When Acceptance is NOT the Answer

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acceptanceRecently there was a discussion about “Acceptance” here in the Emerging from Broken website. People were expressing difficulty with having been constantly told to “accept others” for the way they are.  This directive always seems to be issued when someone is expressing difficulties with having been devalued, discounted and mistreated.  I have come to realize that this is where the difficulty lies. When we are directed to accept, it is implied that acceptance means to accept the abusive behavior of the other person. This misunderstanding and false teaching gets deeply mixed into many relationships and is used as a justification for all kinds of abuse. 

Accepting others the way they are is a more appropriate directive when the person wears strange clothing, or likes to eat weird bugs; acceptance of political or religious views that are not like mine are also good examples. But accepting others because they swear at me, talk down to me, devalue and disrespect me or completely dismiss me as a person ~ those are actions that I don’t have to accept.  We should NOT be encouraged to accept unacceptable behavior.

I don’t have any problem with accepting the way other people are.  I have a problem with accepting unacceptable behavior.  I can accept that my mother doesn’t want to respect me. But that means that she doesn’t get to have respect FROM me either and that seems to be what other people have problems with.  I am accused of disrespecting her because I don’t have contact with her, but the truth is that I don’t have contact with her because I respect ME. Relationship is a two way street and I deserve equal respect. We all deserve EQUAL respect.

I HAVE equal value to all others. That is the truth and yet our society seems to encourage the belief that some people according to the title they hold actually deserve more respect than other people.  I had to believe that this was a lie in order to own my own value and stop accepting disrespectful treatment. Disrespectful treatment is not acceptable and therefore should NOT be accepted. It really is that simple. No one has the right to treat another person in an abusive, disrespectful and unacceptable way.

The underlying problem for me was that I had learned to question myself and my feelings. I had been told that I was wrong so much that I thought I was. I believed that I was wrong. I had been told that I exaggerated so much that I believed I did. I believed my memory magnified things beyond the truth.  As long as I was in that spin of questioning myself, I believed that I was not being fair to other people if I accused them of devaluing or disrespecting me and I got that mixed up with acceptance.  I believed that I was not “accepting others the way that they are” if I questioned their motives or intentions even within the confines of my own mind. 

The truth was that I had never actually been taught or empowered to realize what unacceptable actually was.  Controlling demanding people had taught me that I didn’t have the same “rights” as they did; that my actions were unacceptable while their actions were acceptable. And that teaching is a tough thing to un-teach and overcome.

 It was important for me to validate the damage that was caused to me as well as to validate that I didn’t have to accept unacceptable behavior.  This was all mixed in with the brainwashing that I had accepted about “accountability” and I had even gone so far as to try to accept that I was accountable for the way I was treated too. (I am referring to the false belief that I must have done something to “cause” the abuse or mistreatment)

Another concept that gets mixed in with the “acceptance directive is “unconditional love”. Unconditional love is not about accepting abusive treatment from someone who kicks you around physically or emotionally. It isn’t love when someone treats another person with disregard or disrespect and yet we are taught to return those actions with love. This doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t loving towards the person who aims disrespect or disregard at another person if we just accept it. It is far more loving and an example of healthy self esteem to stand up to it even if that is only to remove ourselves from the situation.  

We have laws about human rights in place for a reason and even if those laws are so often not enforced BY the law these laws teach us our rights as human beings. I was shocked when I first discovered them, but at the same time I found them empowering; especially the ones about emotional abuse and neglect. Always remember that we are healing from the damage and that before the damage can be overcome, it has to be acknowledged.

Acceptance in the context of accepting what happened is not the same thing as acceptance of the person who did it.  Accepting the way a person “is” does not apply when abuse or mistreatment is involved. There is a big difference in accepting someone’s “faults”, verses accepting abusive treatment.

Please share your thoughts about the definition and implications of the word “acceptance.” Has this word been used against you? Have you been told that you “have to accept” someone’s unacceptable behavior just because of the title they hold in your life?

Exposing Truth; one snapshot at a time

Darlene Ouimet

Related Posts ~ Being told to leave the past in the past

The unheard invisible child ~ Being Heard and Finding my Voice 

 

141 response to "When Acceptance is NOT the Answer"

  1. By: Charles Posted: 19th June 2018

    I think I found this site by searching “acceptance is NOT the answer” and I really like what I’ve read. What happened that led to me searching that was that I dialed into a 12 step phone meeting and the topic happened to be “acceptance”. I do Adult Children of Alcoholics but this was a different meeting type. For me, recovery is not about sitting down, being quiet, doing as told, being selfless, accepting nonsense, not being angry, submitting, obeying, etc. Recovery for me is about talking back, retaliating, focusing on my own needs instead of others, doing what I want, defying abusive and senseless authority, standing up for myself, and refusing to accept the unacceptable.

    I wanted to share that “I can accept that I don’t accept acceptance” thing, but I just felt like the people there were too stuffy. Too up right and lost in ideals. I found listening to their shares really irritating.

    For example, I think all the industrial noise is very unacceptable. The low flying planes are very unacceptable. People’s second hand smoke that travels in a 50-100ft radius of the smoker is unacceptable.

    I can’t change a lot of that overnight. The serenity prayer said “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”. But I don’t like any supposition that I “should” feel only a certain, limited way. I want to feel how I feel. I guess my thing would be, “I will accept that i don’t accept.” I think if more people would wake up and not accept bad things like noise, light and sound pollution, and actually fight back, then these things could be abolished. But people are too passive.

    On top of that, acceptance isn’t really voluntary. The people who act like acceptance is their choice are really just hiding the fact that acceptance is enforced by a military system… If they try to fight back, they will be met with brute force. So they try to spiritually bypass the anger with acceptance. So we are all victims of the military control system thats in place, defending bad people the same as it defends innocent people, and enabling bad people to get away with bad things.

    Another thing is that I am tired of hearing, especially in meetings, people trying to use “acceptance” to spiritually bypass their true feelings. This is also un-healthy because if they listen to their feelings they would fight back against unacceptable things. The extent to which people can dissociate from their true feelings only goes to show the extent to which so many people were abused and violated as children, and had their spirits crushed.

    I think all the “acceptance” stuff is very fake. Well, thanks for everyone else’s posts because reading them all helped me get “in the zone” to write this… I didn’t speak up on the earlier meeting because honestly I was afraid of being told my perceptions were wrong or defective. Even though I know my perceptions are valid (and probably truer than their fake acceptance mumbo jumbo) having others invalidate them always hurts. I wish there were more like minded people but a lot of times people who think like me are usually in hiding… Since the world is so dominated by abusers.

  2. By: Lisa Wines Posted: 22nd June 2017

    I’ve only been to Al-Anon a couple of times and one of the Topics was acceptance when I was my turn to talk I cried and almost yelled saying I am not accepting what he has done to me there’s no way I can accept the words he has called me the things he has done to me in front of the children. I think that’s a load of bullshit…. accepting??!!!! Give me a break!! As I walked out someone in the group came over to me in the parking lot and explained what accepting means.. she explained accepting is letting go of it ..within yourself ..accepting is accepting that it DID happen .. everything you endured…. you’re accept ing that this did actually happen because it DID happen. The closure of dealing with an alcoholic is not having any sort of closure at all and that is something we have to accept…. so that us ourselves can let it go .I hope I helped a bit prayers to you

  3. By: Mercedes Posted: 31st May 2016

    I find the word “acceptance” to be double-meaning. There’s “accept” as in “acknowledge,” and then “accept” as in “condone.”

    You DO have to accept (acknowledge) that the abuser “is” an abusive person. That is to say, accept that nothing YOU do will change THEIR behavior. What you don’t have to do is accept (condone) their abusive behavior towards you. You don’t have to accept a relationship with them if they can’t treat you without abuse.

    Actually, it reminds me of the word “respect.” Some abusers will say “If you don’t respect me, I won’t respect you.” But what they mean is, “If you don’t respect me as an authority, I won’t respect you as a person.”

  4. By: Vicki Posted: 17th March 2014

    Hi, I’ve seen the term “acceptance” used in dialectical behavioural therapy and mindfulness. This makes me wonder if it is a mistranslation of an Asian word. What “acceptance” is supposed to mean is to look at the facts of what is happening right now and try not to colour your observations with your feelings and judgements.

    I have had a counsellor misuse the term, requesting that I apply judgement and reject my feelings. I was asked to judge in favour of my parents because they had a history that had taught them it was okay to mistreat me. I was asked to reject my feelings that caused me to keep myself safe from my parents rather than to validate my feelings as part of my situation. And this was about the past, while real mindful acceptance is supposed to be about the present.

    “Acceptance” has become a buzz word instead of a helpful Asian teaching. Some Westerners are afraid that in order to correctly teach what it means they will have to create material that is difficult to understand. Well, isn’t that oxymoronic, trying to help people understand a word with simplified definitions that are inaccurate?

    Some writers define the word “acceptance” as if the term in the context of DBT is the only definition of “acceptance” that has ever existed; they cause confusion because they do not prevent the reader from convoluting the Western definition of “acceptance” into the DBT-relevant gloss. Eep, have you seen the dictionary defintion of “accept” the way it is actually used in English? You do not want recovering people to be doing that!

    Maybe we need a new translation. Or, maybe we need to try to help people in ways that we actually understand, instead of misapplying practices and causing further harm.

  5. By: marquis (female) Posted: 4th February 2014

    Amber,

    Yea, I agree. It seems the abusive people always win in the end seeing how people cater and feel sorry for them. I told my therapist months ago (also told other people) how could my parents have “unconditional love” for us when they never wanted us and just had us as slave children? The usual songs of silence! lol

  6. By: Amber Posted: 3rd February 2014

    Marquis, yes, I am very familiar with the different levels of rights, respect etc. And who always comes out ahead in the unevenness? Yes, the abusive person. They expect a level of respect that they don’t think they have to give. They believe they have more rights than others. And they believe that they are entitled to be accepted the way they are, with all their abusive behaviors. And their definition of unconditional love is different for us than it is for them.
    This is a great article by Darlene. This concept of acceptance of what has happened verses acceptance of abusive behavior has been a huge sticking point for me, but having it verbalized, clarified and ultimately validated here has been enormously helpful.

  7. By: Amber Posted: 3rd February 2014

    Excellent article, Darlene! And very validating. It distinguishes the difference between accepting the reality that a person is a certain way verses being forced to accept ( and therefore perpetuating ) the abusive behavior of someone. Also very validating is that one option of standing up for oneself is to remove ourself from an abusive person. I had confused this with running away from the problem. But it isn’t. Many times, it is the only solution. For example, I reconnected with a high school classmate on Facebook. It quickly became apparent that all she wanted to do was talk about HER problems, and additionally, she had issues with just about everybody in our graduating class. Eventually I could see that she was directing her rage towards me. She became critical and couldn’t handle me having differing opinions than her. A couple of classmates warned me that she was sharing private emails with them and spreading vicious gossip about me. I immediately cut off all contact, including “up friending” her; the only person I ever did that with. Removing her seemed to be the best solution, and I never regretted it. Meanwhile, she continues her toxic abusive tactics with other classmates.

    Thank you Darlene for yet another inspiring and validating article.

  8. By: marquis (female) Posted: 3rd February 2014

    Wow! That is awesome! I needed to hear another view point of acceptance. A while back, my therapist and I spoke about accepting others. What I didn’t like is she told me to “accept my parents for the way they are and they are not going to change.” Okay, I knew long ago they were not gonna change, however, other people told me to “be a good daughter and may be they will see the light.” I told people have they seen the light yet? Apparently not!

    “When we are directed to accept, it is implied that acceptance means to accept the abusive behavior of the other person. This misunderstanding and false teaching gets deeply mixed into many relationships and is used as a justification for all kinds of abuse.”

    Agreed. A lot of teachings out there are so false it’s a shame how people can’t understand what is true and what isn’t. My ex therapist tomorrow told me “we are not accepting the abuse,” I said ‘then, why do people have to accept abusive parents?’ I have been told “because they are your parents,’ which she has said that before but telling me to accept them because “they don’t know better and they didn’t have any teachings growing up.” Nothing new, I already knew they didn’t have teachings growing up which is why they are pretty much the mirror images of their parents!

    I don’t believe I have to “accept them” why should I accept “abusive behavior?” Been doing that all of my life which led to therapist getting a bit huffy because “I’m listening to too many perceptions out there and taking them to heart.” It’s always that same boring song of people saying ‘they are your parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles/friends/etc so you should at least accept the abusive behavior because that’s who they are.’ It really irks me when people say such nonsense like that. I told one person long ago ‘so, we should accept our lying politicians? Why do we have to keep “accepting pathological and sociopathic politicians?” ‘ My god, the silence I always get!

    I told people ‘funny how abuse gets justified but the victim always has to remain silent? What kind of “acceptance” is that?’ If a parent mistreats their kids, then we should accept it because they are our parents and we should love them regardless – what bs!

    “Accepting others the way they are is a more appropriate directive when the person wears strange clothing, or likes to eat weird bugs; acceptance of political or religious views that are not like mine are also good examples. But accepting others because they swear at me, talk down to me, devalue and disrespect me or completely dismiss me as a person ~ those are actions that I don’t have to accept. We should NOT be encouraged to accept unacceptable behavior.”

    Accepting other people of different races/cultures/ethnic groups, clothing, music, etc like you said are wonderful examples of acceptance. Ooh, how come in therapy they don’t preach that?! Why do people in this world have to accept negative behavior? Point this to other people, they will always get offended and never have a real answer to back up. I always get the “that’s just how it is in life,” I told them ‘no, we as people allow it to happen.’ That always ends the conversation lol!

    We all should be taught (this society should preach it but it don’t) to accept all kinds of people who are different than us and that it is okay to be different. It’s funny how society says it like it makes them feel good but doesn’t practice what they say. We should stop saying these things when we aren’t gonna practice them in this society. When we encourage bad behavior, I don’t understand why people are always shocked that these jerks get away with A LOT??!! I told this to my therapist, by saying to accept my parents for how they are; you are basically allowing the abusive behavior to continue – you don’t need a psychology book to tell you that! Oh, she didn’t like that! She cut me off repeating what she said before. I told her look around you; ever had to defend yourself only to find yourself frustrated because that jerk got away with it and you did nothing wrong? She got quiet after that!

    “I have a problem with accepting unacceptable behavior. I can accept that my mother doesn’t want to respect me. But that means that she doesn’t get to have respect FROM me either and that seems to be what other people have problems with. I am accused of disrespecting her because I don’t have contact with her, but the truth is that I don’t have contact with her because I respect ME. Relationship is a two way street and I deserve equal respect. We all deserve EQUAL respect.”

    Agreed. I was/still am accused by people that I don’t respect my parents. I’m sorry, why should I/we (we being siblings and me together)? I can’t fathom why we should respect them. My therapist tried to jump down my throat I said to her you have kids, right? Isn’t respect a two way street? Again, silence! Why do the children have to respect elders who don’t respect them? We have zero respect in this country – used to be a time where this country had respect long long time ago. We look bad as it is with no respect for anybody or anything for that matter. She just looked at me!

    Told therapist this is why relationships/friendships/marriages keep falling apart because there’s no mutual respect on both sides.

    “I HAVE equal value to all others. That is the truth and yet our society seems to encourage the belief that some people according to the title they hold actually deserve more respect than other people. I had to believe that this was a lie in order to own my own value and stop accepting disrespectful treatment. Disrespectful treatment is not acceptable and therefore should NOT be accepted. It really is that simple. No one has the right to treat another person in an abusive, disrespectful and unacceptable way.”

    Definitely agree! I told that to my therapist just because a person has a degree/title/license that “they deserve respect” oh really?? We live in this country based on titles instead of viewing the person’s character and anybody who has a piece of paper or alphabet at the end of their names (i.e. Ph.D, MD, PS, RN, etc) means absolutely nothing they can be wrong too and if they commit a crime – they are going to jail or prison so those titles mean nothing! She didn’t like that because I told her your license/degree/title means shit to me. I was told crap in the past to “respect those who hold titles” I said you give respect to get respect.

    “As long as I was in that spin of questioning myself, I believed that I was not being fair to other people if I accused them of devaluing or disrespecting me and I got that mixed up with acceptance. I believed that I was not “accepting others the way that they are” if I questioned their motives or intentions even within the confines of my own mind.”

    True.

    “The truth was that I had never actually been taught or empowered to realize what unacceptable actually was. Controlling demanding people had taught me that I didn’t have the same “rights” as they did; that my actions were unacceptable while their actions were acceptable. And that teaching is a tough thing to un-teach and overcome.”

    Agreed. I told my therapist my parents treated us like we don’t have the same rights as any human being and that hasn’t changed yet we are suppose to be adults. She told me months ago that I have “responsibilities as an adult,” I cut her off saying how do you have responsibilities as an adult when you were NEVER treated like an adult and NOT ALLOWED to make adult decisions? She looked at me saying I have free will….what free will??!?? Where is she getting that from? I never had free will in my life not when I was growing up and certainly not now at now age 28!!! If you have lived in the dark or still living in the dark, you have no freakin free will! OMG, what a clueless woman/therapist she is!

    Yep, it is hard to unteach and therapist said it can be done. I said then the world should be perfect until people everywhere wants a change, then it will happen. It’s very hard to unteach especially if you are still living in a negative environment whether you live at home, live in a community where everybody thinks the same way, or have friends that think the same way as other negative people think. I mean really?!? Is this hard? Who needs a psychology book for that? That’s my own experiences and I’m sure other people can validate that as their experiences too.

    “Another concept that gets mixed in with the “acceptance directive is “unconditional love”. Unconditional love is not about accepting abusive treatment from someone who kicks you around physically or emotionally. It isn’t love when someone treats another person with disregard or disrespect and yet we are taught to return those actions with love. This doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t loving towards the person who aims disrespect or disregard at another person if we just accept it. It is far more loving and an example of healthy self esteem to stand up to it even if that is only to remove ourselves from the situation.”

    Amen, thank you for saying that! The way I hear about “unconditional love” has strings attached! I saw one time on tv a parent told their kids they love them “unconditionally” but when the child said mom and dad I am gay; all the “unconditional love” dropped to the point where they kicked their child out, burned their pictures, etc like the kid never existed! I have noticed all of my life that unconditional love is also brainwashing telling people ‘I love you unconditionally…but…,’ there’s that but again! Why is there a but in the sentence?

    I told therapist ‘if you are telling me what my parents are doing is unconditional love, then I am sorry to say that you also allow abuse to happen to other people. Why is it okay for others to be abused but certainly not or your kids?’ Ohh, she didn’t like that at all! I told her bad is bad, you have this ‘it can’t happen to me syndrome.’ I agree it isn’t loving towards anyone and asked people/therapist where’s the love? She is always quiet when I questioned things extremely hard to the point she or anybody else can’t answer the question.

    I asked therapist, ‘where’s that love you keep talking about that my parents have for me? I am still waiting! Let me honest with you: by saying I should accept my parents as they should and that’s also accepting the behavior, this is how women are taught to “accept abuse by their boyfriends/husbands and to get over it,” this is why as women we always end up repeating the same destructive cycle all over again because of the “accept others how they are.” ‘ I told her haven’t women gotten tired enough yet of abuse?

    People have told my sister how rude/disrespectful she is for not wanting a relationship with my parents and “how dare you not speak to them.” Her hubby is a Naval officer and they are in Japan, she is 45 years old, why does she need to have a relationship with mommy and daddy? Cause everybody has parents is that it??!! I get told that all the time and how “your parents always accepted you.” What?!?!? When did they ever accepted us???!!! Never did and never will!

    By being mistreated and like you said letting that transfer to love or back to love, told therapist ‘what kind of teaching is that to people? You’re saying a parent seriously mistreating their kids is just being a parent by providing tough love? Really??!! There is a way to give someone tough love without being a jerk about it. We are really not fully understanding what love really is in this world. So, my parents hate us and we are suppose to respond back with love? Wow, you are a parent yourself – very disappointed in you.’

    “Always remember that we are healing from the damage and that before the damage can be overcome, it has to be acknowledged.”

    Agreed. I’ve acknowledged everything about my parents long ago and didn’t lie to people. I can’t fully heal not while I am living in their house yet therapist expects me to be fully healed soon enough!!

    “Acceptance in the context of accepting what happened is not the same thing as acceptance of the person who did it. Accepting the way a person “is” does not apply when abuse or mistreatment is involved. There is a big difference in accepting someone’s “faults”, verses accepting abusive treatment.”

    Agreed. I can’t accept for what my parents did to me/us and not gonna accept them for who they are. However, I accept that they will not change at all and they don’t care too. We knew that not like that’s a secret like people out there wanna pretend like it is. I don’t have to accept negative behavior and I don’t have to spend my time with people like that. It took me a long time to get rid of my ex narc female friend and I got rid of her in 09, a 10 yr meaningless friendship with someone who’s pretty narcissistic like my parents always gotta be right while you have no feelings at all. It’s other people’s business of how they are as a person and you don’t have to agree with them or be their friend; but you don’t have to accept their behavior.

  9. By: DXS Posted: 17th July 2013

    @Nate: I get that, too! I am the one that is required to accept. How come they don’t have to?

    @Annie: Yes, we don’t know our boundaries, because they want us kept in the dark on that. Yes, distancing ourself helps us figure out who we are.

  10. By: Annie Posted: 17th July 2013

    I have now gone no contact. When I wrote my last comment above, I was in the middle of constant involvement with my family as a result of my father being terminally ill.

    He has since passed, but while in the midst of his care, I was exposed to plenty of abusive behavior, from every single family member, including him.

    I think the question to ask of the self when it comes to acceptance is “Does this person’s behaviors cross MY boundaries?”

    That can serve as a gauge as to whether or not acceptance of them staying in your life is appropriate.

    I know that sometimes we as the abused don’t know what our boundaries are and therefore it might be a good idea to distance yourself anyway while you get to know yourself better.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 19th July 2013

      Hi Annie
      For many people, distancing themselves is the only way they can come out of the fog. (and not geographical distance, it can be done with boundaries alone)
      Hugs, Darlene

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