“It is so. It cannot be otherwise.”
~ Inscription on the Ruins of a 15th Century Cathedral in Amsterdam
What is acceptance? And how can it help you heal from the trauma of psychopathic victimization?
Acceptance is, put simply, the acknowledgement of reality. The essence of acceptance is non-judgement.
Acceptance isn’t the same thing as approval. Acceptance doesn’t mean you believe that what happened is “acceptable” to you.
Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It is not apathy or giving up the quest for healing.
Acceptance doesn’t mean “getting over it.” We often here such ‘advice’ from people in the aftermath. They tell us that what happened happened, so we should just “get over it” or that it’s “time to move on.” These words hurt because they invalidate us and our experience. No one just ‘gets over’ having the infrastructure of their life decimated. Getting over it is not the same thing as healing.
“The poet Rumi saw clearly the relationship between our wounds and our awakening. He counseled, “Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the wounded place. That’s where the light enters you.”
~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha
Healing is working your way through the trauma and reclaiming your power as you go. Acceptance helps you do that. It’s not the final stage in some neat and orderly process; it helps you move through the process.
The first thing you might need to accept is that you’re having periods of strong emotion that often feel unbearable. Suppressing your emotions or judging them or wishing they would stop does no good. These emotions are normal and expected when a person has been through the trauma of emotional abuse and betrayal by someone they loved and trusted. Periods of intense shock, anger or deep sadness are bound to happen.
Accepting the feelings that arise within us, and allowing ourselves to experience them fully along with the knowledge that we’re strong enough to survive doing so, means we accept ourselves and acknowledge the serious nature of our injury. It doesn’t mean we might not need help dealing with our emotions, though. Sometimes we need help. We can accept that, too.
According to trauma experts, acceptance of difficult emotions:
- Reflects a willingness to feel and acknowledge a full range of experiences
- Recognizes that a feeling, thought, or sensation exists, and involves some degree of permission to have thoughts and feelings
- Offers an alternative to suppressing, judging, and compartmentalizing emotions
- Does not mean that an emotion or sensation is good or “acceptable”
- Acceptance of emotions may assuage the self-judgment and self-criticism that can maintain PTSD and depression
Yes, acceptance can help you to heal instead of maintaining depression and PTSD. It’s that powerful.
“The real peace of mind is accepting reality as it is.”
~ Swami Premodaya
In the last post, “Want To Reclaim Your Power? Re-Write Your Story!” I wrote about the difference between what happened and the story you tell yourself about it, and how reframing the story of your experience can help you heal. There is research to back this up.
Trauma researchers say that negative “trauma appraisals,” or negative stories we tell ourselves about what happened:
- Reflect adverse beliefs or feelings about one’s trauma experiences
- Include feelings of shame, fear, alienation, and self-blame
- Predict symptoms of PTSD and depression above and beyond the amount and severity of trauma experiences)
(Andrews, Brewin, Rose & Kirk, 2000; Cromer & Smyth, 2010; DePrince, Chu, & Pineda, 2011)
Unwarranted self-blame and shame are detrimental to us. They can actually exacerbate depression and PTSD.
“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as they are.”
~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
Self-compassion is vital as we heal. It is a powerful statement of acceptance of ourselves.
- Orients qualities of compassion (kindness, care, empathy, tolerance, patience, and soothing) to our own experience, no matter what it is
- Includes self -kindness (being understanding and caring during pain or failure); common humanity (viewing pain as part of a larger human experience); and mindfulness (balanced awareness of suffering and other experiences
- Predicts PTSD symptoms (Hiraoka et al., 2015)
- and influences trauma recovery (Kearney et al., 2013)
Self-compassion influences trauma recovery. That’s profound. Please read my post on self-compassion, “The Self-Compassion Effect,” as a starting point if you’re having trouble being kind and compassionate toward yourself.
Accepting life has been
To accepting snow
Right in the prime
Of the growing season,
Or recompense sublime
For heinous crime.
Before I could begin,
I really had to know
If I chose rhyme
Dispensed with reason
Or reason dressed in rhyme…
And that took time.
“What would it be like if I could accept life–accept this moment–exactly as it is?”
~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
I heard a song I want to share in the hope that it will speak to some of you and possibly help you take another step forward. I have written about the subject of cognitive dissonance before, but I think this may add something more to the conversation.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological defense mechanism. It’s commonly experienced during and after involvement with a psychopath. In cognitive dissonance, we hold different and conflicting beliefs at the same time. Since we were given so much conflicting information, we become unable to stay on the same page about who our psychopathic partner really was. This creates a “ping-pong” effect in our minds as conflicting thoughts arise about our partner’s true character, but the conflict can not be resolved. Many describe going back and forth between their conflicting beliefs as maddening. It certainly was for me.
I heard the song “Hallelujah,” sung by Rufus Wainwright and originally written by Leonard Cohen. The lyrics are cryptic, and I had a feeling there was some profound meaning behind them. I decided to look for an interpretation.
Here is a video of the song:
This is the songwriter’s explanation of the lyrics:
“This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled, but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.’ That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say, ‘Hallelujah!”
~ “Exclusive Book Excerpt: Leonard Cohen Writes ‘Hallelujah’ in ‘The Holy or the Broken” in Rolling Stone Magazine.
This brought to mind not trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. I am speaking of the maddening dissonance we get stuck in as we try to make sense of what happened, and how futile that feels. The song is about acceptance in what may be the only way we can at the time — instead of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, we can accept that at this moment we are unable to reconcile it.
Eventually I realized the hard truth and was able to move past the cognitive dissonance. But if you’re not at that point yet, just accepting the existence of this maddening conflict of beliefs can help reduce the angst you feel over it.
When you get to the point of accepting the big, difficult and heartbreaking truth — that the person you loved was not at all who you believed them to be — the final step is letting go, without bitterness or ongoing emotional attachment.
When you reach that level of acceptance, you will be free.
Acceptance doesn’t come all at once at the end — it’s what makes the end possible. It weaves through the healing process and happens in stages and layers.
♥ What can you accept today, at this point in your personal journey, that might help you move forward?
“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.”
~ Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
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