The 2nd principle of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is acceptance. It is a principle that is foundational to many therapeutic modalities. This was explored last month in the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy series, as radical acceptance is also foundational to that evidence-based modality.
See post: https://www.peaceandpurposecounseling.com/single-post/2019/07/03/DBT---Radical-Acceptance
Therefore, for the context of the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy series, I will just touch on it briefly and move on to the other principles this week. Acceptance, within ACT, is a tool used to help a person move toward increased psychological flexibility. It is a way of making room for thoughts and feelings that are often otherwise avoided. ACT says that it is that avoidance, that “pushing away” that often causes psychological suffering. Experiential avoidance is the attempt to rid oneself of painful thoughts and feelings. Behaviors used in experiential avoidance often include self-harm, distraction, over-working, eating disordered behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, perfectionism, and isolation. With this in mind, it is easy to see how our attempts at controlling and avoiding unwanted thoughts and feelings often lead to more suffering. Therefore, it is said: “Whatever you won’t allow yourself to have, has you.”
This is a link to a youtube video describing acceptance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrmKtaMqOh4
Acceptance is recognizing the present reality as it is and moving from or responding to this awareness. The temptation, however, is to get stuck wishing for a different reality. Energy is wasted in desiring a different reality rather than used to pursue more values-based living. These attempts to control and avoid contribute to further suffering. As the saying goes “we can only start where we are.” Psychological suffering often comes from desires and actions aimed at changing the past or controlling the future. Acceptance makes space for what is.
Acceptance requires practice. It’s an active, mindful process. It requires gentle reminders. It certainly does not mean that what is being accepted will be that way forever. Moreso, it is an understanding of the present reality so that that awareness can be used as a first step toward a more meaningful and valued version of living. We can practice acceptance toward so many aspects of the present reality: ourselves, others, our appearance, emotions, thoughts, etc.
Where do you need to practice acceptance today?