“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance”

— Nathaniel Branden

The journey to healing and recovery begins with the inner realization that you do not like aspects of your life as it is today. It may come from a trauma, from dissatisfaction with life in general or your job or your relationships, or from not understanding who you *really* are and how you can truly heal your life.

Step 1 – Awareness

Let’s talk about an example of what happens when there has been trauma. If there has been trauma you can unconsciously create a new identity that centers around the trauma in order to protect you from pain and retraumatization. No, this is not about multiple personalities – it’s actually a normal process to protect you. If this happens, you may forget who you are *outside* of the trauma and it can be terrifying and isolating as you see yourself as *being* the trauma. This can happen without you even noticing.

When people feel pain and experience suffering, they grasp for safety. You may have experienced this yourself – building walls and ditches and constructing your own personal fortress against pain. The bigger the fortress, the more you feel safe. The people around you may tell you that something is different in you, although it becomes more and more difficult for you to hear them. Life becomes a constant struggle for survival where pain and suffering need to be avoided at all cost. At this stage, you may be considering taking a step toward healing but the weight of the chains of guilt and pain prevent you from moving forward. How do you break free from years of suffering and how do you leave the safety of your self-built fortress?

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change”

— Carl Rogers

Step 2 – Acceptance

Pain in life is inevitable, but you don’t have to suffer. The way out of suffering is through acceptance.

Suffering = Pain + Non-Acceptance

Sometimes people confuse acceptance with forgiveness. They are NOT the same. In fact, you can accept that something painful happened, without necessarily forgiving. Acceptance is required in order to forgive, but you don’t have to forgive to accept. Make sense?

Now that you are (or may be) ready to try acceptance, you need tools!  Here are a few tips to help you get started on that part of your journey to acceptance, growth and recovery.

Journaling:

  • Keep a Journal: Keeping track of your feelings and emotions can make a big difference on your road to acceptance. Remember, awareness is Step 1. Notice and write down negative feelings and emotions you may have toward yourself, someone else, or toward a situation.
  • Make a List: Determine in order of importance which items you would like to work on first from your journal.
  • Get Comfy: Make yourself comfortable in a space where you feel safe and can be unbothered for some time. Disconnecting your devices and listening to some music can also help the process. Remember, you do you!
  • Visualization: Once you feel comfortable and you have a situation or person in mind (including yourself) that you want to accept, close your eyes and visualize the person or situation in front of you. Notice the emotions arising and let them flow through you. Sit with those feelings until you feel comfortable and whenever you are ready, visualize a ball of light. (Add a color if it helps – remember you want to send love and positivity! It can be tempting to send balls of darkness or picture your enemies in a pit of fire but that would be the opposite of acceptance!) Then send it to the situation or person. Picture them surrounded by this light and send them love through your heart. You can repeat this process as many times as you need, though daily is best You will notice that your negative feelings slowly become replaced with calmness and peace.

Affirmations:

Another tool you can use either in combination with journaling, or on its own is Affirmations.

  • Write a positive statement about yourself, a person, or a situation in order to help you reach acceptance. For example, “I fully accept my feelings of anger as they do not define me”. Or “I accept that xxxx hurt me in the past and I am now free from that pain and suffering”. Affirmations can become mantras and be repeated out loud or in silence whenever throughout the day.
  • The key to doing an affirmation that works, the thing that takes it from new age-y BS to an effective tool, is to really visualize it as being real. Don’t just say the words – feel them. Imagine what it would be like if you did accept the situation or person. Act as if it is already true. Imagine what would be different if it were true. Really feel into it.

Acceptance can be utilized in many different scenarios. For example, it helped me quit smoking. Yep, I was a smoker. I started with accepting the fact that I was indeed a smoker, even though I wanted to hide it from others and even from myself. Then, every time I wanted a cigarette I would repeat to myself “I accept my addiction and it does not define me. What is hiding behind my addiction?” and I would stand still until I felt some emotions (usually irritation). Then I would take 5 minutes (the time it takes to smoke a cigarette) to meditate on why I felt like smoking as well as accepting the fact that I did, without any shame or guilt. It helped me overcome the urges as well as replace the habit with a healthier practice.

 Photo by Cezanne Ali  on Unsplash Photo by Cezanne Ali  on Unsplash

Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, beautifully said that “The wound is the place where the light enters you”. Through this metaphor, we realize that the light represents acceptance. When you see the light, you may also question where it comes from. Where is its source? You may come to realize that acceptance is hope. Acceptance is noticing, in the present, where you stand emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Do not brush away what you are feeling. Do not deny it. Do not ignore it. Feel your pain and accept that this is who you are at this moment and it is okay, and that it won’t last forever. Your wounds do not define you. You will feel the chains of guilt and pain slowly lifting off from your shoulders and you will cherish the day you decided to take your first step toward healing. Guilt is self imposed. No one can guilt-trip you without your permission. (Hmmm, maybe that’s another blog topic?) Accepting the guilt as well as accepting whatever may have happened to you, are your preparations toward healing and forgiveness. It is also very important for you to know and understand the difference between acceptance and giving up. Acceptance may feel like giving up and giving in to hopelessness, but it is far from that. Hopelessness is the lack of hope or giving up (the feelings of “meh” or “whatever”) whereas acceptance is allowing hope in to your life. It is remembering that you are not alone on your journey and that no matter where you may be, it is okay.

Life can be wonderful even if there is pain. That is acceptance.

There are a lot of resources available for your health and recovery and the first step needs to come from you. We are here to help you heal and bring out your best self and potential. We can teach you skills that work best for you in order to help you reach acceptance and stability during your healing process.

Recommended Reading: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

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Sincerely,
Linnea Butler, LMFT