There Is Strength in Acceptance

ADDA Health Guide
  • By Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA - ADDA Board Member


    As a psychologist, most of my clients come to me to do better in their life: make their relationship more satisfying, perform better at work, manage their time better, etc. I do the best that I can to help them make those positive changes. Very rarely does someone come in and say that they want to work on accepting what already is. Not change it, just accept it. Sure, it happens sometimes, like when someone knows that an ex isn't coming back but they're having trouble letting it go. Mostly though, clients come in to change things, not change how they feel about those things. I suppose it's the American way—bigger, faster, better.

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    I had the pleasure recently of seeing Dan Gottlieb, PhD do a reading and book signing for his newest book, Learning from the Heart. He doesn't write about ADHD specifically, but rather about the various challenges that we all face. He has a lot of wisdom that we all could benefit from. Among other things, he spoke about the importance of simply accepting certain things. As tempting as it is to buy into the idea that we have the ability to change whatever we don't like, the reality is much harder. Some things, like some of the struggles of ADHD, will remain no matter how hard you work at changing them. I'm all in favor of working hard on self-improvement, but we will all reach a point where the improvements come much more slowly or at an unacceptable price. For example, I would love to run a ten mile race with a couple friends this fall, but I know that I am not willing to sacrifice the necessary time to get into that kind of shape right now.


    As I listened to Dan talk about the importance of acceptance, I came to an interesting realization. When I started as a therapist, I worked really hard to help my clients improve things in their lives so they could feel better. This worked out really well—except when it didn't. The problem was that I was falling into the same trap that they were, so then we both felt powerless and frustrated when we encountered something that we couldn't change. Over the years, I've started focusing more on acceptance—change what you can, accept the rest.


    This is especially relevant for people with a chronic condition like ADHD. Yes, ADHD is very treatable and does tend to respond well to an active treatment program, but some struggles will remain. (To be honest, do any of us ever get everything we want?) So, if staying organized has always been a real challenge, it is definitely worth working to get on top of it, but you will probably never be the envy of your obsessive-compulsive friends. That's OK. Some progress is still better than complete victory.


    When I talk about acceptance, I don't mean passively accepting things as a justification to not have to work on them. Rather, I mean an active decision that certain situations will simply have to remain as they are, either unchanged or with only partial improvements. Acceptance isn't always easy, but neither is feeling tortured by unfulfilled desires. So make that active choice instead.

Published On: May 12, 2008