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Relationships

Acceptance for Self and Others: It Is What It Is

Examine yourself and your relationships with skill, wisdom, and acceptance.

Key points

  • Acceptance is not flimsy and cannot be faked. It requires complete commitment and constant curiosity.
  • Commit to finding ways to comfort yourself. Try letting go of the constant merry-go-round of self-criticism.
  • Acceptance within a relationship requires being aware, identifying problems, and discussing them with your partner.

Some people mistakenly believe that being mindful is a passive attitude of submissive acceptance or some type of resignation. While acceptance is essential to mindfulness, it is not the doormat sort of acceptance that welcomes people to walk all over you.i Instead, it is a clear-headed acknowledgment that what’s happening is happening, and that we have power to examine our situation with skill and graceful wisdom. This type of acceptance is willful and an intentional act of courage. With the power of acceptance, we can see a multitude of paths to more enlightened behavior and attitudes.ii

Acknowledging What Is

Are you lonely? Are you frustrated by poor relationship outcomes? Are you in a dead-end job? Have you done things you’re ashamed of? OK. There’s no changing what has happened. It’s just a reality. Once you can accept the past and not try to rewrite it, ignore it, or run from it, you can now do something quite remarkable: Change the future.

The moment you accept the past, you are transformed. How? You are transformed because you can stop wallowing in the anger, guilt, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and shame and can now begin to imagine and start living a new story understanding where you are beginning. You are actively taking the power back into your control because there is no need to cover up, lie, or disguise reality. It is difficult to take that first step, but it is also powerful.iii

This process of transformation will take time, maybe a lifetime. But acknowledgment is the first step, and it will lead to similar next steps as you make new discoveries and do not hide from painful or disappointing realities. This leads to happiness and satisfaction with yourself.

Develop the Ability to Sit With Discomfort

Acceptance within relationships is not allowing others to use us and it is not passively suffering from neglect. Instead, acceptance is being aware and identifying the problematic behavior, discussing it with your partner, and describing how the behavior is impacting you. Often individuals react to problematic behavior or challenges in relationships by withdrawing or engaging in coping strategies like eating ice cream, watching TV, or scrolling through social media.iv This is an attempt to distract our minds from the hurtful behavior. This strategy isn’t effective. It delays and sometimes adds to the pain, frustration, and disappointment.

As an alternative to withdrawing or coping, allow yourself to be fully aware and sit with the pain or discomfort. Process how you feel. Clearly identify the emotions and struggles that you experience. This prepares you to articulate the grief that you’re experiencing, and it allows you to soothe your own sorrow. Most emotions only last 10-30 minutes. Sit with your feelings and just notice what thoughts and ideas come to mind.

Take Action

Once you acknowledge the difficult reality and describe it to your partner, it is time to take action yourself. Commit to finding ways to comfort yourself. Try letting go of the constant merry-go-round of self-criticism—“I should have known better.” “Why did I say that?” “I can’t seem to get it right.” Self-defeating inner conversations are discouraging and unhelpful. Can you be more understanding and gentler with yourself? Can you see elements of yourself that you’re proud of? Are you ever embarrassed or overwhelmed by your emotion? Try being a good friend to yourself and show some compassion.v Practice sitting with your emotion and notice whether it lightens.

Develop Commitment and Curiosity

Acceptance requires complete commitment and constant curiosity. Acceptance is not flimsy and cannot be faked. It requires a regular effort to stay the course and engage in the process of acceptance. Notice when you feel resistance to others, your partner, or even ideas and examine your resistance with curiosity. Be curious about your reactions to these difficult interactions. Are you processing your emotions or are you simply avoiding and/or coping with emotion through distractions? Are you falling into patterns that don’t help you process the difficult emotion? Oftentimes this is unconscious, but a little reflection will help increase your awareness. This will require some self-reflection and then some positive change.

As psychologist Carl Rogers wrote, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change” (1995).

This is one reason why acceptance is so important. First acknowledge the problem and accept your emotions, then take action to bring about needed change.

Acceptance in Romantic Relationships

Too often we strive to change our partner in romantic relationships. You may even feel like trying to change your partner is a sign of love. However, accepting people as they are and vulnerably talking about emotions will accomplish more than hammering away at a problem.vi Never tolerate harmful mistreatment but do learn to create more peace within the relationship by being more accepting of yourself and your partner. When people try to change others, it is often from a place of fear. We think, “If we are not exactly alike maybe we don’t belong together.” We find differences hard to accept. However, when we struggle to accept ourselves, we struggle to accept others, including our partners. Differences are the opportunity for greater intimacy because they encourage us to be curious, learn more, and know our partners on a deeper, more authentic level.

Belonging is an important part of being human and an essential element of creating a meaningful and strong relationship, and self-acceptance is the first step to feeling a sense of belonging.vii Start with self-acceptance and then try acceptance of others. These two forms of acceptance challenge us to develop as an individual, improve our individual well-being, and nurture our relationships through deeper connection and intimacy. Examine your situation with the skill and graceful wisdom of acceptance. This intentional act of courage will change your individual and relational trajectory.

References

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. "Mindfulness." Mindfulness 6.6 (2015): 1481-1483.

Linardon, J. (2020). Can acceptance, mindfulness, and self-compassion be learned by smartphone apps? A systematic and meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Behavior Therapy, 51(4), 646-658.

https://www.betterup.com/blog/self-acceptance

Papp LM, Witt NL. Romantic partners' individual coping strategies and dyadic coping: implications for relationship functioning. J Fam Psychol. 2010 Oct;24(5):551-9. doi: 10.1037/a0020836. PMID: 20954765; PMCID: PMC3220915.

Ferguson, L. J., Adam, M. E., Gunnell, K. E., Kowalski, K. C., Mack, D. E., Mosewich, A. D., & Murphy, N. (2022). Self-compassion or self-criticism? Predicting women athletes’ psychological flourishing in sport in Canada. Journal of Happiness Studies, 23(5), 1923-1939.

Morris, K. L., Kimmes, J. G., & Marroquin, C. G. (2022). Changing the blame game: Associations between relationship mindfulness, loneliness, negative partner attributions, and subsequent conflict. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 02654075221128502.

Busby, D. M., Hanna‐Walker, V. R., Leavitt, C. E., & Carroll, J. S. (2022). The sexual wholeness model: An initial evaluation with two samples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 48(2), 643-664.

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