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How to Accept the Unacceptable?

There are times in our lives when we are asked to accept a situation or circumstance that is just too hard to accept; A loved one who passed because the hospital simply did not have that staff to do all that they could to save him, a murder of a son or daughter who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a betrayal, a diagnosis, a lie, a divorce, a layoff when you have not worked in months due to the pandemic anyway. As a nation we are asked to swallow or accept more pandemic rules and regulations that we were sure would be long gone by now. We feel a sense of unfairness, anger, sorrow and pain. In the last 4 decades as a therapist, I have been asked so many times HOW DO I ACCEPT THIS AWFUL CIRCUMSTANCE?

            I confess that I am not a good Acceptor either. I want to fix it, change it, or resist it rather than accepting it. So, in my journey to understand Acceptance and live in it, I have found some things that have been of great help to me and hopefully to you too.

            In trying to understand what acceptance is, I typically go the definition of a word to get started. Webster has many definitions of acceptance but the one that fits this situation most is – to reconcile oneself to, to regard as true or usual, to receive without an adverse reaction. Synonyms for the word are:

Resign —to submit or yield to the inevitable—NO!

Submit— to give up your position or belief without resistance—NO!

Yield— to relinquish power.

Are you kidding?? How do you do that with a life without a loved one, a senseless act of violence that changes your life forever, or the unfairness that so many are facing? The answer is maybe the hardest thing we have to do as Christians and we will need God’s divine help to do it.

            In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy there is a concept called Radical Acceptance which is the ability to accept situations outside of our control with mindfulness which helps us welcome the good and the bad in life. The goal of DBT is to teach people how to reduce their suffering during difficult situations by helping them look at situations with more logic and less emotion. It doesn’t mean we ignore emotions but rather we do not allow our pain to overpower us and cause unnecessary suffering.  It is accepting reality for what it is without getting so caught up emotionally. Excessive emotional responses like, how could this happen to me, this just ruins everything, or my future is filled with despair can create more suffering which keeps you stuck and unable to move forward in life. Radical Acceptance can actually give you a path out of your despair and help you get on with your life.

DBT teaches how to stand outside of our minds and rationally observe our thoughts and feelings without blame or judgment. It touts a concept called the Wise Mind in which you observe your thoughts and emotions rationally and make decisions based on what you observe. This is similar to Dan Siegle’s idea of Mind Sight where you step out of your thoughts and simply observe your mind from an objective perspective. When you do that, you begin to see the logic that the circumstances you are facing are permanent and unchangeable. This realization leads you to stop trying to change things. It helps you see that all the suffering you are doing by not accepting your reality is harmful to you.

Studies show that longing for what cannot happen or what you cannot change activates your C-reactive protein which is a key player in lowering your immunity to disease. So, not accepting your reality can he hazardous to your health.  Saying. “It is what it is,” is the start of moving forward. I have a statement that Acceptance is yielding to reality without Fighting, Fretting or Fixing. Fighting or resisting the inevitable only hurts you and leads to despair. Fretting is useless because it leads to more suffering, by ruminating on the negative and rehearsing wrongs. If you have a tendency to be codependent in relationships or life, trying to Fix the unfixable is an exercise in futility. Some causes are just lost. It is what it is.

 St. Francis said it more eloquently in his beautiful prayer, “God grant me the ability to ACCEPT the things I can’t change, the willingness to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Yes, God can do anything, heal the sick, raise the dead, stop a global pandemic, but unfortunately using this as a reason not to radically accept your reality can keep you stuck.  Henry Cloud in his great book, Necessary Endings talks about, “the life changing aspect of hopelessness.” He says we can waste time dreaming, wishing, hoping and longing for something that cannot happen. It cannot change. He uses the example of a business owner whose company is slowly sinking and yet he still touts unhealthy hope and feels like he needs to do more of the same old model only working harder.  Getting the business person to look at reality and change his ways is the only solution to his dilemma. He says working harder at a plan that is proven to be unworkable is futile, unwise and even unhealthy. Thus, he encourages leaders and people in general to accept their current reality without false hope. They need to accept a necessary ending. Sometimes we do too.

            Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned about accepting the unacceptable is seeing it as a process of Surrender of Letting Go and Letting God. I remember that Accepting is not Agreeing with what has happened. It is not saying it is alright, it’s saying I am alright.  I may never agree, but I can choose to live with what IS. In letting go… I can let God. So many circumstances that I so wish were different were so much better when I let go and put them in God’s capable hands. It is not that I don’t care it’s that caring too much brings more heartache. Ann Voscamp says, because God came to earth, we can take our hands off of our life. We can “behold Him and be held.” Surrendering… is being held.

 Acceptance is yielding, relinquishing, giving up, submitting, seeing as inevitable without:







Reworking or it could lead to

Rewounding. A lot of our effort to control rather than accept is to avert pain. The problem is it actually doesn’t. We are afraid to accept the inevitable because we are afraid to hurt, but the reality is we are already hurting in a different way when we don’t embrace the truth of our environment. Often that hurt is triggered by a soul wound a need that was not met often from childhood. We have certain “shoulds” recorded in our old brain that keep us from accepting.

“He should still be here.”

“Marriage should last forever.”

“I should keep the same job till I retire.”

“Life should not be this hard.”

“Should-ing” (an AA term) leads us to resist and control a situation and can keep us from accepting and moving on with our life.  It can be terribly wounding to try, cry, sigh and feel like you want to die when you can’t accept the life circumstance you have been dealt. Acceptance is finally saying — “It Is What It Is” and choosing, yes, deciding to move forward anyway. It is facing the inevitable reality and feeling the pain we are afraid to feel. I created an acronym for the word ACCEPT that can help us in courageously accepting the unacceptable:

Allow God to help you face your reality

Confess your hurt and pain to God

Clear out the “Shoulds”

Encourage yourself in God’s plan, not yours

Purpose yourself to see the meaning in what you are experiencing

Thank God for His work in your life even when you cannot see it.

What gives me the courage to do all these things is Romans 8:28. It was one of the first Scriptures that I memorized probably because I was in some very difficult circumstances when I accepted Christ. It says, “All things work together for good for them that love God and are called according to His purpose.”

You can accept the unacceptable with less suffering because God will work it for your good.

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