I recently listened to a REBT therapist on the radio flounder with an upset woman: “If you are angry that your friend called you a bitch to your face, access your BELIEF about that friend’s behavior. It is your BELIEF in the veracity or power of another person’s opinion that is leading to your negative emotional consequence.”
The woman immediately rebuttled, “No, I totally know my friend is screwy and I don’t believe her statement about me has any real meaning at all. It just makes me so angry! I think about it all the time! When I’m in the shower, when I’m driving…How could my friend THINK that about me?”
The radio therapist struggled on, but never got to the root of the problem, the woman’s unwillingness to accept that her friend had higher expectations and a more judgmental attitude toward friendships and toward her in-particular. In short, the woman struggled to accept that her friend, in that particular moment, did think she was acting bitchy. (And it also wouldn’t have hurt to address her possibly obsessive tendencies with medication, mindfulness, and intentional response inhibition…. But anyway.)
The woman was stuck in “SHOULDS” as opposed to accepting what WAS. She was allowing herself to continue, even indulge and fuel, thoughts of “my friend SHOULDN’T see me that way,” as opposed to accepting her friend’s possibly skewed and possibly insensitive stance as actual reality.
Radical acceptance, or accepting unchangeable crappy circumstances without trying to change them, is the most common therapeutic task that I come across in outpatient private practice. It is also the most difficult therapeutic task.
Let me repeat: Radical acceptance is HARD.
Whether you are struggling to accept that another person sees you in an unfairly negative manner, that your soon-to-be ex will never see HIMSELF as the problem, that your child is who he is and may even have certain limitations, that a black person would support someone who posted this on his social media, or that your husband will never be this guy, here are some helpful things to remember about radical acceptance:
1) Acceptance is only possible if you mindfully observe and release your “shoulds.” Indulging in thoughts of “it shouldn’t be that way” or “he shouldn’t be like that” is the number one barrier to acceptance.
2) Acceptance does not mean approval. Something can still be accepted as reality even though it sucks.
3) Healthy boundaries (you are responsible for you; Other adults are responsible for them.) are essential when it comes to accepting another’s perspectives and behaviors. However wrong or unjust they may seem, another’s behaviors are never your obligation or conquest. Trying to change a person who is not willing to change themselves is a codependent behavior. Also, boundaries are essential (you and others do not overlap) when wrapping your head around the fact that the thinking and behavior of others often has nothing to do with you.
4) Your control needs may be getting in the way. Do you have a hard time accepting that other people/circumstances are different than you would like them to be? Don’t answer that yourself; ask your spouse or someone that know you well for an honest answer. CBT, DBT, and/or a Codependents Annonymous group may help you manage your anxiety surrounding not having control.
5) Are you attempting to salvage your self worth through attempting to get an unchanging person to change his/her “evil” ways for you? See this for what it is, a pipe dream, and try to find other avenues for building your sense of self. Also, if this sounds familiar, a codependents annonymous group may help.
6) Are you maintaining a comfort zone of “safety” by failing to accept? If you accept that your friend /boyfriend/job is what it is, you may have to directly confront some uncomfortable challenges. CBT can help with any anxieties (including a habit of maintaining roles of superiority within relationships which preclude emotional intimacy).
7) Figure out the power you have and the power you are willing and able to execute. Remember, the only things you can change are your own thoughts and behaviors. The woman mentioned above does not have the power to change her friends opinion, but she does have the power and willingness to focus on other more positive relationships instead. If you are in a relationship with someone who is making you miserable, the only power you may have is to break up, and a power you certainly don’t have is to change the other person (only the person themselves can do that.). If you decide that you are not “willing” to execute the power you do have, see # 11.
8) There is always a “why,” but you don’t have to understand it in order to accept it as reality. You haven’t walked in this woman’s shoes or had her life experiences. While you may want to shake her by the shoulders and say, “You shouldn’t feel that way about a man who doesn’t disavow racism!” But. The fact is, she does feel the way she does. And you don’t have to know why she does.
10) The “why” doesn’t matter unless you are secretly afraid it has something to do with you. The fact that your mother in law won’t stopcriticizing you and trying to manipulate your husband probably has something to do with her own unmanaged jealousy and insecurities. Probably. But if some part of you is actually fearful that it is your colossal bitchiness that is causing the dynamic, you won’t accept it until you critically examine this fear (and either know for a fact that you’re not being rude or change your own behavior if you decide you are a little cold.)
11) Reframe your crappy unchangeable circumstances in terms of intentional choices, not positions of victimhood. If Betty from the office is rude to you every day, but you know that being rude back might endanger your career, you have a choice. You could tell yourself, “I am the victim of Betty,” or “I intentionally choose to roll my eyes and walk away instead of telling her off because I will have a better professional outcome by doing so.” In my case, I could tell myself, “Woe as me, I’m such a victim since my husband is gone for work so much. Will you please attend my pity parties at 4:00 on my birthday and then again at 6:00 on our anniversary since my husband will be traveling?” OR I could say, “This lifestyle is an intentional choice as my husband’s job allows me to work part time and to live in an area where the kids get a great education and are safe and comfortable” Thinking about crappy stuff as intentional choices is much more empowering and easier to accept. (Yes, I know it’s not always possible to do this step.)
12) Balance gratitude with also validating yourself for the not-so-grateful feelings that come up. Acknowledge and release negative thoughts without judgement, but also intentionally make a habit of thinking of one or two things of which you are grateful for (maybe every night before bed?)
13) In order to accept something crappy, the process of grieving is often necessary. Whether it is accepting that your parent is a detached narcissist, that your spouse doesn’t load the dishwasher the way you want unless you draw her a visual and tape it to the counter, or that you won’t be able to go on vacation if you remodel the house this year, it is healthy to be sad and angry about the loss of what might have been.
That’s all for now, says the therapist who is just now accepting that she can’t be BOTH well-rested AND blog every day, so ….