An ongoing topic in the chronic pain community is the topic of acceptance. I would like to examine in this article a few themes, starting with what is acceptance? Secondly, what is the difference between acceptance and resignation? Finally, is it possible to come to a place of acceptance on our journey with pain.
Acceptance is often spoken about as a simple one step action “just accept it”, just “deal with it”, “just choose to accept”, “move on”, “get over it”. However, acceptance is an emotional state, acceptance is a feeling. Acceptance takes patience to reach and often occurs with the passage of time. The journey to acceptance is also far from linear, nor an easy passage, it is a process. There are many other feelings we pass through on the way to acceptance, feelings of anger, loss, sadness, grief, feelings we may revisit many times as we try to remain on the island of acceptance. Acceptance is not a passive state, it takes active processing and is empowering. It takes diligence and strength to maintain this feeling in spite of pain, to know when this emotional state is a strength. What acceptance is not is resignation. Resignation is a passive activity, it is an end to itself, there is no journey or process involved. Resignation will prevent any movement toward the emotional state of acceptance. Resignation does not empower the person, but fosters hopelessness.
First, true pain acceptance, whether emotional or physical, is not about passively resigning yourself to being in a state of pain and the feelings that come with it. To resign oneself would be to give into it on every level, even aspects you still have control over. As chronic pain patients aspects of our journey we can manage, might be our feelings and reactions about what is currently out of our control, personal advocacy, aspects of our treatments plans etc. Acceptance is an emotional state toward the things in our life we can not change in that moment, such as having pain or an illness that currently has no treatment, a death, or even a flare that day.
We can not be passively resigned to continue returning to the emotional state of acceptance after feelings of anger grief and loss. This takes courage and fortitude to continue to process, learn, advocate, plan and grow, despite living with chronic pain…it takes acceptance.