But First, Acceptance
I suppose I just took it for granted at first.
Sure, it was mentioned in my training, but it seemed kinda obvious to me. Who wants to see a psychologist who doesn’t accept you?
To me, acceptance was a given. Quid pro quo. Par for the course.
But I’ve realised that acceptance is far more powerful – and far less common - than I initially thought. I’m seeing that I’ve significantly underestimated its effects. And I’m increasingly aware there’s a sacredness to it that I completely discounted.
Acceptance is the process of being received. When we are accepted, we are received by another into relationship with them.
The receipt is complete – meaning all of our self is received. This includes the parts of us we’re still figuring out, the parts of us that are struggling, and the parts of us that have totally blown it.
When we are accepted, we have permission to be ourselves. The relationship is experienced as safe, rather than insecure. This safety allows us to be more honest and to share parts of ourselves we might otherwise keep hidden. Contrary to expectation, this actually strengthens the relationship.
Unfortunately, many of us have had painful experiences where we’ve shared honestly in what we thought was an accepting relationship, but it wasn’t.
Instead, we were criticised. Ridiculed. Rejected.
Perhaps we concluded that it’s too painful to risk being completely ourselves, and decided to share only things that others will approve of. Our happy experiences. Our likeable qualities. Our sadness, our neediness, and our addictions are not shared because they are unacceptable. We act as though these parts of us don’t exist.
Hiding our weaknesses means they persist. If I’m hiding something, I’m unwilling to look at it. If I don’t look at it, I can’t see it. If I can’t see it, I can’t change it.
And so, we get stuck.
When a person is truly accepted, they can experience all parts of themselves within the context of that relationship. Their weaker parts don’t need to be hidden, but can instead be understood, resolved and integrated into the rest of themselves in a healthy way. This is maturation.
Typically, we want people to change, and then we will accept them. But if we are selective about the parts of them that we accept, we encourage this attitude in them also.
Acceptance is not agreement. It can differentiate between the inherent value of a person and their behaviours.
Neither is acceptance endorsement of poor choices. It’s the climate for growth.
In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said this: “I must first accept someone before they can change. I must take them as they are before they can be what they could”.
What a privilege to influence someone’s process of becoming in this way.