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Acceptance Leads to Problem Solving

Acceptance is a concept – a state of mind – a way of looking at life and problems. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to any circumstance. It is a pivotal point that takes us from what we can’t do to possibilities, options and choices.

Problems have a magnetic way of holding us in place – like fly paper – we get stuck in the mess of it all and can’t see a way out. Acceptance takes us out of a victim role and puts us in charge of our lives. It keeps us from playing the blame game where everything from circumstances to people, parents, siblings, religion, God, whatever, are blamed for our inability to do anything. It puts us in charge of our responses regardless of what life throws at us. (See my blog, “Freedom, our ability to choose…”)

With acceptance we can begin asking these questions: “What isn’t working and why? What am I resisting that requires a change in my thinking and habits? What do I really want to have happen? What is in my control? What is out of my control? Am I making individual personalities the problem versus how I relate and communicate? Can I expand my options by creative brainstorming? In developing a plan of action, where do I start?” Acceptance helps us to better define and articulate the problem.

In my blogs earlier this month, I referred to Arnold Beisser’s book, “Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing” where Arnold talks about having his whole life ahead of him when he got polio that left him paralyzed, unable to move, in an iron lung. (See my blog “Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t) Gradually, as he accepted his situation, he became “an active observer, rather than a passive one”. He wrote, “Even though I could not move, I could actively engage with whatever was around me through the play of senses. . . I could be more than a helpless victim, and I could have a part in determining my life and what shape it took.” He began with baby steps.

Why have I spent so much time trying to explain the concept of reframing and acceptance? Because whether it is relationship conflicts, recognizing our destructive habits and behavior patterns, being told we have a chronic or life threatening illness or a tragedy that takes away our hopes and dreams, expectations and assumptions about life as it should or ought to be, it is only when we can accept what is happening that we are able to formulate ways to create a new reality – a new beginning.

We live in a world of instant knowledge along with methodical steps to apply that information. We want to know what we can do and the exact steps to accomplish that. Rarely does that take into account what we bring to the equation: our resistance to change, past efforts and experiences and the relentless feelings that can overwhelm us. Acceptance and reframing our life and circumstances take more than mechanical steps of application.

God has always been a major part of my life. He has given me comfort, assurance, grace and love. He gives it freely to anyone who asks. His strength has given me courage to accomplish what seemed impossible. The science of mind and body has given me the understanding and strategies to use that strength, courage, faith and trust.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

If you are interested in reading more on this subject, and other aspects of making changes in your life, here are some books I have found helpful .

“Rapid Relief from Emotional Distress”, by Gary Emery, PhD and James Campbell, PhD

“Learned Optimism – How to Change Your Mind and Your Life”, by Martin E.P.Seligman, Ph.D.

“Changing Course, Healing from Loss, Abandonment and Fear” by Claudia Black, Ph.D.

For additional information regarding how thoughts and beliefs affect our behaviors, look for books by Aaron T. Beck, M.D. to understand the process.

Acceptance – Part I

Reframing requires acceptance; accepting what is happening in order to find new options.

My last two blogs examined reframing traumatic events in our life. But we can address ongoing problems by reframing as well. Maybe it is a disintegrating marriage or relationship, symptoms of children in trouble, health concerns, aging parents, constant battle with in-laws, or issues from our childhood. We don’t know what to do, so we keep doing the same things over and over again.

Because we don’t know how to deal with many of the problems we face, we often deny, minimize or avoid them. We continue to fight or resist and convince ourselves that we are doing all we can; if only the other person would change, things would be different. We convince ourselves there is nothing we can do to intervene or bring about a more positive resolution.

A major aspect of reframing is not only how we look at our situation, but also acceptance of what is happening. When told the first step to resolution is acceptance, our first thoughts may be something like this:

  • Accept? It might be easy for you to say – you didn’t have a mother like I did. Or a father who came home drunk and beat us. You didn’t have a sister who was the darling of the family. You weren’t compared to a brother who could do no wrong. Nothing I did was ever good enough.
  • Accept? I can’t be laid off. I’m a single Mom. My ex doesn’t pay his child support and I am struggling to survive. I’m exhausted and stressed to the max. Or, I don’t want to accept the fact that I am out of work and have to start over – again.
  • Angry? You bet I’m angry. Somebody is always telling me what to do, even when I try my hardest. It’s never good enough! Life sucks! Accept? Accept what? What choices do I have?
  • If I accept – what does that make me? A doormat?


So What Does Acceptance Mean?

Acceptance means I accept the circumstances I find myself. It means I stop fighting, resisting or denying what is happening. Like the angry child whose Mom holds tightly until he runs out of steam and stops fighting, we also hang on to our hurts, our disappointments, our difficult circumstances.

We continue to fight because we are convinced things will be better only when the other person has changed or when circumstances have been corrected. We do the same things over and over again because we don’t see any alternatives. Without acceptance we remain stuck.

With acceptance we can better define the problem. Letting go of our need to be right can help us come to grips with our own imperfections. Letting go of our belief that we have all the answers or have it all together allows us to see things from a new perspective.

 Acceptance does not mean that if I accept what is happening I have given up or that I will become a passive participant to life. In the process of acceptance, we begin to accept all parts of ourselves – our strengths and our weaknesses. We stop trying to prove ourselves and instead begin to focus on solutions.

We can’t force change. We can impact change by altering our attitudes, behaviors and beliefs as we seek better solutions. Acceptance allows our energy to be freed up and explore what it is we really want instead of what we don’t want.

As Christians we understand our need for a loving God who offers forgiveness, grace, strength and wisdom. Acceptance in troubling times can bring us closer in our relationship to God. This process does not exclude God, but brings him prayerfully into the picture.

 In my next blog, I will share the impact on our health caused by non-acceptance.

 ©2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

How To Reframe

How do we reframe?

Reframing takes what life has handed us and looks at it in a different way. Within any drastic life change, our first response is usually shock. When you lose your job, can’t make your house payment, or have been diagnosed with a life altering or threatening disease, the crisis takes center stage and everything else is blocked from view.

Why it is so important

Reframing begins with changing our perception. It is stepping back from the problem and taking in more information. When our nose is pressed against the tree trunk, we have to step back to see the rest of the tree and surroundings. Reframing allows us to step back from the impossibility of the situation and look for possibilities. It not only allows us to transcend difficult or traumatic life situations, but to find humor and purpose within them.

When faced with difficult or traumatic events, our perceptions of what we believe the world should or ought to be are challenged. Reframing allows us to review and evaluate our expectations and assumptions and accommodate for change.

For example, if you’ve been out of work for a while and can’t find work in your field, reframing allows you to look at alternatives; temporary jobs or ways to survive within this time period. When my husband and I were first married, major transitions and loss of income resulted in the need to live with parents until we could get back on our feet.

Reframing allows you to look at many different options, ones you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. It doesn’t remove your responsibility, but gives you options to find a way through the transition.

Reframing allows us to get out of a cycle of anger, stress, pain, helplessness and hopelessness. It means we choose not to be a victim. There is a payoff to remaining a victim, but it usually ends with resentment and becoming cynical. Reframing

  • Challenges a mindset that is rigid, inflexible and outdated
  • Let’s go of the pain so we can grieve our losses and recover
  • Focuses on what we can do, not what we can’t do – looks for creative ways to resolve problems
  • Creates new meaning and purpose
  • Allows us to become aware of our blessings and practice gratefulness
  • Enables us to become motivated and excited about life


How do we begin the reframing process?

We begin by acknowledging and accepting our situation and all the feelings associated with it. List all the emotions you are feeling. If you are angry, acknowledge it. If you are feeling resentful, anxious, fearful, etc. write it down. Don’t evaluate or put any value judgment on how you are feeling.

Next, write beside each emotional response whatever thoughts you have that are associated with it. What do those thoughts tell you about your beliefs about your abilities or your situation? What rules, assumptions and expectations about how life “should be” are attached to our responses? Write down whatever you are saying to yourself about this situation.

Now, challenge any negative thinking that is keeping you stuck in a cycle of hopelessness and helplessness. While acknowledging that what has happened is totally unfair, we don’t have to turn it into a grievance. What can I turn into humor and laugh at? Humor releases an enormous amount of stress and allows you to think of creative alternatives. What spiritual meaning can I take away from this? These are opportunities to become aware of how much we need God; a time to stretch faith and trust beyond ourselves. It is also an opportunity to realize how much we need one another.

And finally, ask yourself what benefits am I getting from remaining stuck in this negative spiral? What am I avoiding by remaining angry, bitter or resentful?

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Reframing Your Circumstance

How do you frame your world?

Within our frames of reference we find all the experiences, emotions and information we have stored throughout our lifetime. These frames of reference form our perceptions and beliefs, what we say to ourselves and others. They motivate and guide our thinking, our emotional responses and our behavior. How we frame our world creates meaning and helps us make sense of our world.

If our frames of reference are small, our lives will be restrictive, limiting, negative and inflexible. If we enlarge our frames of reference, we see a bigger picture, learn to let go and roll with the punches, develop an inner strength and resiliency to begin again.

When dissatisfaction, crisis or tragedy strikes, we respond to it from the frame of reference we have developed. Our first reactions might include shock and disbelief, then anger followed by anxiety, fear and even panic.

When old resources and options are no longer available, we might feel helpless and out of control. And as so often happens, we barely regain our balance from one loss when another occurs making us feel as though we were spiraling into an abyss. And we might hear ourselves say: why, why me? I have always done everything I should – it isn’t fair. I worked hard and honestly for what I have and now it is all gone.

At such moments, we go from anger and fear to a sobering reality of survival; and there is the temptation to find a scapegoat for our troubles as we nurse resentment. But while there is a payoff in doing that, remaining in that state of mind eventually creates bitterness that robs us of energy and motivation to find new solutions.

It is precisely at these times where the promise and opportunity for a new understanding of our self and our world can occur. Growth, whether it is the simple exercise of working out at the gym to get back in shape, or the challenge of taking what life dishes out and making a gourmet meal, holds within it both pain and loss; choice and opportunity. To grab hold of that opportunity, we need to look at how we frame our world. We may not like what has happened, but we can choose to accept, let go of what was and put a new frame around our circumstances.

Reframing takes what life has handed us and gives us the opportunity to respond differently to it. It allows us not only to transcend difficult or traumatic life situations, but to find humor, purpose and joy within them.

In Thursday’s blog, I will share ways we can reframe.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Your Focus

Focus on what you can do – not what you can’t.

Focus on What You Can Do – Not What You Can’t

We had just moved into our unfinished new home. A vertebra in my lower back had begun to deteriorate sending my left leg into painful spasms. With all the work left to do, it was very depressing and frustrating to be limited in what I could do.

As I sat with an ice bag on my back, I wondered how I could make this time productive. What could I do? One of my future projects was to go through a large collection of food magazines and remove the recipes I wanted to keep. This was the perfect time to do this.

I enjoy cooking and looking through the colorful articles diverted my attention from my pain and limited ability. Before I entered the hospital for surgery, I had gone through all the magazines, removing and organizing the recipes into easy to use notebooks. I turned a potentially unproductive time into a pleasant and productive time period. I still use those recipes today.

There are always meaningful things we can do if we change our focus from what we can’t do to what we can.

Arnold Beisser wrote in his book, “Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing”: “Even though I could not move, I could actively engage with whatever was around me through the play of senses.”

Arnold was an athlete and tennis champion who contracted polio after completing medical school to become a surgeon. He lived in an iron lung for 3 years before emerging as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. Life was just unfolding when this tragedy occurred.

But he began to reframe his experience while still in the iron lung. “I could be more than a helpless victim, and I could have a part in determining my life and what shape it took.”

He began to use his imagination to creatively look at things in a new way. He defines the baby steps involved in changing how he looked at his new reality. “I had moments of great pleasure and satisfaction when I became absorbed in observing minor details and becoming an active observer, rather than a passive one… Eventually, I could pass a very interesting time looking at the ceiling, noticing small details and changes.”

He did not allow his tragedy to disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, an administrator, an author, and fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.

No matter what the setback or situation, there are many things we can do to reframe our circumstances turning it into something positive.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Freedom – The Ability to Make Choices

“What alone remains is the ‘last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.’” Victor Frankl

Now that the holidays are over, the grey skies of reality replace the warm afterglow of Christmas. The fun experienced on New Year’s Eve is part of the past as we grapple with the realities of the New Year. Perhaps you had been given your pink slip in December or have been out of work for some time and the holidays offered a reprieve from a harsh reality. But now, it is time to work on the here and now.

It is easy to talk about hope and offer suggestions as to what we can do to offset difficult times. But when we can’t put food on the table or pay the rent, maintaining a positive attitude is difficult to do. Unfortunately, the alternative is usually anxiety, fear, resentment or anger that soon leads to depression and a sense of hopelessness.

This may be the most challenging moment in your life. You may be faced with downsizing or giving up everything you have worked so hard to gain. Yet, as difficult and nonsensical as it sounds, with any situation we find ourselves, we still have the ability to choose how we will respond. We can meet the new day with plodding resignation or with a mindset of possibility.

In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Victor Frankl wrote, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.”

As a psychiatrist and Jew, Victor Frankl survived the tortuous years of confinement in Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. In those unbelievable years of torture, death and humiliation, where all the members of his family died, Victor Frankl was witness to how people responded to this inhumanity:

“And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.”

When I have faced what has seemed like insurmountable obstacles or events in my life, I am not only reminded that God is with me through these times, but also that others have had to face far worse situations. We are all required to meet life’s challenges. My resolve is strengthened as I read the stories of others who have met their challenges.

As a new year begins, we have the opportunity to once again determine how we will meet the challenges life puts before us. Perhaps it means starting over – again. Perhaps it is allowing others to help us or asking for the help and support we need. Perhaps it is making a personal sacrifice to reach out and help others who are also struggling. Perhaps it is making a commitment to replace a negative lifestyle with a more self-disciplined positive one.

Change occurs all the time. We struggle against it because we don’t like the anxiety of the unknown. Follow this month’s blogs as together we explore ways we can meet the challenges of change. Fear and anxiety can be used to motivate us to find new possibilities and options. It is often in adversity where we discover the worst or best of ourselves.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

What if. . . .

We are ending a holiday season.  As we end this year and move into the next, we  have the opportunity to reflect and make some new choices about how we direct our lives.  Here are some of my reflections.

What if. . .

We discovered that Christmas was more than the holiday parties, calculated gifts and compulsory visits to relatives we otherwise would not speak to?  Would these past weeks make a difference in our lives?

What if. . .

We really got it; that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior – not our need to have a holiday break from work, presents or partying with friends? Would we recognize our need for Him in our daily life?

What if. . .

We stopped pretending everything is okay and that we have all the answers? Would we become real?

What if. . .

We made our own pilgrimages into the soul, laying bare our sins and shortcomings before a loving God?  Would we discover grace and peace?

What if. . .

We forgave ourselves? Would we be more forgiving?

What if. . .

We were willing to share our talents, abilities and skills, our tattered love and lives, vulnerabilities and incompleteness with those around us.  Would others discover Christmas?

May the God who was willing to allow His Son to come to this earth as a vulnerable baby, transform your life as He continues to transform the world; and in that transformation, may each of us truly experience Christmas for the first time and take it with us into the New Year.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Peace and Hope

May God’s Gift of Peace and Hope be your best Christmas gift ever.

Grieving Losses at Christmas Time

Part of the grieving process is not only letting go of the life that was, but involves creating a new reality. Throughout our lifetime we experience losses that require new adjustments. For most of our losses, the momentary twinges of sadness give way to exciting new possibilities.

But when we have experienced the death of someone we loved as much as life itself, our life shuts down, in shock. The world we knew has been irretrievably altered. One minute we are happily going about the business of life – the next we are trying to absorb what has happened.

With any loss, life does not allow us to remain frozen in time, hoping that events will reverse itself and everything will be okay again. Even before the shock wears off, we are required to go back to work and provide for our families. And in-between going about the business of life, we try to reconcile our grief and transition into a new reality.

Holidays and other important dates can be extremely difficult especially in the early stages of a loss. Here are some things that might help the process.

  1. Accept invitations of family and friends. We may want to just retreat from the world. Yet it is precisely at these times when we need the support of others; even if we don’t think we will be good company. Share stories about the person who is no longer with you. Help friends join a conversation about good times and good memories. It’s okay to laugh through the tears. 
  2. Take personal time to grieve. It’s okay to hold personal conversations with the person you loved. Write a special letter to him or her. Hang a special ornament on the tree. Journal, opening your heart and emotions onto paper. Allow yourself to cry. Then do something positive and pleasant. 
  3. Make peace with what has happened. It is okay to be angry about events; but use anger to propel you forward in a constructive way. Part of grief work may be forgiveness as you let go.
  4. Find something good every day. It could be the recognition of good friends or people who reach out to you. Perhaps it is a new awareness of the strengths you have. Good things can occur even from the worst of tragedies if we remain open to them.
  5.  Honor your grief. Remember, it takes time to heal – don’t be on someone else’s time frame for grief. Resist using drugs or alcohol to keep from feeling pain. We heal as we go through the pain. Create new positive traditions that represent your new life.

At this Christmas time, allow God to reveal all the little blessings currently smothered by pain. Immerse yourself in the good memories. May His love and peace heal your wounded heart. Merry Christmas.

Marlene Anderson, LMHC, NCC