Over the last few week the skill of acceptance has kept popping its head up for both my clients and me.
Why on earth would acceptance be a skill of empowerment, confidence and resilience?
To answer that, first we need to deal with what acceptance is and isn’t.
By acceptance, I mean the ability to look at any situation or person and just accept it or them for what it is or who they are. Without judgement. Without labeling it or them as good or bad.
Acceptance does not mean acquiescence or apathy. It does not mean resignation, defeat or giving up. Acceptance is not indifference. On the contrary, there is quality of courage to acceptance. And true acceptance provides tremendous power and energy to take action and move forwards positively and purposefully.
What people say and do is about them; how we interpret their words and actions is about us.
A few weeks back one of my clients was talking about how hard she was fighting to change something. The image she brought up was of being on a raft, stuck in a whirlpool, going round and round, and she was paddling desperately trying to get out.
I happen to be an occasional river kayaker so I know just how scary whirlpools can be. And there is a trick to getting out of them. It’s counter intuitive and takes practice and courage. But it works. Every time.
You’ve basically got two options. Both involve surrendering to the whirlpool and letting it do the work for you. One option is to take a big breath, surrender, let yourself be sucked down to the bottom and then let the river naturally spit you out. Which it always does. In a second. Or two. Or ten. Ten seconds may feel like an eternity, I know, but the whirlpool does dissipate naturally in the current of the river. Alternatively, you just let the energy of the whirlpool take you around. As it brings you to the side of the whirlpool that is moving downstream, you take few strokes and let it slingshot you out, using the energy of the whirlpool for a fun boost. Experienced kayakers will intentionally seek out and play with and in whirlpools – harnessing the current’s energy to give them an exhilarating ride. I’m not in that category, though!
From this comes the other corollary about acceptance: it takes vast amounts of energy to fight acceptance, to struggle against what is. Fighting the whirlpool– that’s a recipe for exhaustion – and drowning. When you fight what is, you are using all of your energy against something or someone. Maybe even against yourself. Acceptance, rather, is about using that energy FOR something. As you relax and surrender to what is, you free up all that energy to take positive action TOWARDS something,
Activism comes from a deep acceptance of what is. The Archbishop did not accept the inevitability of apartheid [in South Africa], but he did accept it’s reality…We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin…[Acceptance] allows us to engage with life on it’s own terms, rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish…When we react, we stay locked in judgement and criticism, anxiety and despair, even denial and addiction. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and respond appropriately…Acceptance is not passive. It is powerful….[And] when we accept what is happening now, we can be curious about what might happen next.”
When we judge situations, others or our ourselves as good or bad, right or wrong, easy or hard, we move away from accepting what is. Being completely non-judgmental is a monumental task and, I would argue, neither helpful nor maybe even possible. However, just working in the direction towards greater acceptance, raises your energy and improves your ability to take positive action.
I’ve been talking a whole lot of people recently about their experiences with toxic environments and workplace bullying. Most them (me included), started off full of judgements and struggling hard against the situation. This is not the way work should be, this is not what I wanted or expected, this is not how people should behave to each other.
In not truly, fully accepting the reality of the situation, most of them stayed far longer in a really dysfunctional environment than they should have. In many cases years. They kept on trying to change others, or themselves, to make it “better”, the way it “should be”. The quicker they came to full acceptance that this was just how this particular organization, team or individual tended to operate, the quicker they started to make more powerful choices for themselves. Their energy shifted from struggle and fight (draining), to “Ok, given this, what do I need to do for me?”
Many chose to leave.
A brave few chose to stay, but in so doing, made a very conscious choice to shift from judging, criticizing and fighting , or feeling like a victim, to doing the inner work so that they could fully accept themselves, and in so doing develop the skills, courage and confidence to truly stand-up for themselves in a very different way.
Now instead of coming across as being defensive, aggressive, or the passive victim; instead of shaming, blaming and judging and in so doing perpetuating the cycle of negativity and toxicity, they came across as calm, powerful, and positive. They named the truth of what was really going on – but didn’t make it about them or others. The organization or individual could either hear what they were saying, or not – either way, they knew what they stood for and what they were worth. This released the hold of the organization, or the toxic boss or co-worker over them.
At a superficial level acceptance looks like rationalizing and tolerating. Neither of those are acceptance. Rather, they’re justifications. True acceptance takes more work and more courage. It’s not about complaining or feeling hard-done by. It’s not about giving in or coping. It’s about reaching true peace and calm, and taking action from that place.
There is a very different energy when you are throwing in the towel or giving up, than when you can simply be with what is, without judgement, and so create a powerful sense of peace and calm. True acceptance propels you towards positive, purposeful action that that is in line with your integrity and values. As such, you paradoxically become much more likely to achieve the results you desire. It is in the very act of letting go of what “should” be, and fully accepting what “is”, that you can find the power, energy and confidence to effect the change that seems to have eluded you for so long.
Developing acceptance is a deep work. It is also transformative work. One is never “done” with this. It is always a moving towards.
In the Acceptance practice in the Resilience Toolkit there are some questions and practices to get you thinking and get you started.
I’d love to hear how you go with this. How can I help you move from feeling disempowered and defeated, to empowered acceptance?
Sue Mann - Coach
Reflections on how we reclaim and sustain our worthiness in the face of falls and challenges.