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Home / Advice / News / Why is acceptance important for our mental health?

Why is acceptance important for our mental health?

By: Vincent Ryan

Updated: 16 December 2020

Why is acceptance important for our mental health?

Why is acceptance important for our mental health?

By Vincent Ryan

When someone is struggling with painful thoughts and feelings the most natural thing in the world can be to want those thoughts and feelings to simply go away.

The person's whole being may be shouting, “I don’t want this. I don’t accept this. This is so painful. It is not okay!”

Of course, this is completely understandable. A difficult experience is one we want to end. Acceptance may be very far from what we naturally want when we are feeling anxious or down. And yet, counter-intuitively, acceptance can be very important for coping and for recovery from mental distress. Why could this be? Let’s consider this a bit more closely.

One reason why acceptance can be so important is that it is very hard to do anything constructive about something when we don’t accept it. A degree of acceptance can be an important requirement for real engagement and for change to happen.

For example, let’s say two friends are driving to a hurling match. Suddenly the car hits a bump in the road and gets a flat type. The passenger glances at the driver and anxiously says, “hey, looks like we have a flat. Looks like we have a problem”. Now imagine that the driver, without missing a beat, speeds up and says, “no we haven’t!”

Now these people have two problems: a flat tyre and a driver who won’t, or can’t, accept the situation. This lack of acceptance in this situation is going to make a bad situation worse. Therefore, acceptance sets the groundwork for getting one’s bearings, rolling up one’s sleeves, assessing the situation and ultimately seeking support and solutions. When we get an honest read of the situation and what we (and others) are contributing to it we can get stuck in and see what might help.

A second reason why acceptance is the change that’s needed is so that we can begin to make peace with something that has happened that is painful and difficult to bear, something that is a real loss for us. Life is filled with losses, big and small. The Covid pandemic has heightened this in all kinds of ways for people as well.

In order for it not to become a damaging situation, loss requires acceptance and a period of grieving and adjustment. This involves recognising the loss and gradually letting go of what was lost. Part of that grieving can sometimes be finding acceptance for what can feel utterly unacceptable. This is a very difficult task. Painfully persisting to refuse to mourn and accept something can itself become a kind of suffering on top of the suffering of the initial loss.

A third reason why acceptance is important for good mental health is that it can be a kind of gateway to compassion for oneself and for others. This can often be very important for healing and moving on. And when acceptance is unattainable it can be a barrier to self-compassion for oneself and for others. If it is the case that acceptance is hard to attain, then that needs to be negotiated first before one can move on.

A fourth reason why acceptance may be important for our mental health is that as humans we all inevitability face all kinds of painful emotions as part of life, as part of our human endowment. And sometimes we inherit beliefs that we “should not” have some of those emotions — that it is not safe or it is shameful or we are somehow “weak” or “bad” or unlovable. It can be that not only is the feeling painful, but it may feel unacceptable. And this is an important difference. In other words this is where we are having a strong feeling, and we are also having a feeling or attitude about that strong feeling which in ways rejects the feeling and rejects us for having the feeling. Reflecting on how we get caught in this trap deserves our attention …

Perhaps one further reason to consider why acceptance is important for our wellbeing and moving forward in our lives is that it invites us to grapple with the transient nature of reality. All things inevitably change. This too shall pass. This is how it is right now, it won’t be like this forever. Nothing ever is.

A therapist I knew used to say, “this is how it is, for now”. So, “I don’t like this situation, but this is how it is, for now”. I thought it was a useful reminder that no matter how awful a feeling, experience or situation is, it too will pass. So accepting the inevitability of change can be a really powerful antidote to distress, and offer a kind of relief, too.

No doubt there are many other reasons why acceptance is so vitally important to our mental well-being. These are perhaps a few to consider today.


Sheena Lawless Psychotherapist Location: Online

Approach: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) , Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy , Mindfulness , Person-Centred Therapy

Works with: Individual Session

Specialities: Relationship issues , Personal Development , Depression , Anxiety , Stress , Trauma , Work Issues, Work/Life balance

Next avaialble appointment: 11:00 27 September 2022

Wendy Van Der Velden Psychotherapist Location: Online

Approach: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) , Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy

Works with: Individual Session

Specialities: Bereavement / Loss , Anxiety , Depression , Self-Esteem , Stress

Next avaialble appointment: 15:00 28 September 2022

Linda Smith Psychotherapist Location: Dublin 8

Approach: Gestalt Therapy , Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy , Person-Centred Therapy , Psychoanalytic Therapy , Psychodynamic Therapy , Creative Art Therapy , Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Works with: Individual Session , Couples Session

Specialities: Relationship issues , Depression , Bereavement / Loss , Anxiety , Anger , Addiction

Next avaialble appointment: 21:00 28 September 2022


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