There is a big misconception out there about acceptance. Many people think that acceptance of something means to leave that thing as it is. The reality is that it is impossible to change anything until you accept it.
The reason for that is simple and lies in the definition: Acceptance is perception without having judgmental thoughts about the thing you perceived. Judgmental thoughts cloud your perception. For example: At one time I thought alcoholics are bad people—clearly a judgmental thought. So, by extension, if I am an alcoholic, I must be a bad person. In addition, since I did not like feeling like a bad person, I spent a lot of time telling myself that I was not an alcoholic. Denial takes a lot of energy, by the way. I spent a lot of time in a never-ending cycle of bad behavior followed by feeling bad about it followed by denial leading to more bad behavior. I found it was impossible to change the “bad” behavior until I set my judgmental thoughts aside.
However, as soon as I shared my behavior and thoughts about my drinking with another person and was heard with unconditional acceptance, I realized I wasn’t a bad person. Being an alcoholic doesn’t make you a bad person. Dropping the judgmental thoughts allowed me to look at my issues the way they really are. You can’t change anything unless you see it the way it really is. I could see that my drinking behavior was causing problems in my life. I could see that at times I couldn’t control my drinking, which led to bad behavior. I could see that using a chemical to numb unpleasant feelings invariably led to more bad behavior. And I could see what I needed to change to make things better—starting with stopping drinking. Then I had to learn how to handle my feelings better, so they didn’t build up into an irresistible force to drink again.
Of course, acceptance isn’t just about personal issues. It works for everything. For example: climate change, gun violence, any kind of ethnic or gender discrimination, financial issues, etc. The list is literally endless.
When you accept something, you see it clearly. You don’t have to like it, but if you see it clearly you can change it—usually. However, there are some things that cannot be changed. The easy example is death. Everybody dies. Personally, I am hoping to postpone my death as long as possible, but I don’t obsess about it. I accept it. I have reached that point in life when I have lost both my parents, two brothers and several friends. Everyone of them left a hole in my heart that will never be filled. Fortunately, the human heart’s capacity for love is infinite. By accepting these losses, I am free to work at getting my needs met elsewhere.
I will close with a suggestion: As you go through your day, look for things you have judgmental thoughts about. Then try to set those thoughts aside. Try to see the issue the way it really is—then see what you need to do to change it. You might be surprised.