What Acceptance Is (And What It’s Not)

Acceptance: It's raining – I'm better off getting out my umbrella than trying to stop it

The idea of acceptance in the context of mental illness has been bubbling around in my head for a while now, and not long ago I wrote about non-acceptance and suffering in the context of mental illness. What prompted me to start this post was reading a post by Sarah of Hope Whispers about accepting the hard truths of mental illness, and I wanted to talk a little more about what acceptance is not and what it is.

Acceptance is the opposite of resistance. Resisting takes a lot of mental energy without yielding much of anything in return. There are also other alternatives to resistance that are different from acceptance. One is resignation, which has connotations of hopelessness and giving up. Another is embracing, involving wanting and inviting, which acceptance, on its own, isn’t about.

One of the ways of explaining acceptance that I’ve come across is how you might react if it’s raining, and I love a good metaphor. We’ll start with some of the kinds of reactions that acceptance is not, and then move on to what acceptance might involve.

Acceptance is not…

Throwing away your sunglasses

This is how I think of resignation; it’s deciding that it’s raining, so it’s always going to rain, and there’s no hope of the rain ever stopping, so why bother even keeping your sunglasses.

Yet that’s not how weather (or life) works. Weather changes. It might rain all this week or even all this month, but that doesn’t mean change will never happen. Acceptance is not about predicting what might happen in the future; it means acknowledging that what’s happening today is happening today, and if something different happens tomorrow, you can deal with that then.

Doing a rain dance

This is like embracing and inviting. Rain can be a good thing in moderation, but that doesn’t mean you have to try to actively invite more of it into your life. You don’t have to want another week of rain to be able to accept that it’s raining today.

Trying to manifest sunshine

The law of attraction would tell you that if you just want it hard enough, you can manifest sunshine. The thing is, though, that the clouds up in the sky that are dropping the rain on your head really don’t care what you want. They will do their own thing and pass in their own time. My feelings about the law of attraction aside, you can pour a lot of mental energy into trying to change something that you can’t control. The sun will reappear eventually on its own, regardless of what you do or don’t do/want, but in the meantime, there are more productive ways to use that mental energy than pouring it into something you have no control over.

Throwing away your umbrella

Accepting that it’s raining doesn’t mean not taking actions to control your level of comfort within the context of the rainy day. You don’t need to throw away your umbrella and your Goretex and just be wet and cold. Maybe it’s not cold and you want to go out and dance naked in the rain; you still don’t have to throw away the umbrella.

Acceptance is: It’s raining

So, there are various things acceptance is not, but what is it? Acceptance is acknowledging that it’s raining, that’s the way it is right now, and there’s nothing you can do about it in the present. From that place of acceptance, you can look for ways to make the most out of the rainy day. Maybe that’s staying inside and drinking a lot of tea. Maybe it’s putting on your wellies and going out to jump in puddles. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Maybe if it’s raining tomorrow, your rainy day response will be different than today’s response. Maybe you can make plans for things to do the next time the sun peeks out.

Regardless, the foundation of acceptance is “it’s raining,” and being there in that rainy moment that you can’t change without getting dragged off in different directions by your thoughts as they try to judge. Those thoughts might still be there, but acceptance can help to anchor you in that moment.

It’s a lot like the beginning of the Serenity Prayer, except with the God part being optional: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Acceptance does not preclude the courage to change what you can. At its best, acceptance comes hand in hand with that wisdom to know the difference.

What role does acceptance play in your mental illness, or life in general? Do you define it differently?

The mindful RAIN acronym: recognize, allow, investigate kindly, non-identification
RAIN is also a self-compassion meditation.
"Acceptance doesn't mean resignation" – Michael J. Fox quote
This post has more quotes on acceptance.

33 thoughts on “What Acceptance Is (And What It’s Not)”

  1. Thanks for the post. I like what you say here particularly:

    “Acceptance is not about predicting what might happen in the future; it means acknowledging that what’s happening today is happening today, and if something different happens tomorrow, you can deal with that then.”

    This is a lesson I have been working on for eons – some days I have more progress with it than others. Thanks for putting it so eloquently.

  2. Also am a fan of the rain metaphor!

    I try to accept my issues without beating myself up about them being my fault. “If only I could do everything perfectly, then it would never rain!” It’s sometimes hard to accept that I can’t be perfect. I try to use humor too… I find laughing at myself can lighten my down moods or even knock me out of an extreme OCD episode…

  3. Some of these points tie in with my quotes on change. It’s not easy to accept change, and yet it can be beneficial in some ways, like knowing the rain won’t continue forever. On a side note, I used to love going out in the rain when I was younger, like walking miles in my late teens after an all nighter, getting drenched coming home then getting dry and warm. Bliss. Rain can be very refreshing, and because there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s easier to make the most of it than keeping fighting it and bemoaning it. That doesn’t mean we can’t still look forward to the brighter days in future either.

    Excellent post, Ashley. xx

  4. I think acceptance is a great topic of discussion. Just when I think I accept something, I am reminded that I get upset at certain symptoms. I do want to practice acceptance, so ultimately, I realize I don’t have all the answers and that there is more things left to be learned. As they say, it’s one day at a time for me. But, that still doesn’t necessarily make acceptance the easiest. But, I try. Anyway… lol

  5. Acceptance has gone a long way with my OCD intrusive thoughts. Once I stopped panicking and accepted what they are and that they’re not me and not my fault, I relaxed much more and my techniques to cope are more successful.

  6. I know for me once I accepted I will always have a mental health disorder and tried so bad for some cure then my life got to a certain extent easier. I was no longer fighting a battle I can’t win. I acceptance to me is not… not taking meds or working on myself to not get so depressed everything triggers me to hopelessness.

  7. Great post. I think I’ll share this one. I interpret the Serenity Prayer (with or without God) as telling me that while I cannot change circumstances (such as rain), nor can I change the thoughts, actions and reactions of others (which often contribute to circumstances (other than rain); I CAN change my own thoughts, actions and reactions. I’m not certain however that “courage” is the quality it takes to do so.

    Recently, for example, I’ve been angered with a certain important person’s outlook toward me. I can’t change their outlook. When I accept, I cease to be angry. But when their actions, reflecting that outlook, do me harm in certain situations, the anger returns. This shows that acceptance is something that doesn’t come naturally – at least not to me. It take work and practice (and in my case, prayer also helps.)

  8. PrEdIcTaBlY UNpreDicTaBLe

    Hi Ashley…

    I’m sorry… I had a bit of a mental breakdown after therapy ended rather abruptly and badly. It broke me.

    In the true borderline fashion, I got rid of and deleted my blogs, and my Instagram account. Tried to get my Instagram back but couldn’t. So now working at getting my blogs back.
    Hopefully they should get them back soon.

    What happens in my head is, therapy has sadly let me down, or rather the therapist I trusted has. Therefore everyone is not to be trusted. And everything is bad. And everything has to go. It’s very like the whole world has ended, which it really does feel like at the time.

    So anyway, after taking some time for it all to settle (which it still hasn’t) and get my head around it all, I am back on WordPress.

    I wanted to say sorry to you though as you have always supported me. No matter what. And that meant such a lot.

    But I know I cannot rely on that. Nor wish to take that forgranted or your kindness in any way. I just wanted to say that I didn’t forget you. And I’m still here.

    I love this article and could do with reading some acceptance type books…if I’m honest.

    I have difficulty accepting. I have difficulty with everything…

    But now since therapy has ended, I’m on my own… and have been severely struggling. Part of me thought the answer was only suicide.

    After a few more days, I have come round to the thinking… that I would do that very hard thing again of picking up all the broken pieces and keep trying…

      1. PrEdIcTaBlY UNpreDicTaBLe

        It has broken me more than I ever imagined or thought could.

        You get very close and attached to a therapist, and for a whole year, twice a week, you pour out your heart and soul to someone you trust will help you… and you have to “trust” the process, and you never in your wildest dreams imagine that person is going to go against all that they’ve told you and then discard you like you don’t matter, and leave you with no resources or help.

        I was not an easy client, and I made lots of mistakes along the way, and so I realise that I was to blame also.

        But it was a very harsh lesson to learn. And I will be healing for some time because of it.

        Maybe I’ll look at it all differently in time, but right now it is raw and just another massive wound to heal.

        I have to move on somehow… I don’t even know how, but I have to just take one day at a time…


  9. PrEdIcTaBlY UNpreDicTaBLe

    Yes… I realised this. And I honestly have no idea how to pick myself up from it all. There will be many more hard days ahead of me. I know it.

    I think the therapist is just glad to be shot of me if I’m honest. 😆

    But whatever he thinks or doesn’t is not my business any longer. We are strangers now.

    As your post here talks of “acceptance” is key.

    I have to accept what it is and what it’s not.

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