So, What Do You Mean by “Acceptance?”

by Tammy Lea McKaskle

Etymologically, acceptance is to take what is offered. In a therapeutic setting, it is the active nonjudgmental embracing of experience in the here-and-now. It is the unconditional friendliness, and the metaphorical reminder that under any circumstance a good friend is someone who sticks around. In acceptance, we take what arises, just as it is, and with friendliness we embrace our experience in the moment. Sounds so easy, right?

If it is that simple, why is it that the dominant psychological culture seems to encourage the attitude of severing, rejecting, or avoiding experience? What has led so many people to lose touch with themselves? Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of Naropa University, writes that dis-ease (a lack of ease) comes when people lose touch with their psychological states. The author is talking about physiological illness here; however, I found it highly applicable to the work I have done with clients. They all speak of the gap in self-awareness that Trungpa writes about and some of their reported dis-eases are general dissatisfaction, mental disorders, self-hatred, and distress.

Yet, avoidance of experience may actually have an adaptive element to it too. It may be that the patterns that are causing so much suffering now are actually over-learned behaviors that provided some relief from painful experiences in the past. However, now they may lead to decreased flexibility in responding to and emotionally regulating across contexts. Therefore, rejection may bring some relief in the moment, yet over time decreased flexibility and self-awareness can lead to the dissociation from direct experience and the dis-eases that I see clients struggling with.

For further reading on this subject please consider:

Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive-behavioral tradition by S. C. Hayes, V. M. Follette & M. M. Linehan.

The sanity we are born with: A Buddhist approach to psychology by C. Trungpa.

The courage to be present: Buddhism, psychotherapy, and the awakening of natural wisdom by K.K. Wegela.


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