Most of us delude ourselves into believing that we have control over our lives and environment. Living in Israel, though, often forces us to challenge that belief as periods of unrest, such as the one we just experienced, bring fear and uncertainty. While it may impact some of us more than others – depending on where we live, our past experiences or our emotional resilience – I don’t believe there is anyone who remains unaffected.
How can we cope with the realities and challenges of life in this country? One practical tool we can all effectively employ is one we use in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
The mindset of acceptance
In DBT, we teach a skill called radical acceptance, and I believe that adopting this mindset can be very helpful. By definition, acceptance means giving up the need to be in control or to know what’s going to happen next. Radical acceptance takes this a step further: it is a full acceptance of mind, body and spirit, as opposed to simply accepting something on an intellectual level. Once we accept a given situation, we stop digging in our heels and fighting reality. When we say or think things like, “This shouldn’t be happening” or “I can’t tolerate/survive this,” those are red flags that indicate a mindset of nonacceptance.
To be clear, acceptance does not mean giving up, not taking precautions or approving of the state of affairs. In fact, when we accept the reality of our situation, we are able to problem solve more effectively. We also don’t need to accept anything beyond the actual facts of the situation. People tend to exaggerate, catastrophize or assume certain bad things will happen, but these scenarios are not actually based in reality.
Why should we accept realities we wish weren’t happening?
There are a few reasons for accepting reality even when we don’t like what we’re facing. Firstly, fighting reality doesn’t change it. It is human nature to try to avoid both physical and emotional pain. Counterintuitively, though, countless studies have shown that when we fully accept pain and even actively engage with it, we suffer from it less. Said differently, when we don’t accept our pain, it turns into suffering. At the same time, we have to be careful not to ruminate or fixate on our problems. The goal is to try to take each moment as it comes.
Aside from making a conscious decision to accept the situation, in what other ways can we reach a place of full acceptance?
The first step is to notice that we are fighting reality, and then to try what we call “accepting self-talk.” As we think about the things we don’t want to accept, we can take notice of emotions we’re feeling and the body sensations that accompany those emotions. (“Thinking about the possibility of there being a siren when I go to the store is making me feel anxious. I notice that my breathing is shallow and there is tension in my chest.”)
Using our bodies
We can engage our body by relaxing those parts where we notice tension, focusing on breathing or using imagery. For example, when we use breathing as a relaxation technique, we can focus on the sensation of air entering through our nose, filling our stomach and then leaving our body. Visual imagery can be used to create a safe and relaxing place in the mind’s eye. Perhaps you could picture yourself at the beach or in a peaceful grassy meadow. This can be done by assuming a posture of acceptance in which our palms are open towards the ceiling, as is done in yoga.
It may also be helpful to imagine the actual situation we fear most and visualize ways to cope. Oftentimes our fear stems from the unknown, so being prepared for various scenarios could mitigate and provide a sense of mastery over that fear.
Living through wars, terrorism and other disasters (such as the tragedy in Meron), is objectively stressful and scary. The more we can attend to our emotional experiences and abandon our need to be in control, the less scathed we’ll be during times like these. Collectively, we can all gain from the strength and resilience we experience as a nation.