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  • Writer's pictureJonah Mishaan

Why You Can't Accept Accepting

Updated: Jul 4

Acceptance is a core component of therapy. The idea itself isn’t very complicated: recognizing and allowing for all different facets of our experience and situation ultimately brings healing. However, I’ve found that despite the relative simplicity of the idea, the actual practice of acceptance is one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome in treatment. The difficulties with acceptance are not limited to its application. But the very notion of acceptance can sometimes provoke pushback to it as being a useful tool for someone’s situation. Here are the four most common arguments I've heard as to why someone feels they cannot accept:
  1. The Argument from Pain: This argument can be expressed as: “Why should I accept this pain (or anger, weakness, loneliness, etc.)? This is awful and I don’t like it! I need to fight this and make sure it doesn’t get worse.” This perspective maintains that avoiding and pushing away certain feelings is necessary to prevent further harm. These negative feelings are viewed as enemies to be fought against to prevent a hostile takeover and overwhelming of the system.

    1. Response: The underlying premise of this view is that ignoring or denying negative feelings will make them go away. However, not acknowledging something doesn’t mean it’s not there. These feelings will find other ways to impact us, operating from the darkness to which they have been banished. This approach leads to internal division and schism, pitting parts of ourselves against each other and leaving us conflicted. Accepting negative facets of our experience can lead to pain in the short term. But if we hold space for intense emotions, they are able to ultimately move through us and resolve. If we can allow ourselves to go through our process, our system works to move things along, ultimately reducing tension and division.

  2. The Argument from Endorsement: This argument says, “It’s not okay for this to be happening. If I accept this, I’m saying that this is fine, and that I don’t have a problem with it. How can I legitimate something wrong that’s going on”

    1. Response: Acceptance does not mean believing that what you are going through is good. And it definitely doesn’t mean you should tolerate remaining in any negative situation.  Abusive and unhealthy dynamics need not, and should not be tolerated. Acceptance does not conflict with taking action, and dealing with toxic environments. Acceptance is the acknowledgment of the situation and the feelings you are having. It is a necessary precursor to intentional action. Acceptance means recognizing the whole picture for what it is. We don’t have to like it, but if we continue to live in denial, we run the risk of being impacted more negatively. Acceptance allows us to see our “enemies,” those facets of our experience or of ourselves which may feel threatening. And once we accept the presence of these “enemies”, and bring them out into the light , we may even find they aren’t quite as awful as we thought.

  3. The Argument from Excellence: This argument can be expressed as, “If I want to excel, to reach the top of my field, to attain my goals, I can’t accept weakness. I need to go all out and can’t tolerate anything but getting to the top.”

    1. Response: This outlook presumes that rejecting the possibility of failure is ultimately the best way of having the desired success. But saying, ‘failure is not an option,’ does not make it so. Regardless of how much we work or how perfect we try to be, we cannot eliminate the possibility of failing to attain our goals. By rejecting failure as a possibility, we also reject the parts of ourselves which are unavoidably aware of it. There is an underlying belief of ‘I am bad if I fail,’ which is expressing the harsh judgment from our inner critic (or in other orientations - the superego, or manager). Part of ourselves is pitted against us, and our more vulnerable parts are denied the space to exist, costing us energy, creativity, love, and power. Internal battles deplete us, making our “victories” hollow, and limiting actual fulfillment and connection to our process. Non-acceptance becomes a weight we are forced to carry on our journey towards the top.

  4. The Argument from Growth: This argument states: “If I accept these facets of my situation, I limit my potential. I don’t want to accept this situation or my reactions. I want to be better, and I could be better. How is accepting flaws and negative qualities facilitating growth?”

    1. Response: This argument is the most challenging to respond to. This objection hides under the cover of valuing self-improvement, certainly a worthwhile pursuit. However, acceptance does not mean not striving to change or grow. Acceptance is the recognition that we cannot move out of a situation until we accept that we are in it. Acceptance is the recognition of our problem, the first step towards change. And in certain ways, the change process itself can be conceptualized as coming through acceptance. Carl Rogers’ paradox of change states, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." Rodgers is saying that as you accept yourself more fully, you find yourself feeling more free, more alive, and more integrated. You become the person you’ve wanted to be, by discovering how that person was actually there all along. This allowance of yourself in full, facilitates fuller access to your innate vitality, compassion, and wisdom. Acceptance leads to feeling more free, alive, and integrated, facilitating access to our vitality, compassion, and wisdom. When we are stuck rejecting and criticizing ourselves, we lose our creativity and our spark, as our energy is trapped in these internal conflicts and battles.

The circles of acceptance can be ever-widening. And there is even space to hold the parts which don’t accept - the negative, critical, shame-filled parts. We can send the message that even those feelings are a part of my experience. And we can hold those.

There is always going to be a gap between our intellectual apprehension of a concept, and our felt experience of it. But by identifying some of the pitfalls on our road to acceptance, we are better prepared for the journey ahead. Now that you’ve read about the various arguments against acceptance, which one do you believe is the biggest challenge for you? And what could you do to cultivate more acceptance in your life?


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