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Skills and Strategies - the new buzzword: Acceptance

Posted Dec 12 2009 6:50am
Acceptance is a bit of a buzzword in a number of treatment programs for mental illness: DBT and ACT being two. In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) there is "Radical Acceptance" and in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) it's one of the 6 core principles (hey, it's even in the name of the therapy). It is a very useful strategy to use in regards to trauma and eating disorders, I found. But, Acceptance has a few different meanings...

So to bring in some English lessons, Acceptance is a derivative of the verb accept, which means:
  1. agree to receive or undertake (something offered or proposed).
  2. regard favourably or with approval.
  3. believe or receive as valid or correct.
  4. take on (a responsibility or liability).
  5. tolerate or submit to.
When people think of acceptance, they often that to accept something means that we want it (def. 2). But in terms of therapeutic acceptance (also known as non-judgemental acceptance/radical acceptance) it is about believing something to be valid (def 3)
So now we know what therapist's and therapy books mean by acceptance... how does it relate to recovery? Two aspects of my recovery where I have used acceptance are past trauma and body image (post-recovery).

Past Trauma I will honestly admit that this is still very much, a work in progress for me. The idea of acknowledging the past is scary and painful. But until I accept that what happened... happened it's going to build up and begin to seep out into other aspects of my life.

Part of it too, is to accept that it has happened and nothing that you do now will make it go away. Self-destructive behaviours certainly distract from thoughts about it but it comes back... That's why self-harming behaviours (including disordered eating behaviours) can become addictive, they stave off the past in the short term. Trauma is one of those things we can't change. And once we accept that, we don't expend so much energy trying to make it go away.

In The Happiness Trap (My new ACT bible) the author says "the solution is the problem". All the strategies that we use to try and solve the grieving process or the guilt or the shame or any other 'negative' emotions that are yucky to feel—often reduce our quality of life. Even some of those strategies that aren't immediately destructive. If you have to spend your whole life running/hiding from the negative, it leaves you very little time and energy to do things that will lead to the life that you do want.

It sounds way too simple—I have simplified it greatly. I'm not saying accept the past and you will be fine. But, to accept it and "make room" for it in your mind will allow you and your therapist (if you have one) to process how the trauma memories are still affecting you today.

Body Image I think accepting your body is a two stage process. Stage one is to non-judgementally accept your body as it is. And Stage 2 is to accept and approve of your body. Yep, I think, unlike other aspects of our recovery/therapy, its important to bring in approval to acceptance of our body.

I think in the initial stages of 'coming to terms' with how your body looks and feels in recovery, or even after the weight normalisation/fluctuation settles. Describe your body without using judgement words: positive or negative. Just state what is there.
e.g. I have a waist that comes in slightly before the hips and a rounded tummy that is not flat. My hips come out wider than my waist and a little more than my upper torso. My thighs touch at the top and they are larger in width than my calves. (It's mainly my lower body that I have described here because that's what I can see right now)

That's how I see my body without judging my observations. It is difficult but try to use neutral language I've used wider and larger only to relate it to other body parts; I could have said fatter and huge (but they have negative judgements/connotations attached).

And, I have accepted that this is what I look like. The next stage is to be comfortable with it. I like to give a positive spin to aspects that I am not so comfortable with...
e.g. my "tummy that is not flat". In order for me to have a flat tummy, my pelvic/hip bone needs to protrude. And, when I have this I don't make a good hugger. (as told to me by a very honest 7yr old) As part of my job as a nanny, I need to give comforting hugs (esp. when she's scared or upset).

my non "straight-up-and-down" legs. They make bootcut jeans look Awesome! They also have a considerable amount of power. I've nearly broken creepy guys hands with these thighs.

It's also important not to compare with others. Sure, that girl may have stick thin thighs and you don't... so what? We aren't all meant to have the same legs. There is no 'formula' for how we ought to look like. Beauty comes from confidence... if you feel comfortable in your body, it shows :) Acceptance isn't limited to just these two aspects. You can 'accept' your emotions instead of fighting them. When you feel sad, it's a valid emotion...sure it feels crappy but once you accept it and let it be it eventually runs it's course...
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