When we speak of acceptance we really mean accepting things we don’t like, understand, or can’t change. It’s fairly easy to accept the things we enjoy. The challenge is taking life on life’s terms, and cozying up to the notion that we can’t control many aspects of our health, job, or relationships. Intellectually, we know that, but emotionally, it’s another story. Our frustration with our inability to make things the way we want them to be causes a fair amount of suffering.
Powerlessness can be a bitter pill; especially, if it’s in relationship to someone you love. Perhaps, your partner had an addiction, was unfaithful, or spent all the family’s money. The details are secondary to the common underlying problem: you couldn’t change their behavior. It’s so easy to become mired in blame, self-blame, depression, anger, and worthlessness in that situation. The good news is: even if you truly accept your inability to change someone, and let go of all the “shoulds,” you still have choices. It may not feel that way, because none of the options are particularly appealing, but they exist.
Our ego loves to think it’s in charge, but it isn’t. The flip side of all that hubris is that when we can’t change someone we feel impotent, ineffectual, and extremely frustrated. Albert Ellis used to say, “People are going to do what they want to do, not what you want them to do.” Of course, you already know that, but it’s quite another thing to live it. The trick is: be exquisitely patient with yourself, this is very challenging work and it takes time. Write out all your unhelpful, recurring thoughts and question them.
Here are a few examples of things you might think with possible questions:
If she really loved me she wouldn’t have cheated.
How does her cheating prove she didn’t love me? Could she have been confused? Could we have been going through a rough patch? Am I all-knowing?
If he cared about our family he wouldn’t have gambled away all our savings.
Is gambling an addiction? If so, was he in control? Couldn’t he care about our family and be addicted to gambling?
If our marriage mattered she would have gone to AA.
Was she too scared to face her demons to go to AA? Was she too inebriated to think clearly enough to seek help?
The truth is: Your mate’s behavior had very little, if anything, to do with you. It’s all about him or her.
You can’t make someone lie, cheat, or keep secrets, any more than you can make them honest, loving, or kind. You just don’t have that much power.
Your unhelpful thoughts and feelings have one important thing in common: they all have a component of awfulizing. This means that whatever happens you consciously or unconsciously think: “This is just awful. I can’t stand it. S/He must behave differently, and if s/he doesn’t I can’t take it anymore.” Obviously, if you’re alive you can take it because things you can’t take, like lack of oxygen, kill you. Once you acknowledge that you can stand the situation, even if you really don’t like it, you suddenly feel more empowered and capable of going forward in whatever way makes sense to you.
The good news is: you have power over yourself. You get to choose your thoughts. Once you train yourself to choose more helpful thoughts, via rational-emotive behavior therapy, you’ll find you’re feeling better. (I highly recommend Albert Ellis’ book: HOW TO STUBBORNLY REFUSE TO MAKE YOURSELF MISERABLE ABOUT ANYTHING, YES, ANYTHING! for effective ways to restructure your thoughts.)
All endings are beginnings. Let this be the start of a new relationship with yourself. After all, it’s something you can control.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang