“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”-William James
We have been taught in light of the (now disproven) theory of five stages of grief that acceptance is where we end our grief journey. We suffer through four steps on the way to this final destination, and from there grief can assimilate into our lives and we can move forward.
What if we started the grief journey with acceptance?
Rather than being at the end to the emotional road, acceptance of loss seems a necessary prerequisite to beginning any grief journey. Acceptance acknowledges the upsetting event, the painful absence of a loved one, and the accompanying negative emotions. Acceptance of loss allow grievers to open themselves to the new reality in which they live and to develop an approach to their new life in all its newness. The alternative is forcing the old life to fit new circumstances. Through acceptance, grievers can seek out and implement healthy coping strategies for the long grief-journey ahead.
The inability to accept terrible things in life becomes a stopper many people use to block the bottleneck of emotional expression and, by association, emotional growth. If a griever cannot accept their loss, negative emotions cannot flow out of the body. Rather they become stuck behind the cork of denial, which says “I can’t/won’t/don’t want to accept this event, so I won’t pay attention to reminders of the pain I am suffering now. If I ignore them, they will go away.”
We don’t want to accept loss. Acceptance brings pain that we would rather not feel. But if we accept and we feel, we can also start to heal.