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Tricky Acceptance - What Does Acceptance Mean?

Updated: Aug 14, 2020


"You just need to accept it!"


How often have you heard or said something along these lines? It can be one of those things we say and tell ourselves, that can be unhelpful.


When we are advised by others of a need to accept X or Y, it may well be with good intentions. At times though it may have the effect of closing the conversation. When I tell myself that I need to accept this or that, it adds to the list of things that I should be able to do. Our own `should do` lists are usually pretty long anyway - though that`s another discussion!


In relation to difficult things, we have experienced that perhaps are not our fault or are unfair in some way, accepting it can give an impression of being resigned to it or passive in response.


What does acceptance mean? How do I manage this and how do I do it?


One particular therapeutic approach (and the way I view it, life philosophy) is ACT otherwise known as Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Even though ACT has the word Acceptance right there in its name, it recognises that it can be a challenging word or idea. ACT often uses alternative phrases when working with the concept of acceptance. These words or phrases have a different kind of tone, they may be considered softer and can bring a more helpful meaning to the idea of acceptance.


Some examples of alternative ways of describing acceptance are;


to allow space for...


to be open to...




or to let go of the struggle with...



Does it have a different impact to say to yourself, that "I am trying to let go of the struggle with anxiety and allow it to be there", in contrast to "I am trying to accept anxiety"?


Even if changing the wording brings a different tone, that doesn`t mean we want a particular thought or feeling to be there. Usually, experience tells us that trying harder to get rid of the anxiety, the sadness or whatever that unpleasant feeling may be, doesn`t mean it disappears.

It makes sense to try and get rid of a thought or feeling that is unpleasant. It's not easy to consider allowing space for or being open to feelings that we don`t want such as anxiety or sadness.


In order to accept a situation or experience, the first part of the challenge is to take the time to acknowledge what thoughts and feelings we are able to recognise when we are thinking back to, or anticipating the situation or experience.


So if accepting is difficult, why make the effort? Why allow space for or be open to unpleasant stuff? In a nutshell the answer is because letting go of a struggle can start to allow energy to flow that can help us to re-engage with what is important in our lives.


I think Dr Russ Harris says it all with one of his great videos:






Jayne Tulip

Student Wellbeing Advisor - Faculty of Social Sciences


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