How can we accept what we cannot change?

What matters is not the events

but the way you react to them.”


Acceptance – what do I want you for?

One of the greatest sources of unhappiness is not what happens to you but your resistance to accepting yourself, others and the events that happen to you. You ask yourself: “But how can you accept suffering, failure, loss, rejection, misfortune, lack of love and so many other aspects of human experience that cause you suffering and perplexity? 

He asks himself how he can approve, accept personal characteristics, situations that bring him unease? How can you accept that your body is not the one you want, that you are not as beautiful or as seductive as you would like, that you are not as successful as you would like, or how can you approve that destructive criticism from the person you least expect, the betrayal of the person you most trusted, or the onset of an illness, the appearance of a professional disappointment, unemployment, separation, divorce or death of someone you love. If you accept this, will you not be causing a situation or a life of misfortune, suffering and unease by approving what you do not want? Are you not, in this way, choosing precisely what you least want for your life?

Even if it seems unnatural or unintuitive, this is not a dictum of the Judeo-Christian religion, Buddhism or any other orientation. It is an evidence that science validates in different ways. In other words, an important source of well-being and mental health consists in learning to recognise and accept both thoughts and emotions without trying to influence, suppress, control, change or avoid them. 

“A man cannot be comfortable

Without his own approval.”

Mark Twain

What are the benefits of self-acceptance?

Self-esteem, liking yourself with your qualities and faults, accepting the aspects you like less when you cannot change or eradicate them, is fundamental for your mental health and well-being. The comfort of the soul, the mind (and the body) needs this self-approval, this serenity that some people invoke in the prayer for wisdom: “Grant me, Lord, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

You resist these words because you are not even religious, nor do you consider yourself a spiritual person. Don’t do it because you believe in something transcendent, but at least try it, because, according to several scientific studies, self-acceptance has been positively associated with mental health, self-esteem, interpersonal satisfaction and the ability to deal with emotions, to cope with stress. On the contrary, low self-acceptance is related to eating disorders, depression and anxiety. So, I ask: Can’t you at least try it? The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work, but maybe this is exactly where you are at: nothing works, you can’t find a solution and you feel trapped in a place of uncertainty, insecurity and self-worth. What do you have to lose by trying? Perhaps you confirm that there is no way out, that you are condemned to a life of emptiness, lack of meaning and unease. But isn’t that already where you are? So, what to do? Keep going and below you will find some suggestions you can try.

What can you do to help increase acceptance?

“Acceptance of what has happened

Is the first step

To overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”

Willima James

a) Radical acceptance

Radical acceptance, according to Marsha Linehan, involves learning to accept life as it is in what you cannot change or do not want to change. The ability to accept that the weather is bad precisely on your holiday, or that someone has not delivered as promised, or that you have failed to perform as desired does not remove the disappointment, sadness, fear or any emotion you may be feeling, but helps you to cope better and train yourself to deal with other more difficult circumstances.

b) Sense of purpose

“Trauma blocks love

Love heals trauma.”

Franck Anderson

When you find a meaning, a purpose or a sense of contribution you direct your attention outside yourself. You can do this purely and simply by loving someone or finding spiritual values that direct you to contribute at work, to serve your family or the community in general, or just find a sense of service where the motto becomes not the self but something or someone that transcends you. There are studies that prove that having a sense of mission that helps/benefits others is a way to increase and direct personal confidence and self-acceptance. This sense of purpose can be referred to as self-transcendence which increases serotonin, considered as a mood stabilising substance that acts in an area of the brain that increases self-acceptance.

c) Self-compassion

“Happiness can only exist in acceptance.”

George Orwell

Self-compassion implies kindness and understanding rather than being self-critical when you suffer, make mistakes or feel inadequate. Having self-compassion implies recognising that life difficulties, personal limits, imperfection are conditions of being human, so it is not something that happens to you in particular, but to all people. The best way to deal with it is with understanding and kindness towards oneself and consequently towards others who experience the same circumstances or limits.

To develop self-compassion, according to Kristin Neff, one of the experts in this field, it is necessary to cultivate mindfulness, which is a state of mind in which, instead of judging, one observes, notices thoughts and emotions without trying to suppress, deny or evaluate them as good or bad.

Perhaps you do not identify with anything I have said, nor do any of the proposed strategies – radical acceptance, sense of purpose or self-compassion – make sense to you. But if happiness can only exist where there is acceptance then try it

“Begin by listening to the wind, for it speaks; 

Listen to the silence, for it speaks; 

Listen to the heart, for it knows.”

Provérbio nativo americano

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