How To Accept The Things You Cannot Change

By Anni


Let’s talk about how to accept the things you cannot change. I’ve been thinking about this topic because of a comment a reader left on my article titled How To Change Your Whole Life When You’re Sick Of It. Here’s the comment:

“Unfortunately, what I want my life to be and what is reality is two different things. I loved being a wife and mom. It was my purpose in life. My kids are grown and my husband of 28 years left. When I was married I worked part time, which I loved cause I could contribute to the finances and still take care of my home. Now I have to work full time and come home to an empty house. My life could be worse. I do like my job and I have friends and family to spend time with at times, but just not what I wanted my life to be. Sometimes you can’t change things because of what life gives you. It’s not the life I wanted. Just trying to make the best of it.”

Now, I only have this one paragraph, so I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that this reader might be a little stuck. She might be stuck in the past and in the “what could have been”.

And I can’t really judge her for it. Although I haven’t been in the exact same situation myself, I have most certainly felt similarly stuck.

Many of us get stuck like this for the simple reason that we don’t know how to move on.

So in this article, I’m going to share with you how I have learned to maximize life satisfaction even when there are some things I can’t change.

Accepting the things you can't change can be super hard.  But here's what to do in order to move on...

How To Accept The Things You Cannot Change

1. Recognize What Cannot Be Changed

Sometimes people get stuck waiting and wishing for things that they have no control over. There are three things that fall in this category:

  1. The past – You can’t change it. Period.
  2. Other people – Yes, you can try to influence other people, but ultimately you can’t control them. You can’t change who they are or what they feel.
  3. Laws of nature – You know, things like earthquakes or the fact that we all eventually die, etc.

It doesn’t matter how many times you say “if only”, these three things are not under your control.

And yes, it sucks!

But I don’t want you to get stuck in the suck.

The way to not get stuck is by ACCEPTING that you are never going to change 1) the past, 2) other people, or 3) laws of nature and by following the rest of the steps in this article.

2. Grieve What Cannot Be Changed

Although I want you to accept the things you cannot change, it’s not good to accept them too fast. Because if you just accept and try to “think positive” without fully acknowledging and processing the suckiness of the situation, the suckiness will get stuffed inside you and hound you.

In order to get rid of the suckiness, you have to feel it, process it, and let it out. You have to let yourself grieve.

This can take some time. And it may not be a once’n done process. Your grief may come and go.

And that’s okay.

Let it.

3. Take Full Advantage Of The Things You CAN Change

The biggest reason the dear reader I quoted earlier is stuck is that her mind is so clouded by the “what could have been” that she is not taking full advantage of all the things she CAN change. It’s like she’s accepting too much. She’s accepting things she doesn’t need to accept. She’s accepting things she COULD change if she decided to.

  • If her previous life purpose is gone, she can find a new purpose.
  • If her house feels empty, she can refill it.
  • If she wants to only work part-time, she can make that a goal.

I know, I know… Easy for me to say, right? This is definitely another potential stuck point. You can’t change things if you don’t know how.

So how exactly do you change the things you CAN change?

Well, if you don’t know the answer to that question, your next task is to investigate.

  • How do other people find their purpose in life?
  • How do other people fill their empty houses when their spouse and kids are gone?
  • How do other people manage to work part-time?

And now, dear reader, we get to where the suckiness has great potential to turn into excitement. There are only three things you can’t change, but an infinite number of things you CAN change!

You have full control over your decisions and actions from this second onward.

What do you want more of in your life? How do you want to feel?

And how can you get those things?

Whatever you want in life, someone else has already achieved.

Which means that you can learn from them and YOU can achieve the same thing!

Once you get on this road, you will be way too busy being happy to remember all the things that you could not change.

Guaranteed. 🙂

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About the author 

Anni

Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. Anni~Your articles are interesting yet still leave me wondering how to apply them to my life. I am 61 yrs old and do not work due to disability. I was a registered nurse for 27 years. I do not miss it. I have diffuse osteoarthritis and bone-on-bone in both knees (among other health issues) and am not a candidate for knee replacement surgery. My life is one of constant pain and stiffness. When I worked full time raising my 3 children as a single parent my biggest wish was to have all the free time I could ever want. Be careful what you wish for. I have that time but I am not physically able to enjoy it. So I sit alone in a dumpy studio apartment with little to no contact from my adult children and constant thoughts of suicide. This life does not seem worth living. Not like this. Can you say anything that directly addresses my life situation? Thank you.

    1. Hi Kimberly,

      Thank you for sharing your story. You are dealing with a lot and I think anyone would be exasperated in your situation.

      I obviously don’t know what you have already tried and what exact obstacles stand in your way, but I’m just going to throw out some ideas for potential avenues you could possibly consider exploring:

      1. If family and friends are not much support, it might be helpful to have regular appointments with a mental health counselor of some kind just so you could unload and have someone to bounce ideas off of.

      2. Seek out support and ideas for coping from people who are going through the same thing. There might be an arthritis support group in your area and/or you could find an arthritis forum online.

      3. If you have exhausted everything that traditional medicine has to offer for your health problems, one option would be to start exploring integrative medicine approaches. You could look for an integrative doctor, functional medicine practitioner, or a naturopath just to give you a second opinion on your situation and maybe suggest remedies that a traditional doctor wouldn’t be inclined to mention. If your insurance doesn’t cover it or if these services are not available in your area, you could buy books or search for articles online for non-medical ways to deal with arthritis, pain management, and your other health issues. Even if you will never be completely cured, perhaps there are things that can be done to help you feel better day-to-day and to prevent further damage.

      4. Related to #3, if you are not already following an anti-inflammatory diet, that might be something to investigate.

      5. Brainstorm ways to add more enjoyment to your day-to-day life. What kinds of things have you enjoyed in the past that you could do at home? What do other people with restricted mobility do to entertain themselves or help pass the time?

      That’s all I can think of right this second, but I’ll add more later if something else comes to mind. Just let me know if you have further questions.

      Take care,
      Anni

    2. Bone on bone is only curable by surgery. Nothing, I repeat, nothing will cure that. I know. I had avascular necrosis in my hip (bone on bone) for over a year and the pain was excruciating. I would be in a wheelchair today if not for surgery. Find a doctor specializing in knee and hip replacements. Go out of State if you have to, but do it quickly before if is too late.

  2. Hi Anni. I stumbled across your site by accident and really glad i did. Both my work and personal life means i do a lot of work around people, mainly those in crisis and i am continuously looking for answers.

    Sadly, i have found myself in crisis now for the past year, but it had been coming for many years previously. Like you, i have spent 40 years people pleasing and whilst it has given a lot of ‘success’, I’m totally exhausted.

    I have always battled depression, but it is now comfortably winning the battle with me, but I keep fighting. Unfortunately its taking up most of my time and energy to the detriment of my family and in particular my work.

    I have read many of your articles and will try to adopt some of the practices, but i wanted to ask about faith in God and how this contributes or otherwise to your work.

    If it is too personal to publish for you, i fully understand. For me i have a constant battle with religion and its teachings. I think the most guilt for me comes from the inner voice and its linked to religion. I have always been a perfectionist and high achiever but depression and anxiety are destroying me by a 1000 cuts each day and I’m truly exhausted. Religion seems to be a burden rather than a comfort for me and that in itself adds to the guilt!

    Keep up the great work.

    1. Hi Damian,

      Thank you for commenting and sharing your experiences!

      To answer your question about religion… I was religious growing up and I’ve had some religious influencers with the “service-is-everything” mentality in my life, which undoubtedly contributed to my people-pleasing and overcommitting behaviors. I’m not saying that all religion is bad, but I think the messaging that encourages you to always put other people first can definitely have unhealthy consequences for conscientious people who are prone to rule-following and perfectionism.

      But although I started out religious, I’ve since let it go. I studied sociology and anthropology in college and I’ve also studied history of religion on my own, and it eventually became clear to me how it’s all just made-up stories. We take the beliefs that are handed down to us by our parents, but nobody really knows the truth. Nobody knows for sure whether there is a god or which god-story, if any, is the right one. That’s why it’s called “faith”, right?

      For me, it’s okay to not know and it’s okay to not foster faith in something that is really unknowable. I’m okay just focusing on this life right here and I’m okay with the thought that I won’t live forever.

      These days, I consider myself a secular humanist. And I like to expose myself to messages by people who have a similar philosophy of life, which really helps with the inner voice thing.

      One of the key tenets of secular humanism is that “right” and “wrong” are determined by results rather than some predetermined rules. And I try to apply this idea in my own life. What gives me desirable results? Self sacrifice made me mentally and physically ill. But when I make my own well-being a high priority, I can reach optimum mental and physical health. And when I’m healthy myself, I can do a lot more to help my fellow humans. 🙂

  3. Hi Anni,
    I recently found out that my father removed me from my mother’s mandate of incapacity as her mandatory and placed my brother instead and ONLY him giving him all rights as if i never existed. She was at the time pretty far in her Alzheimer’s disease and never signed the mandate herself. It happened a few ago after having taken 4 years out of my work to take acre of them, I informed my dad that i need to go back to work. He spitefully went to a notary and did this. He knows that my mom and I were always very close. I have no doubts that my brother will make the right decision for my mom, but I have many (valid) concerns for the fact that my brother doesn’t have to demonstrate any financial records for my mom’s expenses and can take a salary for himself. You have to understand that my brother once tried to bribe them out of 100k and I fear he might do some fraud with regards to this power that he now will have. Nonetheless and for the meantime, my father is still alive and my brother is on his best behavior. Should my dad pass away before my mom, then this is when I am at the potential demise of my brother’s wrath (allow me to add that he hates my guts).
    This being said, I am having a hard time accepting what my father did to me. I have spoken to him about how I feel and how I fear the future, how it impacts me on a daily basis (depression, stress, sadness), but he seems to hear me out one day and toss it out the window the next. I can’t seem to accept how he could have done that to me after I have sacrificed so much of my life for the both of them. Nothing can be done with regards to fixing this mandate issue. My now only resort is so accept what my dad has forced me to deal with. I can’t abandon him because I wasn’t brought up that way and he is pretty old. I don’t know how to forgive him so I can lift this resentment.
    I have come to realize that my family is obviously very toxic and it involves many narcissistic individuals. I know that my best option is to remove myself but I can’t considering I want to be by my dad’s side while he still is around. So how can I accept this injustice ? How can a person accept and change what they can’t change and yet still be in contact with the same people that caused them that psychological injury ?

    1. Hi Flora,

      What a quandary. I can’t blame you for being sad and stressed! Here’s how I would apply the three steps to work toward acceptance:

      1. Recognize what cannot be changed
      In its simplest form, acceptance simply means recognizing what’s true and real and realizing what’s beyond your control. In this case, here are the facts:

      -You were born into a toxic family with many narcissistic individuals.
      -You cannot control your father’s or your brother’s actions.
      -You have tried to influence your father and brother to the best of your ability, but they don’t want to change.

      2. Grieve what cannot be changed
      Accepting is not the same as condoning. Just because you accept the facts, doesn’t mean that you will immediately – or ever – be okay with those facts. It doesn’t mean that you will stop wanting things to be different or stop feeling upset about the situation.

      You have been treated poorly and unfairly. You are legitimately worried about your mother being taken advantage of.

      You are justified in feeling upset!

      And the way to work through those feelings is by letting yourself feel them. The anger. The sadness. The frustration. These feelings are going to keep coming and going for a while. Let them.

      You can’t force forgiveness. Honestly, full forgiveness may never come, especially since the other parties are not showing any signs of remorse.

      But what I can tell you is that – with time – the hottest anger and sadness will eventually burn out.

      3. Take full advantage of the things you CAN change
      The most concrete way to practice acceptance is by putting your focus on things that you actually can change. You stop waiting for uncontrollable things to be different and you move forward by improving the circumstances that you have the power to improve.

      You can’t control your father or brother or turn them into different people. But you CAN control how you respond to them. You have two options:

      #1 You can remove yourself from the situation.
      And yes, you actually CAN do this. Your first responsibility in this world is to take care of your own mental and physical health, and if being in contact with your family is negatively affecting your health, then you are fully justified in removing yourself. And I don’t think “being brought up that way” counts for much when the bringing up is happening in a dysfunctional family.

      #2 You can practice detached contact.
      If you feel like you have the capacity to keep in touch without it being detrimental to your mental and/or physical health and you truly want to share more time with your father, then you can practice detached contact. Detached contact simply means maintaining some interactions, but putting in place safeguards that minimize harm to yourself. Here are some potential ways to accomplish this:

      -Protecting your own truth. Constantly reminding yourself of your own worth and what you know to be true regardless of what toxic individuals would have you believe.
      -Monitoring your physical state during interactions. Making sure your breathing stays calm and relaxing any muscle tension.
      -Setting time limits on the duration and frequency of interactions. There are different degrees of “staying involved”. What amount of interaction can you tolerate and still be able to fully recover afterwards?
      -Setting limits on the kinds of interactions you are willing to participate in. For example, what topics of conversation are you okay with?
      -Turning your attention to the “rest of your life”. What can you do to live a full and satisfying life outside of your interactions with your family?

      Another thing that might help is reading my series of articles on dysfunctional families as well as my article on setting boundaries in relationships.

      Take care,
      Anni

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