Acceptance in Recovery
Importance of Recognizing Limitations in Life
Pushing against an immovable object can be terribly frustrating, and it will ultimately be a waste of time. There are just some things that have to be accepted for what they are. For example, people may be born with a set of genes that could later make them prone to certain diseases. There is nothing that this person can do about their genetic inheritance, and all they can do is try to work with what they have. The ability to effectively deal with things that are beyond the control of the individual is referred to as acceptance. The key to success in life is as much about recognizing limitations as it is about taking positive action. It allows people to focus on those areas where their efforts will be most fruitful.
Acceptance can be defined as the act of taking or receiving something offered. In human psychology the word is used to describe a person’s assent to the reality of a situation. The individual is able to accept the reality of what is happening and they do not feel the need to protest it or change it.
Self acceptance can be defined as an affirmation or acceptance of self in spite of weaknesses or deficiencies. It is closely linked with self esteem but there are important differences between the two. If the individual has high self esteem they will see themselves as valuable and worthwhile. Self acceptance is unconditional and it means that the individual is able to embrace their bad points as well as their bad points. The individual who has developed self acceptance has nothing to hide. They just accept who they are – warts and all.
Importance of Acceptance in Recovery
In order to find happiness in recovery it is important that people develop at least a certain degree of acceptance. This is important because:
* There are some things in life that the individual will not be able to change. If they refuse to accept these things it will only lead to suffering.
* It will have been an attempt to deny reality that drove most people into substance abuse in the first place. Addiction is a great example of how trying to escape reality is not an effective strategy.
* People can use perceived unfairness in life as a justification for substance abuse. By developing acceptance the person in addiction recovery will be reducing their risk of relapse.
* If people how to develop emotional sobriety they will need to learn acceptance for the reality of life. Emotional sobriety is just as important as physical sobriety if people are serious about living a satisfying life.
* The individual can waste a great deal of time trying to move immovable objects. If they were to use this time more constructively they would have more success in life.
* Learning to accept things teaches the individual a bit of humility. Those who are humble will usually find that they face less opposition in the world.
Acceptance and Emotional Sobriety
Acceptance is a factor of emotional sobriety. It can be described as the ability to deal with feelings in a positive manner – or the willingness and ability of people to feel their feelings. Other factors of emotional sobriety include:
* The individual feels able to cope no matter what is going on in their life.
* The ability to regulate strong emotions.
* The ability to live in the present moment – the individual is not always planning the future or worrying about the past.
* It means that people can deal with life without succumbing to extremes of mood.
* Such people will suffer from far less stress in their life. When they are faced with strong stressors they will feel able to deal with them.
* The fact that the individual has less stress in their life means that they are less likely to suffer from stress related illness.
* The individual finds it easy to develop deep and meaningful relationships with other humans.
* They avoid falling into maladaptive behaviors – for example, work addiction or comfort eating.
* Those people who are emotionally sober will tend to have a positive attitude to life and their future. They expect good things to come and they are not disappointed.
* William James once said that, acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune. If people cannot accept what has happened to them they will always be at the mercy of their past.
The Serenity Prayer
12 Step groups will often have a reading of the serenity prayer during their meetings. However, this short prayer or affirmation can be appreciated by believers and non believers alike because it carries an important message, and there is no need for a divine being to validate the message, nor is there a need to believe in or participate in a 12 Step group.
> Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change, and wisdom to know the difference.
It is important for people to be able to distinguish those things they can change from those things they can’t. If the individual wastes too much of their time on aspects of life that are beyond their control it will only lead to frustration and disappointment. By accepting the things they cannot change and taking action to fix those things they can change the individual will be well on their way to true inner peace.
Acceptance versus Learned Helplessness
Acceptance should not be confused with learned helplessness. That is where people feel completely powerless to change their own life and they become resigned to their fate. Many addicts have reached this point and they become willing to accept their misery because they don’t believe that they are capable of anything better. Those who have developed learned helpless not only accept the things they cannot change but they also fail to address those things that they could change. It could be described as a type of malignant acceptance that is highly self destructive.
The Swiss writer Paul Tournier summed up the difference between acceptance and humility:
> Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices.
How to Develop Acceptance
Acceptance is a mental attitude that can be developed.
* Mindfulness meditation is a technique that teaches people to accept what is there in the present moment.
* In order to develop acceptance the individual has to be able to deeply reflect on the things that happen to them. They need wisdom enough to see when they need to work their way around an obstacle rather than confronting it head on.
* In order to develop this metal attitude it is important to have a beginner’s mind. This means that the individual is not handicapped by their biases and opinions and is able to face the world in a more open way.
* Humility is closely tied in with the ability to accept things in life. It means that the individual is able to accept their limitations in life and they don’t feel the need to always be right or have their desires catered for.
* In order to develop acceptance the individual has to give up their delusion of full control over their destiny. Instead they put their faith in the idea that by doing the right things the right things will happen to them – at least most of the time.
* It means that the person is able to accept their own and other people’s fallibility. Nobody is perfect and nobody gets it right all the time.
Acceptance and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a meditation technique that involves active open attention on the present. Instead of allowing their mind to wander to past or future the individual makes a conscious effort to focus on the present moment. They do not reject anything that is happening in the present but instead observe it as a temporary state. The individual tries to observe what is happening now in an impartial way – similar to observing clouds pass overhead. By regularly practicing mindfulness meditation over time the individual develops a more accepting attitude to life in general.