Acceptance Doesn’t (Have To) Preclude Growth

I’ve been mulling over comments from my post a few weeks ago on weight and body image. It’s a complicated topic and I naturally approach it from the perspective of personal experience.

Many commentators talked about pursuing/finding “peace” and coming to a place of “acceptance” and those words reminded me of a quote I wrote down years ago:

Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.

Flannery O’Connor

Frankly, I think “become better” would be more appropriate if substituted with the phrase “to grow.” Sorry, Flannery.

And then I keep circling back around to one of the thoughts captured in this post by Suzanne (which I’ve modified for a broader scope):

“I feel like I should love [insert trait]…So wanting to [make this change] feels like a failure. But the fact is, I DO want to [make this change].”

So I’m asking – can’t we do both?

In pondering that question, let’s take a minute and discuss toddler temper tantrums, shall we? While neither of my children was prone to tantrums, they definitely happened (and always at inopportune times).

Did I love my children less because of their tantrums? No.

Did I refuse to accept their tantrums? No…there is really very little one can do about a tantruming toddler.

So I both loved and accepted them at that stage – but I also actively worked to help them move toward positive emotional responses.

With a two-year-old, most of the heavy lifting comes from the parent. I’d make sure they were well fed before a trip to the grocery store. I tried to prioritize naps and bedtime routines. I avoided taking them to certain locations when I could tell the conditions were just right for a tantrum (hungry toddler in grocery store cart = the worst).

Now, when they emerged from the stage of tantrums, did I love or accept them more? No. (But it sure did make life a whole lot more pleasant.)

So while I love and accept my children at every stage, that doesn’t preclude an attempt to change and/or maximize positive behaviours.

And the same can be true in other areas of my life. I do love and accept my body (as much as I’m able given natural responses to societal pressures, let’s be realistic here). I think it is a miraculous gift from God. The fact I can see and hear and taste and move – these are incredible facets of my life and some of the most obvious sources of #joyfinding.

But I’d argue love and acceptance do not preclude me from seeking growth and positive change.

Is it hard to balance these two, sometimes conflicting, mental states? Absolutely. But I think love, acceptance, and a longing for change can, and do, exist on a spectrum…together. Especially when nurtured under the umbrella of wanting to show appreciation for this body (or insert other relevant trait or state – mental, physical, emotional, financial, relational) God has given me while recognizing my responsibility and privilege to make choices for the betterment of my health and those I love.

One last thought. We throw around the word “acceptance” a lot which has an air of finality to it. I vote we say “accepting” which connotes continual action which will, undoubtedly, ebb and flow over the years.

Thoughts? Do you think acceptance precludes change/growth?

Header photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

21 thoughts on “Acceptance Doesn’t (Have To) Preclude Growth”

  1. Excellent post and analogy withe the toddler tantrums. I whole heartedly agree that accepting is a better word. I really think accepting is a process and is a huge part of growth. Accepting where I am and not always wishing it to be different in some way is not my default. For so long and often I’m resisting or wishing things to be different. One of my goals for this year was to meditate every morning and work on being in my body, in the moment, even if only for short bits of time.

    I have a long history of emotional eating and I am a rebel (Gretchen’s 4 tendencies). Diets feel like torture yet with RA, weight can cause a strain on my body. I’ve spent way too much mental and emotional time on hating my body and “lack of discipline”. I know for me it means treating myself like the toddler! Ha. Sleep, a balance in my meals, kindness, compassion and allowing for some fun in what I eat. I still struggle with my weight where it is at right now. If I’m being honest, the idea of what I should look like and weigh, still gets to me sometimes.

    Besides mindfulness, I knew that getting stronger was important to me as the pandemic has had me working at home and contains less natural movement in my day. My muscles were affected and I gained a few pounds and also was getting injured more easily.

    Accepting will be a process for me that I will continue to return back to what is right for me and how I’m taking care of myself while not wishing I were different. That’s a quick bit on my complex and up and down journey with this.
    So often everything is presented as opposites and one or the other. But I’m staring to see that life is pretty much AND.

    1. Just saying hi, Shelly, as I also have RA and I do not personally know anyone else who has it! So seeing you mention having RA stops me in my tracks when I read your comment! It’s a really tricky disease to navigate and kind of a silent illness at times, so just sending you thoughts of solidarity!

    2. Shelly, it’s so helpful to hear others stories. I’m sorry to hear about your RA and how that complicates things further.
      We’re all on physical and emotional journeys and I’m hoping you continue to make forward progress on feeling good and confident (while making space for some fun treats!!).

  2. Yes, great topic. People confuse “accepting” something with “condoning” it. The first step to making a change is- start where you are. You can’t start where you are if you’re constantly fighting against it.
    Then there are situations you truly can’t change. When my mom died (over ten years ago now) my sister and I just fought against the reality of it so much. She was only 72! She should still be alive! If only this, that, etc. etc. It took a while for me to realize that ACCEPTING the situation was not the same as saying it was okay that it happened- it wasn’t okay, but it did happen, and we had to come to terms with that before we could move forward.
    Acceptance is one of the keys to happiness. Great post, Elisabeth!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your Mom, Jenny. And you’re right – accepting doesn’t have to mean things aren’t hard or we don’t feel “negative” emotions. Sometimes feeling like our grief/excitement/insert other emotion has to fit a specific mold set out by society can leave us even more alienated or upset…Sometimes we just need to “be” and feel the feelings as they come (and sometimes a range of seemingly conflicting feelings at the same time).

  3. This is a really interesting and thought provoking post. It’s hard to strike a balance between accepting and striving…. But you are right – you can do both. I think sometimes we want to tell other people to give themselves a break or find acceptance because we hate to think of someone being in turmoil! But sometimes we do need to be striving for something different/more. It seems like this tension between accepting and striving is more often in the arena of our level of fitness/weight. I’ve tried to be really thoughtful about how I talk about my body, eating and exercise so that our kids hopefully grow up with a better body image than I did. Mine was truly horrible even though I was a very thin kid (naturally – I have a smaller bone structure and was just naturally thin growing up – it’s not so natural as I’ve aged, though!!). So I try to say “I get to go for a run” or things like that. Similarly, I say “I get to go to work” because I want my kids to see that working can be enjoyable and fulfilling and not this awful thing I’m doing for our family.

    My comment is already all over the place so I will stop there! But you’ve definitely got me thinking about where I need to work on accepting and where I need to strive.

    1. I think about how I want my kids to grow up in terms of body image and relationships with food…but even more broadly with things like challenging aspects of a personality, for example.
      I guess it’s about being introspective about “do I see something that could benefit from growth in X area.”
      For me, I think I do love/accept my body on many levels, but I’m also looking to grow (both in accepting where I’m at in that journey as well as growth as it relates to healthy habits and learning what works best for my body). Because I have high cholesterol and a lot of issues with fatigue, it feels like I am a giant experiment and I regularly do want to tweak things to maximize health/energy levels.
      I also agree with what you say about others not wanting to see us in turmoil and it is obviously a very fine line between disordered eating/body image and pursuing growth. Just in reflecting over some of the comments on my original post, I think I’m actually in a good space, but want more from myself, too?

  4. So on board for this.
    As others have said, you have to start where you are. Accepting that frees up so much mental and emotional energy that can be put towards moving forward, instead of spending that energy fighting against reality. Acceptance is not a hopeless, passive state. It is freeing and hopeful and active. Weirdly, having to learn and practice acceptance about a deep hard thing (my daughter developed a disabling chronic condition a few years ago) has helped me become better at accepting superficial little things, whether it’s the fact that I am going gray so rapidly or that my floors never stay clean for more than 5 minutes.
    My kids have had me listening to the Encanto soundtrack a lot lately and I’m just stuck on Dos Oruguitas [Two Caterpillars]. The lyrics are prettier in Spanish, but the English version isn’t bad either:
    “Two oruguitas
    Cocooned and waiting
    Each in their own world
    What happens after
    The rearranging?

    And so afraid of change
    In a world that never stops changing
    So let the walls come down
    The world will never stop changing”

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter, K. But you’re right that acceptance/accepting is a process that needs to happen for big – and little – things.
      We are finally over listening to Encanto, but the soundtrack played constantly for about a month! I will never forget the lyrics to Surface Pressure!

  5. Agree that acceptance is an active state, one that can take years and much grieving. 12 years ago I discovered lesions on my skin and was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease vitiligo. It’s taken me many years to inch toward a place that feels like acceptance as the disease continues to progress. Once I realized that I was grieving the loss of “my skin,” I sat with my grief and acceptance came faster. Now that the first drug specifically for vitiligo is expected to be FDA approved this summer, I’m considering treating it again for the first time in 10 years. But treatments don’t mean that I don’t accept where I am right now…it’s complicated.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your hard diagnosis.
      It’s interesting you labeled your experience with “grief” because I think so often we skip over that label. So often I think we grieve and don’t realize it. We grieve something we lost, or we grieve something we never had. Naming it “grief”, in my mind, is such a helpful part of moving on to accepting. We try to say “everything’s fine” when in reality we have deep emotions to work/wade through.
      I hope you have peace as you look toward the next steps, potentially considering this new treatment option.

  6. Wholeheartedly agree. I like Gretchen Rubin’s saying along these same lines: Accept yourself and expect more from yourself.
    Your additions make it even better: Accept yourself while encouraging continued growth for yourself.

    1. Yes! Sometimes I can “accept” something but also recognize that I can do better or make adjustments that will move me further toward a mindset/physical state where I’ll be more closely aligned with my values and/or goals.

      Oh, how I appreciate Gretchen Rubin!!

  7. For me acceptance is most definitely on a continuum and part of a process, it is not where something ends, if that makes sense. Acceptance for me is allowing, allowing without judgement or resistance to let something be here for now and be ok with that. It is incredibly hard to do but I believe if we can do that it then allows us to spend the time investigating what it is you are believing. Standing in judgement of ourselves is not being kind to ourselves and we deserve to treat ourselves kindly and gently as we do with others. I totally agree that acceptance doesn’t preclude growth, in fact it really shouldn’t 😉

  8. I personally think acceptance doesn’t preclude but precedes change/ growth! Only through acceptance of the current state can we assess and make plans for the future. 🙂

    Excellent post, Elisabeth. Acceptance is not an end point in itself. It’s an end point of something but the beginning of something else.

    1. Precede! Exactly and such a natural phrasing that makes this whole concept even richer!
      “Acceptance is not an end point in itself. It’s an end point of something but the beginning of something else.”
      And this line of yours is brilliant, San! I’ll have to work this into another blog post on this topic.

  9. Bravo! Once again, you so aptly put these thoughts into words. Accept yourself and expect more from yourself. For me the feeling of being on the path toward my goals is my happy place. Yes, I want the destination, but I can usually achieve a kinder posture toward my current self and be more content if I feel like I have upward/forward momentum. Onward and upward, as they say.

    1. Thanks for being such a great sounding board on the tantrums – both when I was living the reality and then when I thought “Hey, could this analogy work with how I feel about my journey with body image?”
      Love your imagery of posture, too. It really is akin to being tense and overbearing vs tender, pliable, and loving.
      Onward and upward, indeed <3

  10. Yes, yes, yes! I love this post so very much. Acceptance, I think, is the necessary step we need to take in order to grow. I just don’t think it’s very healthy for us to make a change because we think we have to in order to be a better person. I think we need to accept where we’re at and who we are at this moment, and make the change from a place of love and grace. We need show the person we are today as much love, compassion, and grace as we would to the person we are striving to be.

    1. “We need show the person we are today as much love, compassion, and grace as we would to the person we are striving to be.”
      Such a great quote, Stephany! You nailed it and summarized things better than I did in my post <3

  11. As always, I have had to sit with this for a bit before replying. Thank you for your patience with me. 🙂 As you know from my recent post, I’ve had a hard time accepting myself (specifically, my body) recently. I’ve long accepted that I am “weird” in terms of personality, preferences, daily schedule, etc. It’s the physical that is more difficult.

    But not accepting my physical body has not prompted me to change my body – at least, not recently. Instead, I’m trying to focus on changing my perspective. So, actually changing my lack of acceptance and trying to get to a place where I do accept that this is who I am, physically, for now.

    So in a way, maybe, the change can be physical (changing something about one’s appearance), behavioral (changing the toddler tantrums) or mental (as I am attempting to do)? I feel like I’ve kind of wandered away from your original idea/thesis, but this is where it led me. 🙂 As I said, I’m weird!

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