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The need to accept one's faults and shortcomings; or accept oneself in whole, with all faults and shortcomings; or self-acceptance is being repeatedly stressed by psychologists.

However, I've always had problems with this. Whenever I was hearing something along the lines of "acceptance is a necessary precondition of change" from a professional therapists I would usually start arguing with him. This is what was reaching me:

To be able to change something in your life you must decide you want to change nothing.

So for example, an alcohol addict must decide he will continue drinking until he meets his grave in order to be able to stop drinking? This seemed to me to be either an oxymoron or a particularly twisted form of self-delusion.

Today I read in a newspaper an interview with a professional psychologist and dietician, who was criticizing people who oppose the promotion of self-acceptance among obese people. She elaborated that the dichotomy between obese people accepting their bodies and the fact that obesity is unhealthy and is a both personal and societal problem to be solved is a false one. She pointed out that people who think that way are thinking stereotypically, that this stems from lack of knowledge, that this is a way people cope with cognitive dissonances, etc etc. She claimed that according to research positive motivation is far better than negative motivation that stems from the society rejecting obese people and from obese people not accepting their bodies; instead, if the society accepts obese people and obese people accept themselves, we will take a step closer towards solving the problem of obesity. She explicitly claimed that this does not mean, contrary to a popular belief, that an obese people will not wish to lose weight.

Ah. So apparently, contrary to what I was understanding, "acceptance" in the mouths of psychologists does not mean "decision not to change". Then what does "acceptance" mean?

These are the definitions of 'accept' according to the Cambridge Dictionary:

  • to agree to take something
  • to say yes to an offer or invitation
  • to consider something or someone as satisfactory
  • to believe that something is true

Definitions 1-2 seem clearly not relevant here.

Definition 3 seems to me to be this exact faulty definition that I had in mind and that was preventing me from understanding was psychologists were really trying to communicate. For example, I suppose, the verb "accept" is used here in the same definition as in the sentence "*The editorial board rejected Mr. Smith's paper two times already, but finally accepted the third revision for publication*". So the paper had to be changed two times until finally it was deemed satisfactory and no longer in need of change.

Finally, definition 4, while not obviously inapplicable, nonetheless doesn't seem to be relevant here: I have feeling psychologists, when they are saying that obese people should accept themselves, don't actually mean "obese people should stop deluding themselves into thinking they are thin".

Therefore, what does a psychologist mean when they say "acceptance" or "to accept"?

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I suppose the word "accept" you hear comes from the acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT. According to the link, the healthy attitudes towards the problem (e.g. obesity) are:

  • Accept your reactions and be present
  • Choose a valued direction
  • Take action

So to answer your question, it is about accepting your reactions, your emotions about the problem, not the problem itself. An obese person can be shame, guilt or embarrass about their obseity, and they want to avoid such emotions. This, according to my understanding about the approach, means that they want to avoid facing the truth that they are obese, and thus the action to change cannot be followed. By accepting such emotions, they can dissipate them.

Therefore, it's not about you want to change nothing, nor finding the problematic situation satisfactory, nor believing you don't have such problem, but about accepting the negative emotions when facing the reality.

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