How Will You Respond?

Written by Meaghan Heighway, LMHC-P

We have absolutely no control over what happens to us in life but what we have paramount control over is how we respond to those events.” (Viktor Frankl)

I sometimes wish life came with a ‘how-to’ manual, a step-by-step guide for how to respond effectively when life hits a roadblock. But even though there are a plethora of self-help books on the market, I still discover new things that I might have never expected, and it is at that point that I’m faced with a decision: how will I respond? I can tell you that I have had times when I wish I had responded to an event in a different way. I don’t think anyone, unfortunately, can complete this life without experiencing some regrets. But I also believe that most of the time, people really do try to do their best with what they believe they have available to them and with what they know at the time. Because of this belief, I think that helps loosen our grip on regrets a small bit – since none of us can ever expect to be perfect.

A large part of how we can respond depends on how we view one very small word: acceptance. The Latin for the word ‘accept’ is acceptare, which means ‘to receive, willingly.’ So then, to accept something does not mean that you are surrendering your will, giving up, or giving in – you are not ‘defeated.’ It means choosing to loosen your grip on your perceived desires. If we exert energy in being upset / anxious / angry, etc., over something that is not going like we hoped, we are misplacing that energy away from where it could be more effectively used. Acceptance, then, is choosing to respond more effectively when we’re confronted with something that hurts. Here are three suggestions about weaving acceptance into the tapestry of your life:

  1. Figure out what truly is your responsibility. Consider the upcoming holidays. Are you expected to host Christmas – just because ‘it’s always been that way’? Would you be willing to consider if this is truly your responsibility – or is it an expectation that you have allowed to be put on yourself? If you believe it is not truly your responsibility, perhaps you can find another way – co-hosting a particular meal, or even celebrating at a local restaurant. This way, you are choosing to take a different action, while also choosing not to embrace resentment from others’ demands, or to take on others’ perceived disapproval when you ask for a change. If you realize that this kind of a change would bring up sharp reminders of issues you may be grappling with (i.e. needing others’ approval, boundary setting, etc., consider speaking with someone about it or finding a good book on the topic).
  2. Figure out what a ‘new normal’ looks like. Particularly when we’re blindsided by something, our world feels shaken up and it’s disorienting. We might be struggling with figuring out how to move on with our lives, and sometimes that feels impossible. The holidays can be particularly stressful, because it can bring stark reminders of loss – of people we love or of expectations. As difficult as that is, discovering what a new normal looks like (while acknowledging important losses) is imperative for moving through life. For example, you may be facing a first, second, or fifth holiday without a loved one. Acknowledge this loss in a way that is sacred to you (pray, light a candle, donate to their favorite charity, etc.), and find a way to weave them into your ongoing time, such as serving their favorite dish with your regular holiday meal.
  3. Create a ‘letting go ritual.’ What does letting go mean to you? It goes hand in hand with acceptance, because we hope to see a loosening of our grip on what we once believed was so important. Instead of wasting energy on fighting against what hurts, we acknowledge that it is there, and re-focus our energy to a more effective outlet. Rituals are very important, because they are concrete experiences that can help us move through certain times in life with more comfort. One rather famous ‘letting go ritual’ is this litany, which is recited by Alcoholics Anonymous groups all across the world: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Saying this regularly affirms what we hope to build within ourselves, while providing a touchstone that we can keep coming back to as we need it.

As the holiday season is upon us, consider how you will respond as life unfolds – and see if practicing acceptance helps you along the way.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is intended to educate, inform and entertain. This does not represent psychotherapy, therapeutic assessment, or any other form of therapeutic intervention. This should not be used as a substitute for consultation and treatment with a licensed mental health professional. If you have questions related to the material contained in this site please contact CCM or a licensed mental health professional of your choice.

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