before that, with his parents. He has not spent one day of his 30 years financially independent. Instead of facing hard truths about her relationship, Jamie looked for evidence that things “should” be different. Max has a college degree. He should be able to find good work. Max is handy and often does projects around the house.
He should be able to use these same skills to find work. Max talks about the big dreams he has for his future. He should be able to take action to realize those dreams. Jamie thinks her future and happiness depend on Max getting a job. But the truth is, Max isn’t looking for work, and from his track record, he’s not likely to do so anytime soon.
But whether Max gets a job or not is not the key to Jamie’s happiness. Jamie’s happiness depends on her ability to accept what is and make decisions from there.
Maybe she can accept that Max might never work, he’s a dreamer, not a doer, but perhaps that’s enough for Jamie. He might be an amazing stay-at-home dad if Jamie is willing and able to make enough money to support their family.
If not, she’d be wise to find someone already gainfully employed.
Making plans for your life that relies on someone else changing keeps you stuck and powerless in your life. It’s only when you accept the facts of your life fully, and make choices based on evidence, not fantasy, are you able to make meaningful changes.
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Written by: Tonya Lester, LCSW Originally appeared on: Psychology Today Republished with permission