Acceptance: The Missing Piece to the Healing Puzzle

Borderline Personality Disorder

Go ahead, name ‘em – borderline personality disorder, PTSD, panic attack symptoms, major depressive disorder, compulsive behavior issues, schizophrenia. My money says the missing piece to the healing puzzle for all of ‘em is acceptance.

I mean, losing is a devastating option. And we believe unless we win the war, living a worthwhile life is impossible. So we continue to fight.

Came upon a really good book a while back – Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It’s a workbook, actually – written by Steven C. Hayes, PhD with Spencer Smith. As the title tells, it’s grounded in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Hayes is one of its developers.

ACT is a scientifically-based psychotherapy. In fact, it’s one of the “third wave” behavioral and cognitive therapies. And that means it’s relatively new and presumably more effective. Other therapies riding this wave include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

I have always been a proponent of acceptance being a crucial and powerful dynamic in healing from emotional/mental woes. But working the book with clients the past few weeks has banged the point home.

A Fresh and Effective Approach to Solving Our Internal Problems

Dr. Hayes asks if we’ve noticed that some of our most troubling problems have become more deeply-engrained and out-of-control over the years – in spite of working our fannies off to fix them. Hayes submits this isn’t at all surprising, as it’s the result of our all-too logical minds being asked to do what they were never designed to do. And suffering is just one result.

So says Hayes…

…humans are playing a rigged game in which the human mind itself, a wonderful tool for mastering the environment, has been turned on its host.

Hayes presents a very cool metaphor in describing the distinction between the function of a “psychological disorder,” and how it presents in one’s life. He says it can be likened to someone standing on a battlefield fighting a war. The war is going poorly, and we fight all the harder.

I mean, losing is a devastating option. And we believe unless we win the war, living a worthwhile life is impossible. So we continue to fight.

Unfortunately, we never consider the option of leaving the battlefield and living our lives – now. Sure, the war will continue for a time, and it may remain visible. However, if we exit the battlefield and choose life, the outcome of the war will no longer be important.

That means – and I hear the reverse all the time in sessions – we don’t have to have all of our problems resolved before we begin embracing life.

And so this is about the true substance of emotional/mental probs, not their appearance.

One more meaningful bit of truth from Hayes. He points-out that when we step into something we want to get out of, 99.9% of the time the best course of action is to walk, run, step, hop, or jump out of trouble.

But that’s a losing proposition when it comes to quicksand. Stepping-out requires lifting one foot and moving the other foot forward. Stuck in quicksand, that instantly doubles downward pressure. Add that to the suction-effect around the foot being lifted, and yet more downward pressure is applied. And that would be the end of that.

So now what? The very best thing one can do when stuck in quicksand is stop struggling, and try to lie flat and “spread-eagled” to maximize contact with the surface. Not only is it possible one won’t sink, one may even be able to log-roll to safety.

And so it is with how we’ve traditionally tried to manage our emotional/mental woes. We flail about and frantically do all we can to “fix” the problem – not knowing there’s another strategy that would bring much better, and lasting, results.

Acceptance to the Rescue

It’s natural to fight for the fix when we encounter a problem. And in the external world, it’s the only way to go. But when we try to force the fix for what we experience internally, we’ll fall flat on our faces – time and time again.

Trying to rid ourselves of pain only amplifies it, gets us more gummed-up, and generates trauma.

The alternative is acceptance (screaming, weeping, and gnashing of teeth, I know).

According to Hayes…

Acceptance, in the sense it is used here, is not nihilistic self-defeat; neither is it tolerating and putting up with your pain. It is very, very different than that. Those heavy, sad, dark forms of “acceptance” are almost the exact opposite of the active, vital embrace of the moment that we mean.

Make no mistake about it, acceptance has to be the first order of biz when it comes to extricating ourselves from the battlefield/quicksand of emotional and mental struggles.

Let’s Wrap-It-Up

You may be enduring schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolarity, panic attack symptoms, major depressive disorder, or another internal malady. Given this take on acceptance, your jaw may still be dropped.

Certainly there’s more to the healing process beyond acceptance – and there are numerous strategies and techniques to assist us along the journey.

Still, nothing is going to get better if we don’t acknowledge and accept that which ails us – and move forward, in spite of it all.

What say we leave the battlefield and quicksand behind, and live our lives?! Good?

If you’d like some input on direction and options, consider my consultation services.

600+ Chipur titles await your eyeballs. Give ’em a look-see.

  • Nancy Frye Peden October 14, 2014, 8:44 pm

    Ok, I will be the first to post. Good article as usual, Bill. Do you know about Bipolar Advantage? ACT sounds a bit similar. When I wrote to Bipolar Advantage and told them of all my neurotransmitter mutations, they wrote back that the work with “states” and that is their program. I get it but I am glad I had my genes looked at an have some help with that, too.

    • Chipur October 15, 2014, 10:25 am

      Honored to have you being the first one to post, Nancy. Bipolar Advantage is a super resource. Readers, their mission statement: To help people with depression and bipolar disorder shift their thinking and behavior so they can lead extraordinary lives. Check it out

      Thank you, Nancy…


  • Lisa Frederiksen | BreakingThe October 16, 2014, 7:35 pm

    I’ve never heard of this type of therapy but it sure makes sense. And what a relief it would be! I know myself going through my own SHD recovery – I kept focusing on “After I do this, then I will ______ ,” which only postpones the most important part of recovery – learning to truly LIVE each day. Thanks for sharing.

    • Chipur October 17, 2014, 9:22 am

      Amazing what’s floating out and about in the world of therapy. The workbook is like $15 through Amazon. Working it is a worthy exercise, and you don’t need to do so with a therapist.
      Always appreciate your visits and contributions, Lisa…

  • Nancy Frye Peden October 17, 2014, 1:10 pm

    Just re read this and was very touched. Like the idea that I am ok just as I am, often in great pain. I like the quote “That means – and I hear the reverse all the time in sessions – we don’t have to have all of our problems resolved before we begin embracing life.”

    Has anyone seen Hector and Search for Happiness? It is really quite good. He is a stuffed shirted psychiatrist who decides to go in search for happiness. What he discovers, as the prof at the end says, is that happiness is not something we can seek, it is something that occurs when we are involved with commitment to life. Thanks, Bill.

    I still avoid much of my pain but I do sit Zen mediation and try to practice mindfulness as much as I can but boy it can be difficult. And then there are times when life opens like a flower.

    • Chipur October 17, 2014, 4:21 pm

      Glad you came back and had a second read. And I have no doubt you’re ok just as you are – even often being in great pain. Sure seems to me that’s the goal in life – accepting our pain and suffering (which life is all about) and moving forward in spite of it. I’m thinking that’s precisely what you do. Readers – for the scoop on Hector and the Search for Happiness –
      Always appreciate your participation, Nancy…

      • Nancy Frye Peden October 17, 2014, 4:57 pm

        Oh, so sweet relive the story. Now I remember how brilliant his brain scan becomes. The words I was looking for were prof. Corman’s: “During Coreman’s lecture, he points out that people shouldn’t be concerned with the pursuit of happiness, but with the happiness of pursuit.” Thanks for posting this, Bill.

  • BCat March 15, 2015, 9:57 pm

    I have done ACT with a therapist as well as DBT, dialectical behavior therapy, or CBT with mindfullness. It was a bit too structured and heady for the bad state I was in with non-stop panic attacks. You have to be able to use your mind with these, do some analysis and follow procedures. Would probably work better with a milder disorder where you can think more clearly. I will try the bipolaradvantage site. As far as techniques go, EFT tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) has been the winner for me.

    • Chipur March 16, 2015, 9:34 am

      The winner and still champion – thank you, BCat. Always nice to see you helping out here on The Chip…