Acceptance – The healthy base for your Yes or No

Note: This is part of a 7 lessons challenge spread over 14 days called “Say Yes to Your No”. It is meant to help you become more confident in saying NO to what doesn’t serve you anymore so you can say yes to yourself. This is lesson one.

In the book “When the body says NO” by Dr. Gabor Maté, the final chapter covers the 7 A’s of healing. 

In Dr. Maté’s view the 7 A’s are the essential components that we need to work with in order to become emotionally competent and to be able to heal ourselves from the inside out. 

The first one is Acceptance.

What is acceptance?

According to Dr. Maté acceptance is:

  • simply the willingness to recognise and accept how things are.
  • the courage to permit negative thinking to inform our understanding, without allowing it to define our approach to the future

On the other hand it:

  • does not demand becoming resigned
  • challenges the deeply held belief that we are not worthy enough or “good” enough to be whole
  • implies a compassionate relationship with oneself. It means discarding the double standard that, too often characterises our relationship with the world.

The case of Corinne

A woman in her early 50’s, Corinne has been one of Dr. Maté’s patients for more than 20 years. She has been abused as a child having endured every sort of boundary deprivation and violation one can imagine. 

As an adult she has been a chronic caregiver and she couldn’t say no. She has been diagnosed with so many diseases from diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome to cancer of the colon.

During the conversation with Corinne, Dr. Maté​ explains to her how she can start to say no to others and how to do that in a compassionate way. Corinne was very supportive, compassionate and caring towards everyone around her but she was angry with herself for not being able to say no to her mom.

When asked how would she react if someone else had the same issue she responded:

“I would understand they’re scared that if they assert themselves, they’re going to be rejected.​

Dr. Maté​ replied: “If you cannot say that about yourself, it’s only because you are not paying the kind of compassionate attention to yourself that you would automatically grant somebody else. You can’t force yourself to say no if you don’t know how to. But at least you can give compassionate attention to the individual who is having trouble saying no.

Compassionate curiosity about the self does not mean liking everything we find out about ourselves, only that we look at ourselves with the same non-judgmental acceptance we would wish to accord anyone else who suffered and who needed help. 

The idea that I most resonated with & how I use it

~Give myself the same compassionate attention I tend to offer to everyone else.~

So whenever I tend to get angry with myself and belittle myself for some mistake I did I ask myself the question: “If it was your best friend who was going through this or who has done this, what would you say to her?” 

And I instantly find the compassion and caring support inside, ready to be offered to my friend. I then use them to re-write and replace the previous self-deprecating dialogue into a compassionate one. Doing this over and over again has helped me to create a more caring and loving way of talking with myself. 

Acceptance & saying NO

You’ve surely heard the quote “What you resist persists”. And you’ve probably learned about Newton’s third law of motion when you were studying physics in school: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

I’ve never thought about the implications of this law into my everyday life until a few years ago when I understood how it applies on more subtle levels, not only when I’m trying to move a piece of furniture around my house. 

The thing is that in order to be able to give a clean YES or NO to something or someone you need to be in a place of acceptance of what is. 

The moment we don’t accept something it’s like we’re pushing against it, energetically.

And what does Newton’s law say? That something or someone will push against us with an equal and opposite force.

So we’ll be trapped into a kind of an energetic tug of war instead of being able to assess what’s really going on and what is the right course of action in that specific moment. 

That’s why acceptance is key for a sane way of living and for empowering our NO. 

“I’ve accepted!!!” A personal story about acceptance

This happened years ago when I was still living with my mom. I had just started diving deep into “The power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and my mom was also reading it (I highly recommend you Eckhart Tolle’s books).

That was about the time that (almost all of) our usual fights for stupid reasons came to an end because we both became aware of what was really going on; and at least one of us was able to stay present and not engage into the vicious circle of complaining or accusing. 

On this particular day I’ve just got home after a day of school and work and the moment I saw my mom I could sense her “pain body” was quite active.

(This is Eckhart Tolle’s way of describing when someone is in a victim or aggressor state, when their past wounds are active and they act as being possesed by an energy field of suffering that only wants more pain to feed itself.)

In that moment my mom was upset about something, I don’t remember what. I listened to her a few minutes, doing my best to stay present. After that I shared with her my view on what she has just said. I told her that I felt like she was not accepting that situation before trying to do anything about it. 

To that she responded on a rather high pitched tone: “I’ve accepted!!!”

I calmly said: “I don’t think you did.”

She responded on an even more nervous tone: “No, I did accept it!!!” 

I was almost smiling at the stark contrast between her tone and her words. So I said once again: “It feels to me you didn’t.”

At this point she started yelling: 

“I’ve accepted! I’ve accepted! I’ve…..(hearing herself yelling) not accepted!” and she started laughing realising that her yelling “I’ve accepted!” was the exact proof that she was still fighting that situation.

We both laughed and all that energy she was spending on fighting that situation was transformed into real acceptance. 

Ever since, whenever I find myself tense and trying to convince someone about something like my mom did that day I remember this story and I start laughing at myself. And that is usually the moment when genuine acceptance kicks in. 

Next steps – Practical exercises

All the theory in the world is nothing without practice. You can read about acceptance all day long but unless you start experimenting with it you won’t make any progress. ​So here are two exercises you can practice right now and throughout your day. 

1. How does acceptance feel in your body?

You can do this now and many times during the day when you remember it. Wherever you find yourself in a situation when you have to wait for something, in traffic, or in a subway, or at your desk, take a moment to inhale and exhale deeply and ask yourself :

“Is there any resistance in my body right now?”

Then take a few seconds to scan your body and notice if there is a part that feels tensed. If you find such a place bring your attention to it and breathe there. See if you can soften that part and then you can ask again and repeat the exercise. Or just go back to whatever requires your attention in that moment.

2. Question of the day – “Am I accepting this moment fully?” 

You can combine this question with the body awareness exercise from above throughout your day to begin becoming aware of the resistance you hold in your mind & body while you go about your days.

  • Remember, accepting something does not mean we agree to it or that we resign and give in. We don’t have to like somehing to accept that it is there. It just means we allow whatever is happening in the moment, inside ourselves or in our external circumstances, to be exactly as they are in that moment. 
  • Acceptance is the way to not add gasoline to an already burning fire if what we want is to extinguish it.

Once you’ve went through today’s exercises go over to the Facebook group and share your experience. If you are not on Facebook you can leave a comment below.

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