8 misunderstandings about acceptance

Updated: Oct 6

9 misunderstandings about acceptance

Acceptance is one of those words that can provoke defensiveness in the most seemingly mature person in a nanosecond. Pick any controversial topic in the news and mention the word 'acceptance' and someone will come unhinged. Which is why I am writing about it. Acceptance gets frequently and inaccurately interchanged in meaning with words like 'resignation', 'surrender' and 'defeat' simply because it's just not fully understood.


So, if you struggle with the concept of acceptance, don't beat yourself up. I misinterpreted the word for most of my life and have only come to realize it power in the last few years. Let's take a look a nine common misconceptions about Acceptance and try to add some clarity, so you too, can use it to your benefit.



1. Acceptance is not resignation. It's about powerful choice.


This is one of the most popular misconception of acceptance. The biggest key difference between acceptance and resignation is that resignation has no action associated with it. Acceptance does. Resignation is literally described as the "act of giving up a position" or "accepting something undesirable but inevitable." The second description is partially accurate because unfortunately, much of the hybrid world we live in is undesirable. Denying that won't make it go away.


But there is another missing ingredient in the word 'resignation', that IS found with the word 'acceptance'. When we accept someone, or let go of our resistance to something, we also acquire choice - a choice about what to do next. Imagine any opposing trait, person or ideology as a rope being pulled from two ends. What happens when you let go of your end of the rope? You stop the resistant pull and...you have freed up your energy. Energy (and time) that you would have otherwise wasted on resistance, is now free to use 100% in any direction that YOU want. That's powerful choice, not defeatist resignation. And you gained it by dropping the rope and whatever was at the other end.



2. Acceptance is not (just) 'taking it' in the chin. It's about subtly directing your power.


People also misdefine acceptance in this way, believing it's about giving up personal power or relinquishing control. The misused word here is 'just'. Consider acceptance, or the 'taking of' something, as similar to receiving something. You can accept, take or receive your paycheck twice a month. You can also accept, take or receive something you dislike, like a muddy ball that was unexpectedly tossed your way. Whether you like it or not, you are receiving, taking or accepting both of these items. But what you do with it next is really what defines the 'taking' or acceptance of the item. You can throw the unwanted, 'muddy ball' back, perhaps with more energy than it was initially thrown. And then keep repeating this with ever-increasing force, pretty much draining your energy into the ideology or person you are opposing. Or... you can just accept or receive the ball that was thrown to you, then put it down and walk away from the game.

Who's really has the power now?



3. Acceptance is not surrender or defeat. It's about becoming a true leader.


Surrender is defined as "ceasing resistance and succumbing to authority." Although the ceasing of resistance may apply here, the 'succumbing to authority' does not. There is nothing about Acceptance that says you have to yield to any human authority but your own. We're all quite capable of assessing the rules and laws of the place we choose to live, and determining if they're helpful or unhelpful to our lives and support our goals. And if we want to break certain man-created rules, then each of us can choose the amount of consequence-risk we're willing to take in order to do it.


If you believe in God, a Higher Power or a Universal Intelligence, then that's the one 'authority' where surrender is essential. None of us have complete control over the natural laws and powers of the Universe. And once we surrender to this concept, it can actually be very freeing. Because it leaves us to focus on what we can influence.


So if we're not resisting human-involved authority, and not succumbing to it either, what's left to do? The answer - you are free to do whatever you want to do within the system and society you've chosen to live in, and that you're wanting to influence.


It's often easier to resist or succumb to unwanted authority rather than accept its existence, while working from within it towards the outcomes you'd rather see.

Whether you resist something or succumb to it, one thing is certain: someone else's philosophy, doctrine or action is dictating your life and behaviors. You are giving away control of your life by doing either. It's only when you accept that something exists that you gain absolute freedom. It's only by turning our attention away from that which we oppose and focusing on what we want to see instead, that we reclaim autonomy over our life. And if we can't learn to thrive in one system or social setting, we can always try living in another. But I feel fairly confident that some form of discord exists everywhere in the world. So it prudent to keep that in mind.


In cases where physical or psychological harm is eminent, we all have the power to make a choice to leave the situation or ask for help in order to do it. However, for those who are operating with an emotional nervous system that hasn't learned to differentiate 'safe' from 'unsafe', it can be really hard to figure out which choices are actually healthy or unhealthy. If you are confused, reaching out for support is a critical first step.


But in most first-world environments where options are plenty and eminent life-threats are few, it takes courage and creativity to accept the hybrid nature of the world we live in, while learning to work from within it. Finding ways to make change happen while simultaneously living within what we're working to change, is a trait of true leadership.

The added benefit of this approach is constant and repeated feedback. If what you're doing is producing the influence you want, you'll start to see it right away because you're right there in the midst of it. If something isn't working out how you envisioned, then you'll see it right away as well, and will have the ability to quickly assess it, pivot and choose another path as needed.



4. Acceptance does not mean that you agree. It's about acknowledging that something, or someone else's reality, exists.


Acceptance has nothing to do with your opinion or feelings about a subject. Acceptance is about acknowledging reality and facts. As example, in my living room there is a really nice lamp AND my new dog just peed on the carpet. I love the lamp. And I'm not so thrilled about the pee. Nonetheless, I accept that both exist right there in front of me.


When it comes to people, it's helpful to remember that accepting a person for who they are is different from accepting their behavior or choices. I can accept a person, even as their most imperfect self, while at the same time having absolutely no tolerance for the unhelpful actions they're taking or the words they're saying. In other words, I can accept a person and still walk away from that person because of unwanted behavior. Interestingly, this realization also translates to self-acceptance.


Each of us have done or said something at some time in our past that was unhelpful or even hurtful. Most likely, it was due to a lack of skill or a lack of awareness about ourselves at some point in our life - neither of which is a crime. So with this understanding, I can experience regret about my past behavior while at the same time, accepting my imperfect self who made the mistake. You don't have to give up one for the other. You can do both. This is another example of dropping that 'rope' that I mentioned earlier. When I accept that past, unwanted behavior occurred, and let go of resisting it through emotionally 'beating myself up' about it, I free up energy that I can direct towards developing behaviors that I do want instead. Said another way, if I accept myself as imperfect (fact). And I accept that I made a behavioral mistake in my past (fact). Now the most effective use of that freed up energy is towards the development the behaviors I do want. Are you starting to see some of the benefit of true acceptance?



5. Acceptance is not about 'laying down' and doing nothing. It can actually be a springboard for powerful, directional action.


Continuing with the previous new-puppy-peeing-on-my-carpet example, once I accepted that my imperfect dog is still learning, I have a choice. I could smack him and scold him, a form of resistance. I could clean up the pee and do nothing, a form of disempowered resignation. OR... I could take action directed at getting the result I do want - putting more effort into training him where I actually want him to pee.


Both of the first two options are easy, quick and offload the adrenaline from my body towards another being. In the moment, it may may seem like the puppy (or the person) who is present during your upset, deserves your wrath. But they rarely do. Most times anger, 'snarkiness' or sarcasm is a benefit mostly to ourselves. By discharging an uncomfortable emotion that we don't know how to resolve, we relieve ourselves temporarily of the unpleasant buildup of fight-or-flight neurochemicals. Unfortunately, the puppy or whoever is in our presence, unnecessarily pays the price for our lack of awareness about our own emotional dysregulation. We'd all be better off taking a look at our own mental and physiological systems, and discovering why we're unfairly reacting to imperfections that is not life-threatening. The puppy (or person) doesn't need to be punished simply because we're unwilling to do our own personal work.


Someone may argue that smacking a dog is as equally effective as making the effort to continue its training. Maybe this option is even quicker. But does this action align with my values? Does it represent who I am? How will the relationship with my pup evolve over time? And more importantly, why did I experience such upset about a small animal simply making a mistake? Working towards what we want, instead of resisting what we don't want, does take more effort. But for most people**, it will feel more aligned with their true nature. It also cultivates a more unified relationship, while getting the desired result. So if you struggle with this concept, perhaps the real question to ask yourself is "am I simply avoiding action-oriented acceptance because I'm looking for the easier path of playing a victim? Am I actually resisting out of apathy? laziness? or indifference?". There's always something of higher value that we try to hang onto with our behaviors, regardless if they're healthy or unhealthy. So it may be worth asking, "what do I gain from resistance that I wouldn't have with acceptance?" I've found that my answers are often very insightful.


**NOTE - Those who are still under the influence of unresolved trauma, may have brains and bodies that are in such a dysregulated, undifferentiated state that abusing a dog or a person may actually feel 'normal' to them at the time. It may not be conscious. And as mentioned, it could be a misdirected discharge of anger or grief (bullies). But as we have discussed in the Whole-Brain Relationships course, the mind-body can also operate under the influence of inaccurate mental and physiological feedback loops. Which means that with time and repetition, even our unhealthy behaviors and choices can become familiar and 'known' to a traumatized brain and emotional nervous system. But in this example, we can still have compassion for people who are struggling in this way, while simultaneously not tolerating their unhealthy behavior.



6. Acceptance is not a stance of weakness. It's an under-rated source of power


Acceptance, in no way, means settling for less than you deserve. It means you can focus on reclaiming your power.


In fact, by dropping that 'burning rope' from my end and freeing up energy, I have just reclaimed 100% of my personal power and have the ability to direct it wherever I choose. And any direction or goal, that is selected from a comprehensively strong brain directing a moderated emotional response, will be of greater value than what I'm resisting. That's empowering choice, and definitely not settling for less.


Acceptance redirects and amplifies our personal power. Resistance in the form of criticism, complaining, blaming or judgment directs your energy towards whatever you oppose, and in turn amplifies its power. Is that really what you want? Our resistant behaviors discharge pain and sadness and can often feel cathartic. They can even generate a sense of belonging, if you find others who favor resistance as a coping strategy. But these type behaviors act as a short burst of temporary one-upmanship that gets fed directly into what you oppose. I know this firsthand, as in the past, I unconsciously wasted a lot of energy with these behaviors, both at work and in my relationships. Sure, I got short-term relief and temporary, hollow satisfaction. But long-term I accomplished.. little to nothing. In fact, my resistance ended up working against my goals by activating the resistance of others.


Acceptance is a process. And although some of my emotionally undifferentiated, conditioned coping strategies continue to resurface now and again, I can tell you that it was acceptance that gave me my thought-freedom back. Prior to that, my thoughts were tied to the concept or person that I was resisting. And I couldn't fully see that connection while I was tied to it. We can sometimes get inseparably intertwined with our perceptions. Or said another way, "we can't always read our own label...from inside the bottle". But once I learned to observe my thoughts and beliefs more objectively, I was able question them and decide which ones were supporting my life goals, and which were not.


It's important to mention that although my personal power is now being continually freed up as I cultivate more and more acceptance, it's not like I got full access to it right away.


The process of releasing resistance has definitely contributed to an expanding sense of freedom. But it was only once my mind began to sustainably detach from old conditioning, and my emotional physiology began to differentiate back to a more moderate state, that I was able to start accessing and utilizing my essential power on a more consistent basis.




7. Acceptance isn't ineffective as a change strategy. It's actually the foundation for any change that you want to see last.


That's not an oxymoron. Resistance may be effective change-maker short-term. Muscling through or forcing something small, doesn't cost too much energy and may be worth the time-savings for the insignificant hurdles we encounter on a daily basis. And resistance can sometimes feel good in the moment. Helplessness, fear and frustration are not pleasant emotions to experience. And the quickest and most obvious route to discharging them is through behavior, action and movement, even angry, resistant action or movement - a preferred strategy until our emotional nervous systems are fully differentiated.


But resistance is not an effective route to sustainable change. Because it can block us from getting what we do want. Carl Jung's abbreviated and familiar quote describes this push-pull phenomena in simple terms:

"that which we resist, persists". Which by its mirror meaning infers that instead, accepting and facing fears of any kind, is the most effective way to sustainably weaken their power over you.

This is the same in our external world. But it requires courage and effort to do it. If you're lacking either of those traits, ask yourself,"what would it take for me to have courage and make the effort?" to face that which I fear? It's the nature of our energy-efficient brains to avoid the challenge of change, until staying the same becomes more difficult than the work required to change. So if you're not there yet, you're someone who hasn't suffered enough, and who is satisfied with the status quo, 'getting by' and believe your life is 'good enough', that's okay. We all deserves the autonomy to choose our own life. And... If someday you desire something more, or if your current model stops working for you, then come find me. Or find anyone else whose experience resonates with you. I honestly believe that everyone is exactly where they're supposed to be in their growth. If it takes a while to exhaust your current life model, or if you're already fulfilled and find joy in everything you do and with all of your relationships, change may come late in life, or may not even be needed.


Lastly, acceptance is a foundational part of any sustainable change strategy because it creates needed 'safe space' - space for people of different experiential backgrounds, to unify or come together. Demonstrating acceptance of someone, even if you don't agree with or condone their behavior, contributes to a sense of safety, mattering and belonging. These are three essentials that all humans crave. As leadership strategist Christine Comaford articulates well, "Without these three essential keys, a person cannot get into their Smart State — they cannot perform, innovate, feel emotionally engaged, agree, or move forward." In other words, if you want people to change their behavior, or move forward on a mutually beneficial solution, the greatest chance of that happening is from a state of radical acceptance - acceptance of who they are at core, acceptance of their perspective and acceptance of their experiential point of view.


It may feel counter-intuitive for people who have been operating for years in a fear-oriented state that screams, "resist, resist, resist!". But it's been proven repeatedly that....


..humans are simply more productive, creative and open to change when they are operating from a place of safety and belonging. This includes the acceptance of people whose behaviors you oppose, and hope to influence.



8. Acceptance doesn't mean we're shirking responsibility. In fact, acceptance is one of the most responsible stances we can take.


Action that's fueled by reality-acceptance takes complete responsibility by channeling 100% of our power in the direction of what we choose and want. And I will even venture to say that it's resistance that could be considered irresponsible. How? Because all I have to do is blame my anxiety, upset or apathy on the other person or external circumstance that I'm resisting. There is zero responsibility in blame. Resistance says someone else is responsible for my happiness. Acceptance takes full responsibility for it. Resistance allows others or external factors to determine how I feel about a situation and how I behave. Acceptance requires me to own my own choices. Claiming our own feelings and answering for our own actions is the probably the most responsible thing we will ever do as humans. Yet there are still so many who choose not to do it.


So why would anyone intentionally choose not to be responsible? For those who haven't learned how the brain and body work yet, the concept of strengthening our brains and retraining our emotional response may seem impossible. Many times, irresponsible behavior isn't intentional or even conscious. Intention requires awareness, which is something that comes in layers and can take years to cultivate. But even with growing awareness, acting irresponsibly provides instant gratification - a tempting, dopamine-laced bait. And lastly, as we touched on earlier, behaving irresponsibly can unfortunately be a 'familiar', conditioned response to our brains. And as we have learned in the Whole-Brain Relationships course, if irresponsible behavior was modeled to us as we grew up, it can easily get reinforced by those we surround ourselves with as adults. But once you learn that you can change your brain and body response, that's a foundational first step towards behaving more responsibly.




Acceptance must begin with accepting our self


The biggest block to our acceptance of others is an innate refusal to accept the hybrid nature of ourselves. And until we can accept our own hybrid nature, we will struggle to accept it in the world or in others. We each must learn to accept the fact that we're both perfect and imperfect, flawed human and flawless essence, 'good 'and 'bad', altruistic and primal. We are all of these, at the same time. We are not one OR the other. We are one AND the other. We are both. Each and every one of us.

That may sound a bit scary. But it can also be quite freeing, a sort of relief when you do finally begin to accept it. We're not meant to forcibly change ourselves. We are meant to accept ourselves fully, and put more of our energy towards that which promotes community, well-being and intelligent thriving. As soon as we let go of rejecting the imperfect part of ourselves, we immediately free up energy to direct towards what we do want to amplify. It's the same for others and the world in general. Letting go of resistance is a form of acceptance. I find it helpful to think of it this way, especially with hard stuff about myself that I sometimes struggle to accept:


Resistance is a temporary, short-burst pain release and 'energy-suck'


And for those ready to argue that resisting our unhelpful thought patterns and shaming our imperfections does have a history of 'wins', I'd ask...how long did that 'win' last? And what grew because of it? Ask any recovering addict who has tried to 'white knuckle' (a form of resistance) their sobriety. How long did it last? Was it sustainable? And what grew because of it?


Still others, who doubt the power of acceptance, may argue to 'resist first', clear the playing field of opposition so you can really create what you want. "In fact", they say, "we can't grow anything of value unless we first resist. It's like a forest fire clearing dead wood in order to see new trees grow". But that analogy is not completely factual. Yes, new growth can occur in that manner, because life and death are always intertwined. But growth can also happen, and is happening, amidst dying and decaying trees, groups or ideas every day. So by solely using resistance as 'clearing method', you're unnecessarily destroying beautiful growth along with the naturally occurring decay. This concept translates to ideology, other people, and to ourselves.



Our secondary task: accepting the hybrid world that we live in


Within every chaotic time period of our history, there was something of value to human kind growing and emerging right along side or within it. In fact, some theologians may argue that the chaos is actually what was needed to create the growth. But even if this is true, it doesn't mean that we are in charge of creating that chaos, simply to serve our own human agendas. That's just arrogance, playing 'God' or thinking that we're more than what we are - beautifully complex 'human tools' channeling a life energy we don't fully understand, in order benefit and perpetuate our species and the world we live in.

And as soon as we let ourselves off the hook, and quit trying to shame and reject our own imperfection or pretend it doesn't exist, the clarity of our life purpose will arise. We're not meant to simply 'improve ourselves'. And I'm not completely sure that we are even meant to make the world 'better'. I am starting to consider that one of the fundamental purposes of our existence may simply be to learn to live with ourselves, all aspects of ourselves, guided by what we value in our lives.


Perhaps the key to influencing a world of polar opposites, is to simultaneously learn to thrive within it.


I also believe our purpose is to be a tool for creation. I believe that a life that's able to create something that benefits humanity in some way, is a life well-lived. The creation doesn't have to be big, or elaborate, or known to masses of people. It can happen simply in our relationships, in our families, in our communities, as well as in large-scale organizations. But if each of us - using our individual, unique mind-body 'tools' - can tap into our essential power and create something, anything, that contributes to the well-being of others, I believe we can't help but experience fulfillment. But in order to do this, our brain and body must first be operating in an integrated, moderated, differentiated and 'whole' state. Or like a powerful weapon in the wrong hands, we're quite capable of contributing to mass destruction, instead of mass creation.


So by combining this creative purpose with the necessity of learning to thrive in a world of polar opposites in order to do it, we reveal how to contribute to long-lasting, meaningful change:


If we can create amidst the chaos, with both struggle and triumph pushing us to develop our best selves along the way... the product, service or relationship that results can't help but serve humanity in beautiful ways.


But there is also risk with radical acceptance. By taking pressure off ourselves, and accepting ourselves as human beings, each of us could also fail. Our primal, wounded, fear-based, conditioned brains and bodies could take over. In fact, this is happening and will happen for many. This is the flip-side of our hybrid nature that we must also learn to accept. The power of the human ego combined with low thresholds of stress resistance and unhelpful beliefs patterns, has potential to 'out-muscle' our essence. When we're unconsciously operating this way, ego - the captain of 'make me feel good' - can take over at any time. And although we can accept that ego and essence co-exist, they cannot operate fully when one or the other is in charge of our life. One must take lead, so the other follows or withers. The choice is ours.


For me, I didn't simply make a choice and witness some miraculous disappearance of ego and a surge of personal power. It's been a process. And once I committed to strengthening my brain and getting my emotional nervous system into a healthier, differentiated state, my 'acceptance meter' changed dramatically. My steady improvement in stress and conflict resilience has allowed for greater acceptance of my own imperfections. In turn, this has translated to me having more room for the imperfections of others. Said in reverse, my decreased acceptance of others stemmed from my own lack of self-acceptance, which was tied to my brain and body operating in a dysregulated, low-threshold state. And once I took action towards changing that threshold and retraining my mind-body state, a domino effect in acceptance began to take place.


I wish for you to have the same, or similar experience. Mine is only one of several pathways towards acceptance, personal freedom and transformation. There's no one path, no one religion or no one mentor out there that has 'the key'. YOU are the key. Anyone who has walked the path before you can only act as a guide, one that speaks in a language that resonates with you. But there are plenty of guides out there. You just need to take that first step and look.



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