Often, we find ourselves fighting our realities. Instead of focusing on what we have control over, we can become consumed by the things we can’t control. This can happen in obvious ways such as pure denial or more subtle ways such as overthinking or attempts at manipulation. You may be fighting your reality in ways that you may not even realize.
One example of how we fight our reality is when we dwell, overthink, or overanalyze. We tell ourselves “I can’t believe this happened" or “If only, I ( insert regret ), it wouldn’t have happened”. You can likely think of a time when you found yourself hyper-focusing on painful events and wishing they weren’t true. Examples could range from gridlock traffic or a flat tire to a rejection, a trauma, or loss. It’s easy to spend hours, days or even years dwelling on the unpleasant realities and telling ourselves, “It can’t be!”.
Another example is when we try to change, manipulate or control circumstances that are out of our control. Sometimes this comes out in the form of pleading, throwing tantrums, acting aggressively, or trying to predict the future. You can probably think of a time when you or someone you know has thought “If I can push hard enough, I can change them; get them to see it my way or do it my way”. Or maybe you have found yourself trying to think about every possible scenario in an attempt to ensure how the future will turn out.
There are many reasons why we, myself included, do this. In my work, I see that it often has a lot to do with the idea of safety and comfort. “If I reject this reality and convince myself that this thing isn’t real, then I won’t have to feel [rejected, helpless, sad, hurt, grief, unwanted, afraid, etc.]” or “If I tell myself that I have thought through every possible outcome then I don’t have to deal with the discomfort of uncertainty”.
Accepting reality is something can be hard for all of us! In my experience it can be particularly difficult for individuals who have a history of trauma, those with low distress tolerance, or those with a predisposition to negative thought patterns or mental disorders. Other times, it is just a lack of skill often linked to childhood or family dynamics.
WHY FIGHTING REALITY IS HARMFUL & WHY ACCEPT REALITY
- Rejecting reality doesn’t change reality.
- Changing reality requires first accepting reality.
- Pain can’t be avoided; it is nature’s way of signaling that something is wrong.
- Rejecting reality turns already painful emotions into emotional suffering.
- Refusing to accept reality can keep you stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, sadness, shame, or other painful emotions.
- Acceptance may lead to sadness, but deep calmness usually follows.
- The path out of hell is through misery. By refusing to accept the misery that is part of climbing out of hell, you fall back into hell.
ACCEPTANCE DOES NOT MEAN APPROVAL
Accepting reality is when we are able to acknowledge reality as it is and act accordingly. Keep in mind that acceptance has nothing to do with approval. Accepting a reality is being non-judgmental; not saying something is good or bad or right or wrong. It’s getting to the point of telling ourselves, “It is what it is” and focusing our emotional energy on how to make ourselves feel better through this reality.
I am not asking you to approve of or condone the misfortunes or abuse you have endured. However, in order to heal and move forward you must accept that it happened. You do not have to approve or condone the reckless decisions your partner made that were so hurtful. You also do not have to approve or condone the decisions you have made that were damaging to yourself or someone else. However, you must accept the reality, honor your grief and make a decision on how to proceed.
STRATEGIES TO PRACTICE ACCEPTANCE
Acknowledge the things outside of your control.
Examples of things outside of our control, including but not limited to the following:
- The weather/ natural disasters
- Other people
- What other people do, think, feel, or say
- Getting old or one day dying, death
- The past, past events, lost time
- The passing of time
- That change is inevitable
- The future
Try not to misinterpret this list as saying, our decisions can’t impact certain outcomes. They can. We can exercise and eat well and make efforts to extend our lifespan. We can criticize our partner and increase the chances they will feel angry. We can drive the speed limit to prevent getting in an accident. At the same time, we must accept the reality of the infinite factors outside of ourselves that contribute to how things turn out.
Focus on what you can control.
There are many things that we as individuals do not have control over alongside a countless list of things we do. Examples of things within our control, including but not limited to the following:
- How you respond to challenges
- Who you ask for help
- When you ask for help
- Saying you need a break
- How you act
- When you listen to others
- How you interpret events
- How much effort you put forth
- Getting enough sleep
- How much exercise you do
- Setting your boundaries
- How you “talk” to yourself
- How truthful and honest you are
- When you talk about your feelings
- When you ignore behavior that annoys you
- Apologizing when you make a mistake
- If and when you try again
- Treating others with kindness
- Saying please and thank you
- Going outside and enjoying fresh air
- Focusing on negatives or positives
- Respecting other people’s boundaries
- What you focus on in this very moment
- Completing your responsibilities
- How organized and clean you are
- How you show others you care about them
- Reminding yourself that you are loveable
- When you practice gratitude
- Whether or not you keep your word
- What coping strategies you use
- Whether or not you accept the situation
- Using mistakes as opportunities for learning
- Owning up to your mistakes
- How often you smile
- When you show empathy
- What goals you create for yourself
Think about the painful situation less.
Often dwelling on our pain, brings us away from our ability to be present. It brings us away from our ability to focus on other activities that may bring us happiness or joy. Thinking less about the pain may also allow for the pain or anger toward yourself or someone else to subside some. Try focusing on more positive activities that are in line with your values. You can also try practicing mindfulness to practice being in the present moment. You can learn more about mindfulness through online readings, videos or with the help of a trained therapist.
Practice acceptance statements.
- “It is what it is”
- “It’s hard right now, but I can get through this”
- “I don’t like it, but there’s nothing I can do to change it”
- “I don’t have to agree with what happened, but I can accept it as my reality”
- “What I am feeling is painful, but I can accept it and learn to heal”
- “This hurts and I can do things to feel good”
Give yourself permission to feel.
Just because you accept reality for what it is, does not make the painful emotions go away. Making space for grief, sadness or hurt is an important part of learning to accept your reality. You may do this by taking a moment to cry and grieve your loss. You may journal about your feelings or talk about them with loved ones. Giving yourself permission to experience your emotions may be difficult to do on your own and it may be wise to seek outside help through counseling.
Practice radical acceptance.
This is a fairly basic concept that can take a more in-depth approach toward acceptance. Here are the basic principles but if you want more information, I recommend watching videos or reading more on Radical Acceptance and DBT skills with Marsha Linehan. You can also practice this skill with a therapist trained in the modality of DBT.
What Is Radical Acceptance?
- Radical means all the way, complete and total.
- It is accepting in your mind, your heart, and your body.
- It’s when you stop fighting reality, stop throwing tantrums because reality is not the way you want it, and let go of bitterness.
What Has to Be Accepted?
- Reality is as it is (the facts about the past and the present are the facts, even if you don’t like them).
- There are limitations on the future for everyone (but only realistic limitations need to be accepted).
- Everything has a cause (including events and situations that cause you pain and suffering).
- Life can be worth living even with painful events in it.
DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets by Marsha M. Linehan
Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive by Marc Brackett
Linehan, M. (2015). Dbt skills training handouts and worksheets. The Guilford Press.