It may be one of the most over-used words of 2011. It has been a staple in Oprah’s particular brand of psychobabble. It is “acceptance.” And it’s a loaded word. In the past for me it brought up some new-age connotations and some walls as well. In some respects, at first glance, acceptance can be seen as a form of giving up. A kind of “this is the way it is” hiding under a thin veil of “and we can’t change it.” But that’s a first glance and though you may fall in love at first sight understanding a powerful concept like acceptance requires more time and an open mind.
Acceptance: 1. the act of taking or receiving something that is offered. 2. favorable reception, approval; favor. So reads Webster’s Dictionary and Wikipedia, well the folks there really get into it. Wikipedia, in my opinion a beacon of democracy and a tribute to collaboration, ties the word to Buddhism and human psychology. And it is here with these attachments that “acceptance” is stripped of any psychobabble affiliation.
Ideas of acceptance are in the forefront of many meditation and faith practices. The Jewish term "Kabbalah" literally means acceptance and Buddhism’s first noble truth is “All Life is Suffering” inviting us to accept suffering as a fact of life. In the social justice realm minority groups aim to be accepted and not simply tolerated and while considering end-of-life issues the fifth stage of the Kubler-Ross model is basically acceptance. Acceptance is key in most substance abuse programs and offers a firm foundation for eventual self-love.
In my freshman year of graduate school I became aware of acceptance and commitment therapy and was immediately enthralled. The fact that this model is rooted in behavioral theory I found especially interesting. As an extension of cognitive behavioral therapy in which irrational thoughts are replace with rational ones – it’s seems awfully powerful to me to consider accepting your thoughts and feelings –consciously making room for them and then working toward changing your perspective and ultimately your behavior.
As I enter the New Year as a second year counselor-in-training with an internship on the autumn horizon I am surrendering to the idea of acceptance. I prefer at this juncture to look at it as not a noble truth or a lofty ideal, but rather a companion. One that rides through life comfortably with me, enabling me to be psychologically flexible, more empathetic and able – at least some of the time – let go of judgments and take in the world around me and the world within me with more ease.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling.