Acceptance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be so hard

Behaviors caused by mental health problems need to be looked at as inevitable and immutable.



March 26, 2020 - 9:56 AM

Carolyn HaxCourtesy photo

Hi, Carolyn: Common mental health parlance often talks about “accepting” x about y person. What does that look like? How do you make your brain not expect or wish for certain things or not be frustrated when people — my mom for example — do completely insane things, like let her windows rot out, and then be upset when I won’t let my kids spend the night there? How do I accept that?

I don’t mean that snarkily — I mean, what would acceptance of maddening, sad, upsetting things like that actually look like in practice?

I’ve already altered my expectations, but it still gets under my skin to see her live like that, to feel her judge me and get upset that I won’t stay there, to stare at me so hard that I have to ask what is wrong. — Anonymous

Anonymous: I’m sorry your mom isn’t well.

Here is the mechanism for acceptance: Do you get angry when night falls or winter comes?

You get angry over your mom’s behavior, though, because a part of you still thinks she could be different. If you regard her behaviors as inevitable and immutable, like the seasons, then they lose their power to upset you. Then, they just are.

That is acceptance. It’s hard, but your mind is powerful enough to do this.

It’s also not an on/off switch. It’s a process of retraining your thoughts: Whenever you find yourself wishing your mother were X, you mindfully bring yourself back to knowing she’s Y. This is who she is, this is how she acts.

You can also decide on certain useful responses whenever you’re in these situations, to create a positive association. Like a swear jar, but life size.

Dear Carolyn: My son is planning to propose to his girlfriend and has asked for a family heirloom to use as the engagement ring. It’s not a traditional choice — no diamond, not very valuable — but it has some emotional significance to HIM.

The girlfriend has made a few heavy-handed comments about hoping for something more traditional. They may have whizzed by my son’s head — he can be obtuse about things like this, which I’m sure the girlfriend will have lots of fun with over the years.

I’m not sure what to do. I told my son the ring is not necessarily his girlfriend’s taste, and she has actually commented about wanting something different. He has so far told me (nicely) to butt out, but the ring technically belongs to me and I could just say no if I wanted to.

Would that be appropriate?

— Woman Who Hated Her Own Engagement Ring

Woman Who Hated Her Own Engagement Ring: Sure! Keep the ring. Tell him you’re still using it, and the girlfriend doesn’t like it. This battlefield is already bloody with minced words, so don’t add more.