“How can I accept others the way they are, isn’t that just giving up?”
Froma Walsh, a psychiatrist, writer, and co-founder of the Chicago Center for Family Health, researched what families report to make for happiness in the home. At the top of the list were feelings of connection to family members while having respect for each other’s autonomy. This is a great way to think of acceptance.
But how can I actually accept others in a tangible, difference making way? How am I actually going to accept someone for being different or strange? More importantly, perhaps, how am I actually going to accept others if I think they are wrong?
I think the answer lies within, literally.
I think that we have to accept ourselves before we can truly accept others. If we can accept ourselves, especially those parts about ourselves that we don’t like, those parts about ourselves that we fight and struggle against-that we sometimes call our enemies, then we have set the stage for giving that same acceptance to the “other”.
In class last Fall, on the topic of couple’s therapy, a professor reminded us of something a colleague of his says about the marital relationship, that it takes a couple about 25 YEARS to finally stop trying to make the other spouse like them and accept them for who they are.
Really, 25 years? Is that really what it has to take? Who has 25 years to waste on conflict? My question is this: Do we really have to work so hard, year after year, conflict after conflict, to finally accept our spouse and our children, the “other”? Or, could it happen much quicker?
What if the answer has more to do with me, than you? What if when we found inner peace the outer world simply reflected it? Is there a way to love and accept ourselves, all the parts of ourselves and make peace with them? What if all those parts of ourselves that feel like our enemies to defeat were actually not our enemy at all? What if they were our allies in distress much like a child who needs attention and escalates until the he has our full attention and instead of telling the child “Be quiet I am busy” we stopped and asked what the child needed? What if our inner world was more like that?
Well according to Richard Schwartz, the creator of Internal Family Systems (IFS), it is. The things we often call “thoughts” are largely an internal dialogue with our different sub-personalities (parts).
If I can accept myself, all of me, then I can be accepting of you, all of you.
Maybe, I would be filled with curiosity when I see and hear you rather than be critical and judging for being and seeing different than me? I think Alcoholics Anonymous had it right when the authors, back in the late 1930’s wrote, “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment” (Big Book, p. 417).