Acceptance, Pt. 2 – Acceptance of Others
I believe I’ve heard a quote that goes something like “It’s only by accepting others that we can learn to accept ourselves.” For me, it needed to go the opposite way – I had to accept myself first before I could extend it to other people. However this is accomplished, though, it’s a key toward sanity and serenity in relations between yourself and the people around you.
To me, acceptance means viewing someone as-is, right as they are this minute. This means realizing that they aren’t going to change unless they want to, and that me wanting them to change isn’t going to create that “want” within them. So I need to put that “want” out of my mind entirely.
Acceptance does not equal liking someone. When you accept someone, it doesn’t mean you’ll become BFFs or turn a blind eye to past wounds and wrongs in your relationship. It also doesn’t mean putting yourself in the path of someone’s punishment or toxicity – you don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior, nor should you, but regardless, it’s important to accept the person behind it. This acceptance is more for you than the other person, because it will help clear the static from your mind and help keep your focus on yourself – the only person you really can change and control – vs. everyone else.
In the reverse, just because you love or like someone doesn’t mean you’re practicing acceptance with them. You might love your child/parent/sibling/spouse/best friend/significant other/cousin but not show acceptance toward them. “If only they lived somewhere else.” “If only they didn’t watch so much TV.” “If only they had made a different career choice.” “Why can’t they buy the outfit I picked out instead of the one they like?” “Why can’t they eat a healthier diet and get to the gym every now and then?”
Sure, you might have those questions and judgments in your mind, but where it gets dangerous is when you start communicating out those feelings, especially when there’s a dose of guilt and/or attempt at manipulation attached to it. “Yes, I know you like living in that city where you are … you always have been into doing what you want.” “I can’t believe you like that stupid show! Why do you keep watching it?” “Everyone’s going to laugh when you step into the party wearing that thing.”
Of course, some of those messages can be communicated in a gentle, loving way. But if you feel you might have sent these kinds of messages a time or two, ask yourself: What’s my motive behind it, and what am I feeling when I say it? If it feels like you’re trying to lash out, even in the slightest way, proceed with caution … or not at all.
Here are some common phrases that go behind or along with non-acceptance messages: “It’s just so stupid.” “I can’t believe you’d act so selfish/immature/dumb.” And the real zinger: “Why do you have to be that way?”
Think of how much richer your relationships could be, and how much more sane and serene you would feel, if you accepted the people around you and stopped wishing/hoping/praying they’d be different. In family and partner relationships, think of how much more loving your interactions could be if there was no longer the urge to give your opinions on “what’s wrong with them.”
But again, accepting someone doesn’t mean you’ll allow them to walk all over you, to cross your boundaries, to treat you in any manner that’s abusive. It doesn’t mean you’ll keep dating or stay friends or stay married. It means that you’ll realize that this person – their personality makeup, their decisions, their actions, their dreams and desires – are not yours to own, control, or change. And by practicing this, you’ll realize the same is true in reverse. Your life is yours to own and manage as you see fit, with your own best interests at heart – not those projected onto you by someone else.
How have you learned to accept other people?