As we journey through through life, we will frequently come face to face with situations that outside of our control. Some common examples include:
- The past. This has already occurred and there is nothing that can be done to change it.
- The actions of others. While we can influence others, we cannot control their behaviours and choices.
- Once again, we can influence our emotions but we don’t have complete control over what and how we feel.
- Situations outside of our control. This refers to a huge variety of situations we encounter in our day to day lived ranging from poor weather to traffic jams.
Each of the above examples has the potential to cause difficulties in our lives and can be painful in their own right (a thunder storm on a day you planned a picnic is likely to be problematic in some way!). What I am suggesting is that when we can accept these painful situations we can experience them in a new way where we suffer less and even begin to heal.
Acceptance as a way to decrease suffering.
In our lives, emotional pain is inevitable, however, the suffering we experience as a result of painful experiences is not. The degree to which we struggle with and resist our pain impacts how much we suffer. Kristin Neff expressed this concept in the form of an equation:
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
Take a moment to consider how you have resisted emotional pain the past. Some examples include consuming alcohol (resistance) to cope with anxiety (pain) resulting in excessive consumption, not being in control of your behaviours and subsequent negative feelings associated with this (suffering). Another scenario might involve the ending of a relationship (pain) where someone resists experiencing their pain by trying to convince their partner to return to them (struggling) resulting in further deterioration of the relationship and dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions associated with the breakup (suffering). If we can come to a place where we can accept our pain rather than trying to resist it, we will decrease our suffering and ultimately improve our quality of life.
Acceptance as part of a journey towards healing.
When we chose to accept we are not saying that the event hat has occurred is morally correct or that we agree with actions taken by others. We are acknowledging that there are factors that are not within our control and if we struggle against these factors, it is likely to either increase our negative experience or prevent us from emotional healing.
Once we chose to accept, we immediately open ourselves up to our experience. When emotions are accepted we become able to reflect on these and develop a deeper understanding or what we feel and why we are feeling these things. When we accept the actions of others and accept that these are out of our control, we become able to focus on meaningful action that is within our control and can improve our life. Acceptance allows us to stop the struggle, give up the resistance and decrease our suffering.