No One Said You Have to Like It
We accept our experience not because we want it, but because it is already here. Shauna Shapiro
Somehow, an idea has come about in the world of self-help that we should enjoy the adversities that life brings our way.
Embrace your fears.
Get out of your comfort zone.
Think outside the box.
Blah, blah, blah.
I’m a little tired of these trite sayings for a couple of reasons.
First, sometimes things just suck.
Losing your house to foreclosure sucks.
Getting a divorce sucks.
Having a chronic illness sucks.
Being laid off from your job sucks.
There’s no getting around it.
Life is really hard sometimes and putting a positive spin on it can lead to my second problem with stale platitudes.
In addition to life sucking for you at the moment, reading bullet points about how to make it all better can actually make you feel worse because you end up shoulding on yourself.
“I should be able to handle this better.”
“I’m engaging my fears and facing them like I’m supposed to. I should feel better.”
“This blog post I’m reading says I should get out of my comfort zone. I’m really uncomfortable. I’m following all the bullet points in this post, I should feel different.”
“I should be better but I’m not. I must be doing something wrong.”
I’m here to tell ya, you’re not doing anything wrong.
You’re just having a moment – perhaps a really long moment – in life that sucks. And when things suck, you feel bad.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
No one said you have to like adversity.
Well, I guess some writers imply that you should, but it’s not true.
See, there’s a difference between accepting something and liking it.
You can certainly accept that you are going through a really crappy time without liking it.
As Shauna Shapiro says, “We accept our experience not because we want it, but because it’s already here.”
The word accept comes from an Old French word, accepter, which meant “to take what is offered.” Later, the word acquired the meaning of “to take or receive willingly.”
Again, I would argue that you can receive something willingly without necessarily liking it or being happy about it.
Case in point:
My late partner, Ruth, had metastatic breast cancer. Early in the process, we were scared and unhappy about the side effects the chemotherapy was causing.
Ruth railed about it to her oncologist, who sat on a little rolling stool looking at her attentively.
Finally, he spoke.
“Ruth, don’t resist.
“Accept the chemotherapy as it comes into your body and allow it to do its healing work.”
Notice that he did not say that she needed to enjoy the process, like the side effects, or be happy about her experience.
He just directed her to accept it without resistance.
And she did. We both did.
Did we like the fact that she had sores inside her mouth, was achingly fatigued, and had ongoing nausea?
We did not like her experience at all, but we accepted it without resistance because it was already there. There was no getting around it; we had to go through it.
So, what did this stance of acceptance what was already there do for us?
It allowed us to compartmentalize the experience. To say to ourselves, “While we don’t like this part of it, we accept the experience as a whole.”
It allowed us to hold two opposites at the same time: We disliked the side effects of the chemotherapy while laughing at them.
At one time, Ruth had to wear adult diapers because of unpredictable episodes of diarrhea. She made a remark once that the diapers looked like those things Sumo wrestlers wear. From then on, they became known as “Sumo pants.”
“I’m out of Sumo pants – can you pick some up for me at the store on your way home?”
“Do you think these Sumo pants make me look fat?”
Did Ruth like her diarrhea? Was she happy about it?
But she accepted it because it was there even though she felt frustrated at times.
By the time Ruth’s cancer was diagnosed, it had already spread to her liver – the worst thing that can happen.
According to the statistics at the time, she should have lived between nine and eighteen months.
Ruth lived for four years with advanced metastatic cancer and I believe it was because she decided not to resist it or the treatment.
She didn’t like her cancer or the experience, but she accepted it.
Not only did she outlive the statistical expectations, but her life was greatly enriched during her time with cancer because of this very idea of accepting something willingly and without resistance.
She died a very happy, content person without regrets.
What can be better than that?
So I’m not going to end this with bullet points.
Because you don’t need them.
You understand the idea: you don’t have to like adversity in your life. Sometimes things suck.
Don’t like it and accept it willingly.
Like Ruth, your life will be richer, too.
Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping you face life’s significant challenges and regain your resiliency. Download her free ebook, “Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.” You can find her blog at http://www.TheBounceBlog.com and follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/bobbiemel) and Twitter (@BobbiEmel.)