“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 :-)
I thought I’d write the first few posts telling you about a few of the more important influences in how I approach my work as a psychologist. While I (like most therapists) describe my style as “eclectic”, there are several layers of theory that I primarily rely on.
The theory that I think of as the foundation of how I view human behavior and relationships is Murray Bowen’s Structural Family Systems Theory.
According to Bowen, the family, not the individual, is the basic emotional unit. Each family system tends to have its’ own baseline of anxiety.
Anxiety is seen as being triggered by external events or internal states. One example of an external trigger might be the job loss of a family member. The anxiety of the person that lost the job gets added to the collective emotional field. In addition, each family member reacts to this news in some way, adding their own anxiety to the mix.
For the internal state, almost like a set point of anxiety, each person and the entire family system can be influenced by temperament, genetic or biological influences or from events that happened in past generations.
Intense emotions, like anxiety, are highly contagious within the family unit and are also passed down through the generations. The more anxious the system, the more individual family members rely on ineffective ways to manage anxiety, e.g., conflict, cutoffs and triangulating.
What to do?
The general approach from Bowen’s theory is to step back and cultivate objectivity from the system before you plan your action.
The first step is to observe what’s going on, what you’ve gotten tangled up in, therefore gaining objectivity from the emotional field, stepping just enough outside the intensity to allow thoughtfulness to mesh with the emotions to take a more measured position while maintaining the connection to the family unit. This process can be done by any individual in the family system on their own.
The goal is to learn to manage your own anxiety by stepping back a bit from the anxiety field, all the while maintaining the vibrant connection to the rest of the family system.
If you’re interested in reading more about systems theory, check out wikipedia’s entry on Murray Bowen. I would also highly recommend anything written by Harriet Lerner. She starts with Bowen’s framework and, writing in an accepting, nonjudgmental (and female) voice, makes it easy to see how these ideas can work in real relationships.
And stay tuned! I’ll write more in future posts about how I apply this way of thinking to systems in general, not just family systems, but other systems you are a part of, such as your relationship with your partner, your workplace, and other groups you belong to.
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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