Moving to Acceptance

By Chris Chittenden

"Of course there is no formula for success except, perhaps, an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings."

… Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982) Polish-US virtuoso pianist 

After our last article on resentment, a number of you wrote to me asking me to follow this up with some thoughts on acceptance, so here goes.

Before we speak about how we can move to acceptance, it can be useful to differentiate between acceptance and tolerance.

Many people say that we should be more tolerant in life in the context of not being resentful or prejudiced about others. When we tolerate something, we do not let our feelings go, as we would with acceptance, rather we put up with those feelings and simply endure them. Being tolerant leaves us directing energy towards something or someone in a way that is resistant. As such, we are not moving past our resentment but burying it and then using energy to keep a lid on it.

Acceptance does not mean that we have to like what has happened to us in life but it does mean that we accept we cannot change that it has happened. It also means that we can let something go and no longer feel the need to pay it attention and put energy into it. A mood of acceptance allows us to move forward in life and direct our energy in a positive way into the future. So how do we create acceptance?

Unfortunately there is no simple way to do this where one size fits all. However here are some strategies that can be applied individually or in combination.

1. Declare the past complete. In order to move out of resentment, we must first wish to do so. This may seem obvious but it is critical. Many people who are in resentment are unaware of an alternative. They feel justified in their feelings even though they cause them pain for resentment gives them a target to deal with what they think is the source of their pain. Wishing to find a new emotional space is a critical first step. One way of committing to a different future is to declare the past complete. To commit to the idea that I will not let the past rule my future any more. As with any declaration, it is best made in a powerful way to others to allow for the supporting context of a witness.

2. Close the relationship. If a mood of resentment is associated with another person then we can choose to end the relationship as a means of closing the past. Depending upon the nature of the relationship, this can prove quite challenging, particularly if the other person does not wish to do so. Closing a relationship can also lead to impacts on other relationships that will have to be dealt with in some way. If the other person has passed away, then it may be necessary to employ a strategy to find a way to close the relationship such as writing a letter or some form of ritual.

3. Declare forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." When we forgive another, we do not have to condone what has happened, but we are declaring a desire to move into a new stage of a relationship.

4. Use promises to create a new way of relating. One of the major casualties of resentment is trust. If we choose to stay in a relationship where we have felt resentment then it is important to seek to rebuild that trust. One way of doing this is to seek commitments to a new way of relating. Given that trust has probably been quite diminished, it can be useful to see this as a step by step process starting with small commitments as a demonstration of a genuine desire to rebuild the relationship.

5. Ground our assessments. Our resentment is always born of an assessment we have made about damage done and who did it. Sometimes those assessments are not very valid or well-grounded in fact. The process of grounding assessments involves a number of steps:

  • Determining why this is important to one's future;
  • Establishing the extent in the domains of life to which the assessment applies;
  • Working out whose and what standards are being used to make this assessment and whether they are shared by the others;
  • Seeing what evidence one can find to support the assessment but also what evidence might contradict it.

Dealing with resentment is a topic that could be the basis of an extensive book and so we have simply skimmed the surface here with a few ideas. The mood of resentment is one of our most pervasive moods and its manifestations are there for us to see every day in those who feel and just live with the pain of a perceived slight through to those who will take the lives of others to take their revenge. It exists in all human societies and left unchecked can cause great damage.

I invite you to look at your own level of resentment and those around you and see if you can develop better approaches to dealing with resentment before it blossoms into full blown hate.

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© 2014 Chris Chittenden