Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Strong to Accept Tragedy, Reality, Loss, and Change

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. - Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer, adapted from a sermon by Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian (1892-1971)

Elisabeth K├╝bler Ross, in her classic book, On Death and Dying (1969) urges people to work through denial, anger, bargaining and depression to achieve acceptance of death and dying. While she's trying to help people approach dying in a positive, healthy way, I believe her model also applies to other forms of loss.

It’s impossible to live a life without loss:
  • A hard worker is not given a promotion.
  • A marriage of 20 years ends in divorce.
  • An accident results in a painful, disabling injury.
  • A family member is diagnosed with cancer.
  • A beloved pet passes away.
  • A house is discovered to have termites.
  • A purse is stolen while eating in a restaurant.
  • A briefcase containing valuable papers is misplaced.
  • A car accident results thousands of dollars worth of damage.
  • A retirement fund loses most of its value due to dramatic losses on the stock market.
  • A violent storm causes structural damage to the family home.
  • A computer virus attacks a hard drive, rendering it useless.
  • Unauthorized charges are made to a credit card.
All these things have happened to me, and of course lots of other things. How about you? A typical list of noteworthy losses could go on at length. There’s virtually no end to the large and small losses a person can suffer in a lifetime. I call them, not fondly, “Surprises of the Week.”

Loss is an inevitable part of life. To be happy you have to move on. You have to accept the loss so you can focus your personal strengths on dealing with your next challenge. If you have trouble accepting what has happened, you create problems for yourself.

You not only have to accept loss, you have to accept all sorts of unpleasant truths. For example, as children grow to maturity, they eventually need to accept the fact that the world out there isn’t set up to meet their needs. One of my brothers is a talented golfer, but only at the age of 43 did he finally admit to himself that he didn’t have the game to play on the PGA tour.

Change is like loss. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop it. What’s lost is the old, familiar way. It's tempting to wish that you could return to the past, to the way things were. But indulging in that wish can keep you from moving on and making the most of what’s before you right now.

Tragedy, loss, reality and change may unsettle us, but they can also teach us things we can learn no other way. More important, they jolt us to move towards something different, which almost always can be something better. If you draw on your inner resources of courage, imagination, persistence, effort and other personal strengths, you can nearly always create a situation more to your liking than what you had before.

Finally, I think there’s actually a sixth step we should take after acceptance. That step is affirmation. Affirm that what you're left with is now your life, that what you have is good, and that you know you can make the best of it.

What in your life has been hard to accept? How did the reluctance to accept it hold you back? 

Previous posts on ACCEPTANCE...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Dr Brenda Shoshanna said...

This wonderful, wonderful article has come to me at a perfect moment, when I've just received a shock, filled with loss of a long held dream. But, dreams are just dreams, and I can allow it to return to the empty sky it came from. I love the guidance to now focus on what is right here, affirm its goodness and move on. Yes, yes, yes.
Brenda Shoshanna

Bethany Learn @fit2bmama said...

As I struggle to build a dream, starting from scratch on a platform I barely understand, I have encountered many barriers. But every time I get discouraged, the Lord sends me someone: a tweeter, a facebookie, a neighbor friend, my own child to say something or do something to keep me going. Thank you for being one of those encouragers today!