"I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become."
~ Carl Jung
"Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out."
~ Art Linkletter
At first read, I thought these two quotes were dialectics, that is opposing sides of the same idea. But reading them over and over, I think they are saying the same thing. That while we often don't control what life puts in front of us, we do control what we do with it, how we approach what life puts in front of us. Making the choice to focus on what we can control, even if it's only our response or reaction. Effective.
“You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.”
I was talking in an earlier post about radical acceptance, about how it’s not about liking or not liking what’s in front of you, it’s about seeing the reality of what’s in front of you so you can make the most effective plan for how to deal with it. Starting with what is, not what we wish it to be, sets us on a path to a better outcome.
Let’s consider an example here. Your doctor tells you that your test results show an unusual pattern that needs further investigation. Of course, you do not want this to be true, you want to have normal test results. You don’t want it to be true that something could be really wrong.
Now I’m giving my opinion here, but I think even though you (and I) do not want these fears to be true, getting the facts about what is true needs to be the next step here.
Maybe something isn’t wrong. Or maybe something is wrong. If that’s true, you need to know so you can plan your most effective next steps, e.g., finding out about treatment options, or getting treatment or changing your habits.
How about a more everyday example?
How about getting caught in an unexpected traffic jam on I-40 when you’re on your way to an important meeting with your boss? You haven’t allowed for the extra time it is going to take to get moving again. There’s no exit nearby and you are boxed in by all the other cars. Your only choice is to wait it out. But you’re late! But this meeting is really important! “I can’t be late!”
What are your choices? Getting angry? Getting nervous about being late? Getting angry with yourself for not leaving sooner or taking a different route? Yes, all options :-) But effective? Make any difference to getting the traffic moving again? Not so much.
So, how about just observing your reaction (“wow, I can really get myself worked up here, can’t I?”) and try to just be in the experience (“well, I’m stuck here for I don’t know how long. Is there anything I can do? Maybe call my boss and let her know I’m going to be late.”).
The truth is that the traffic will start flowing again when it does, and your reaction to it will have no influence whatsoever on getting those cars moving again. I think about the Serenity Prayer here, wisdom is about knowing the difference between what we can control (leaving early for an important meeting) and what we can’t (getting stuck in traffic).
Acceptance is being in the flow of life as it reveals itself, as it unfolds, not putting undue energy into opposing or resisting the flow of life. I know, I know, easier to say than to live. But aspire to it, set your intention to accept. Notice when you resist, invite yourself to pause and let life be what it is. ♥
“A greater intelligence is available to you
when you no longer reject, deny, or “don’t want” what is.”
Accepting what is. I think this is such a powerful and life changing idea that sounds deceptively simple.
What is acceptance? One generally understood definition of acceptance is through the lens of a judgment, that accepting something is the opposite of rejecting something. So with this definition, acceptance is like approval “I accept this because I approve of it, or I’m OK with it.” “She was accepted into her first choice of school”, which would obviously mean the school approved of her.
With this definition of accepting as akin to approving, accepting means welcoming something, bringing it closer to you, while rejecting would mean pushing away, denying, not wanting something, in this example being rejected from her first choice of school would not be the outcome she would want.
This other (and I believe ultimately more powerful) way to think about acceptance is without the lens of judgement/approval/evaluating. True acceptance means stepping away from the liking/disliking paradigm altogether. Another term for this form of acceptance is radical acceptance, a description used in DBT, radical acceptance means allowing your experience to be just what it is, flowing with the rhythm of life, not trying to control what is beyond your control, just observing what is. Now, this does not mean you don’t have feelings or an opinion about what’s in front of you. What it does mean is that you don’t conflate the two, that seeing what’s in front of you and what you believe about what’s in front of you are distinct.
Being able to hold the facts and the feelings about the facts as separate gives you so many advantages. The one most obvious benefit is that you can plan your action based on what is, not on what you wish to be true. Your actions are more likely to be effective the closer they take reality into account.
I’ll talk more about radical acceptance in my next post. Stay tuned :-)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy, DBT, is another theory that serves as a part of the foundation of how I approach my work.
First things first, what’s dialectical? How I think of dialectic is the ability to hold the tension of both sides of something, opposing thoughts, opposing feelings. For example, to hold the tension of seeing an event as being both positive and negative, of a relationship that feels both satisfying and dissatisfying, of being able to accept yourself at the same time you are asking yourself to change. Related to this idea in DBT is the working towards acceptance, of self, of the present moment, of reality, of life. Acceptance doesn’t mean agreement, it does mean you start with what is.
DBT training is divided into several modules, including mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. Threaded throughout the skills is an emphasis on regulation, of feelings, of thoughts, of behaviors. It seems to me that so much of human suffering is based in dis-regulation. Dysregulation of thinking, feeling and behaving.
At the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating (I’m not), DBT changed my life, personally and professionally. For me, DBT was a missing link in my approach to my work and to my own life. DBT provided me with a rich framework for teaching clients tools and strategies to learn to better manage their thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships.
Learning to take into account what DBT calls “reason mind” and “emotion mind” to come to “wise mind”, meaning making the choices and decisions that are not right for everyone but are right for me is such a simplifying framework for how to approach life. Once you identify your core values, your primary goals, what you like and don’t like, what works for you and what doesn’t, figuring out the next steps come more smoothly.
If you want to read more about DBT, Google it. The first articles listed are going to give you a nice overview. One thing before you read, remember that while it was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT principles are applicable to a wide range of behaviors. I teach them to my clients and I personally use these skills every single day!
My name is Carol J. Tadeusik. I am a licensed psychologist in Durham, North Carolina. I invite you to read my blog and get to know me and a bit about how I think. And by the way, I love comments!
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