by Amy Hawthorne, MS, LMFT
Director of Life Management, Canyon Ranch Tucson
“I don’t believe this. … It’s not fair. … How could this have happened?!”
You’re probably familiar with some version of this thinking. And it makes sense. As humans, we crave order and need to make sense of things. In fact, we have entire networks and processes hardwired in our brains to help us sort, filter and organize all the constant stimulation. We like to do it as quickly as possible, even if that means reduced accuracy at times. So, when personal and national tragedies strike, it makes sense that our brains scramble to make sense of it.
Looking for reason
We make sense of things by seeking answers. When we can’t find definitive ones, we might create ones or hang onto something, even if it might not be the best answer. We also tend to create and shift blame, as that helps us feel a sense of closure and definitiveness. Humans crave closure and are alarmingly uncomfortable without it. So, when something doesn’t make sense, we might refuse to accept reality. That’s when we declare, “No fair!”
While there are many reasons we do this, none of them actually helps us come to terms with an experience. In fact, that tendency toward denial, or the refusal to look for alternative answers, can perpetuate suffering.
How to reach acceptance
Acceptance never needs to mean agreement. However, when you have no choice, it helps to learn how to accept the unacceptable. Try these techniques:
- Tell yourself, “Yes. This is happening. I am in this situation. I don’t agree with it or like it, but this is what it is, and I can’t change that it happened.” This is a purposeful and intentional intervention on the more common narrative about unfairness.
- Take a deep breath and notice your feelings without trying to justify, rationalize or make them go away. Simply sit with what is.
- Continue to practice acceptance. Every day. Whatever you practice you get better at.
The reality is, every life includes suffering. Some of it big, some small, but suffering nonetheless. And that’s okay. It’s part of what makes us unique as a species – our ability to feel deeply and intensely. Your job is to be your own guide through the pain – not the one holding you back and keeping you stuck. Acceptance is the torch, and you can carry it to light your way.