This is a handout used in therapy around acceptance and talks about why so many people have trouble with acceptance when it comes to upsetting events that occur in our interactions with others.
- Upsetting Events: The first thing we need to examine in this model, is the validity of the upsetting event. Many events that are upsetting are a direct result of our perceptions and interpretations. Our thinking can often distort reality to fit our established beliefs and are accordingly upsetting. We may find that we can diffuse many upsetting events by examining our beliefs about the events or circumstances and no further action is needed beyond modifying our beliefs to be more rational and logical. If we conclude that the event is legitimately upsetting, then we can proceed through the model. For example, let’s say a friend stands you up for a lunch date because they didn’t feel like going. This is a situation that would be upsetting to most people, considering that a friend could have called and canceled.
- Fairness is a Human Value: We find many people get hung up on the issue of fairness. This can be seen in children as early as two years old. We often hear them saying, “It’s not fair!” As humans, we seem to have this imbedded sense of what is just and fair. Many people dwell and ruminate on events they believe to be unjust and often feel they must take it upon themselves to correct such wrongs. They will try to control people or situations, or if it is no longer possible to control, then they dwell in anger and build resentments. What we need to realize is that fairness is a human value that is either exercised or not exercised by people. Honesty is another human value. Just as some people choose to be honest, some choose to be fair. Accordingly, some people are dishonest and some people are unfair. Fairness is not some cosmic given that should work out in all situations, which is what some people believe. There are many things in life that are unfair such as the person killed by a drunk driver, the hurricane that destroys an island and its people, or the child who is receiving cancer treatments. Life is not fair. It is not our place to make all things in the world fair and just, most of these things are simply outside our power. Fairness is something you choose to exercise, not something you control in others or situations.
- What Can You Control: Most people will begrudgingly acknowledge that ultimately the only person we can control – is ourselves. As much as we would like people to do and say what we want, people are independent and are going to do what they want whether we like it or not. Many people get stuck in their anger, anxiety, codependency, or other behaviors because they are not willing to accept this fact. If you can acknowledge the reality that you can only control yourself then you can move to step one in the model.
- Control VS Influence: Once we are able to recognize the boundary between where we end and other people begin, you will have found the “line of influence”. Although we cannot control other people, we can attempt to influence them. If a person has behaved in a way that is legitimately upsetting to you and you wish to preserve the relationship, then it is important to try to influence this person. In our example above, this would mean calling the friend that stood you up for lunch and letting them know how their behavior made you feel and requesting they change their behavior in the future to be more respectful of your time. In most cases, you can try to influence a person once, maybe twice, and then it is time to pull back and stop. To persist in attempts to influence them likely means we have crossed the line from influence over to attempts to control. Many people get stuck in step one by continually trying to influence people (what they tell themselves), but they usually end up trying to control others (what the person would tell you about your attempts). In this model, our attempts to influence will either work or they won’t. Your friend will accept responsibility for standing you up at lunch, apologize, and change the behavior; or they will deny responsibility, make excuses, and not change the behavior. In either case, it is time to move to step two.
- Acceptance: It seems the word acceptance has many negative implications and connotations for many people, which is why they seem to resist it so strongly when they’ve experienced an upsetting event. Two connotations that bother people are the idea that acceptance means I “agree with” or “like” the outcome. Let us be clear that we are not here to suggest that by accepting something that you like or agree with it. In fact, all we are suggesting is that you accept reality. Just like we might have to accept the destruction of the hurricane or the reality of the cancer we have, we do not have to like it. Reality is, what it is. To deny it, fight it, attempt to control it, or dwell in anger about it only serves to stall you on the path to acceptance. Reality is moving forward with or without you. If your friend stood you up for lunch and they are not willing to accept responsibility and change their behavior, then that is simply the reality of things. You don’t have to like, but hopefully, you can accept that reality. The other thing that makes swallowing this reality a little easier, is that we don’t always have to accept what is happening to us on an on-going basis.
- Make Changes in You: Because we can only control ourselves, that is what we change in step three. When we stop focusing on how we can change others, we can focus on how we want to change ourselves based on the reality of things. It is our job to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe mentally, emotionally, and physically. If our friend won’t accept responsibility for skipping lunch and has no intention of changing, we will have to change our own behavior in reaction to this reality. Accordingly, we might decide to reduce the frequency of lunches, the location of lunches, the time of the lunches, or we might decide to stop having lunch with this person altogether. We might stick to phone calls, or we might decide to distance ourselves somewhat from this person based on their not respecting us. What we control, and change is how we interact and deal with this friend, based on the reality of their behavior. Although we haven’t changed our friends, we can reduce the likelihood of future injustice by changing ourselves and how we deal with that person.
- Summary: Always start with checking your perceptions to make sure you are interpreting things accurately or use a trusted friend to check your evaluation of the situation. If you are dealing with a legitimately upsetting event, the first step towards acceptance is realizing things are not always fair. Once you stop dwelling on things not being fair, you need to remind yourself that you can only control yourself, not others. With this in mind, we can move forward and make an attempt to influence people, situations or events. This should usually only be done once or twice. To persist likely means you are probably trying to control things. If your attempt works; congratulations. If your attempt does not work, then you have to swallow the bitter pill of acceptance. Remember that you are only accepting the reality of the situation and that you do not have to like it, agree with it, or condone it. Once you achieve acceptance, you take steps to protect yourself for the future so that you are less likely to incur similar injustices again. We do realize every scenario is unique and sometimes only some of these concepts and steps may have applications.
If you are interested in talking with one of our psychologists to figure how this may have application to events in your life, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.
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