Sometimes they will disappoint you. Sometimes they will neglect you. But sometimes being a good friend means giving your friend a pass and accepting their flaws. In couples therapy, romantic partners are often reminded of the value of acceptance, and the same theory can apply to friendships. For many of us, acceptance feels like the safest way to navigate the negatives of a friendship.
The main idea behind acceptance therapy is that accepting another person’s traits and behaviours often leads to compassion. When romantic partners or friends learn to use compassion in dealing with each other, they tend to become more willing to let go of conflict. The goal of acceptance therapy is that rather than forcing change, partners should start by accepting each other’s differences. This kind of understanding often leads to uncoerced changes that are more lasting and more in tune with each person’s core personality and behaviours. When a person feels accepted and understood by someone they care about, they are more likely to change willingly, often making more changes than requested. Even if no change occurs, acceptance and compassion are likely to bring friends closer.
Rick Hanson, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, advises an “acceptance practice” that allows you to identify the things that are bothering you about your friend while also accepting them.
Pick someone special to you and start with a general acceptance, saying out loud or in your mind or writing down the following things: I accept you completely. Countless causes, large and small, have led you to think, speak and act the way you do. You are who you are. I let it be. You are a fact, and I accept the facts in my life. You and I are part of a larger whole that is what it is, and I accept it, too.
Next, you can add some specifics, saying out loud or writing down the things that are bothering you about the friendship.
“Accepting people does not itself mean agreeing with them, approving of them, waiving your own rights, or downplaying their impact upon you,” Dr. Hanson says. “You can still take appropriate actions to protect or support yourself or others. Or you can simply let people be. Either way, you accept the reality of the other person. You may not like it, you may not prefer it, you may feel sad or angry about it, but at a deeper level, you are at peace with it. That alone is a blessing. And sometimes, your shift to acceptance can help things get better.”
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