Since When Is “Acceptance” Required?
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Below.
Gah! I’ve heard it a gazillion times now— someone misapplying the “Five Stages of Grief.” But this time, it’s being said to someone else and I get a chance to see it and its effect objectively.
The walls are thin and I’m waiting outside someone’s
office while two women talk behind the closed door of another office. I’d almost have to plug my fingers into my ears and sing, “La, la, la, la, la” to block out the words.
“You need to accept that you will always be fat,” one woman says over the lame protests of the other. Then she goes on to explain that the woman has been through all the other “stages of acceptance,” as she calls them. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression. The only thing left is acceptance of her situation as permanent and unchangeable.
Well, _I_ won’t deny it: it makes me angry to hear this pseudo-counselor spouting misinformation. I’m tempted to bust down the closed door and yell, “Stop!”
The Kubler-Ross model of the “5 Stages of Grief” was, as I understand it, originally meant to describe the likely phases of dealing with a catastrophic personal loss, such as a death of a loved one or a divorce. The counselors and professionals I’ve talked to have generally applied it to a permanent event in the past that wasn’t going to change, though some have used it in counseling terminally ill patients with only a few months to live and in a couple of cases, felons who were losing their freedom indefinitely. I don’t have a big argument with those applications.
Where I’m so strongly annoyed is the bastardization of the model by people who just love to give advice. I myself have had way too many people give me advice on my love life, suggesting I might be going through the 5 stages and telling me what I “need to accept.” Not about things in the past that could not be changed but about things in the present and in the future. I’m glad I didn’t accept many of the things I was counseled to. Acceptance, to them, was the same as giving up. Because I didn’t give up my standards, I’m in a much better place.
I had a good dose of almost giving up a decade ago with my back injury. I ran the gamut of all the stages during those 27 months of agony, but I never gave up. I came close, though. The point of pulling myself out of it was when my neurologist—who couldn’t remember the slightest thing about my case from one visit to the next a couple of weeks later—told me I’d have to live with my pain, that I’d been through the denial, the anger, the negotiations, the despair, and that I needed to resign myself to my fate as someone who would always have this problem and to move on to the last stage, acceptance. Why? Because he couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He was willing to accept that I’d be a cripple for the rest of my life. I wasn’t.
At so many other medical appointments for my back injury, I’d hobbled out in tears, weary and frustrated. But not this time. This time, I hobbled out in a mixture of anger, denial, and determination. I would not accept the fate he was handing me.
Had I tumbled into the acceptance phase, I would now likely be in a wheelchair and on disability. I certainly never would have taken the steps (metaphorically speaking) to finally get the help that was out there and I didn’t know it. I no longer look at myself as someone with a back injury, though there are certain things I’ll remember not to lift that I probably shouldn’t lift anyway. But I no longer regard myself as damaged goods because of my back injury, and I consider my recovery to be complete.
I know that not every illness or accident can be resolved with mere positive thinking. I do believe, however, that positive thinking is a “force multiplier” to regaining health and just “accepting” that your future will be dim will hasten the effects of the illness or accident. Heaven knows, I’ve seen plenty of family members just give up. Sometimes, when they talk about how happy they’ll be to get back to Heaven, I think they’re anxious for an excuse.
But meanwhile too many people urge others who are in transition to accept something that may or may not be the outcome. It’s not done. It’s not an event in the past to be grieved. It’s just a turning point, a fork in the proverbial road.
The overweight woman behind the door is at that fork in the road. If she wants to accept that she’s been overweight all her life (and I don’t know that that’s true), then so be it. It’s a done deal. But that doesn’t mean that being overweight is a guarantee in her future or that it’s the last of “5 stages of acceptance.” Sheesh. If she denies that future and takes action to make that possibility a different one, then her future has another option open to her. But if she accepts the future her advisor sees and believes it, it’s very likely to be true.