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Building Better Bridges/Creating
Great Relationships With the
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Chapter 7
By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Acceptance -
Accept people as they are.
Try not to change them.
Let others be, as they are,
and not as we would like them to be.

Acceptance, hunger for it.
- Stanley Phillips   

I had a first time visit with a young man several years ago. He had come into an institution for help with a severe drug and alcoholproblem. When I walked into the meeting area, I saw a young tough guy sitting in the corner of a stark white room. He was wearing a leather jacket and torn jeans. His arms were folded tightly around his chest and he stared at the floor.

“Hi, I’m Steve,” I began.

“Hey,” he said. His eyes never left the floor.

“Listen, I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes,” I said.

There was no answer.

“I really would like to talk to you for a few minutes,” I said.

Still no answer.

For a minute, I sat there and looked at him in silence. Closer now, I could see that his fists were clinched tightly. His eyes were almost shut. From my perspective, it looked as if  he was trying so hard to withdraw from the physical surroundings that he would have clinched himself shut if it were possible.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “you can just listen for a while, and I will do the talking. But I want you to promise to really listen to what I say, is that alright?”

“Alright,” he said.

“I read your admission sheets and I know you have come here because of a drinking and drug problem.”

“Sometimes, when I talk to my friends in recovery, they tell me about how they felt when they were out there. They really felt like life was a dead end, sometimes waking up one morning from a binge of drinking and drugging with nothing left to live for. It can be really overwhelming.

“For most of us in that situation, life is limited to isolating ourselves from the rest of the world--then getting drunk or high. And if you are an alcoholic or addict, from the time you wake up in the morning until you pass out at night, fear rules your world. Constant and pervasive fear is your only companion. By the time you reach the bottom, there’s nothing left but self-loathing and disgust. Most people have real thoughts of killing themselves. And many realize that the only other choice is to try and get better or die.”

I looked him in the eye.

"No one is here to try and hurt you. No one is going to condemn you for who you are. In fact, I suspect that the person in here who may be judging you the most, is you.” 

Finally, he looked up at me.

"There is a phrase they use around some of the twelve-step organizations, that makes a lot of sense to me. It goes something like this--when you first come in, you don’t accept or care about yourself, and in these rooms (Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting rooms) we are going to love you until you can learn to love yourself.”

I saw his eyes were suddenly much softer and much sadder. After some time, he asked, “So, what do I do to get better?” 

I told him that just by asking that question, he was already on the road to getting better.

Acceptance softens and comforts. It opens doors and creates paths that were not there before. And in our relationships, acceptance and caring are what we look for most. My young friend could not and would not open up until several things happened that day. And acceptance was one of those things.

Caring and acceptance are something we all desperately want. When we talk about finding happiness, what we really mean is we want to find someone who will care for us and accept us.

There is a simple and direct definition for acceptance. Acceptance is positive regard for someone else, without conditions for caring. Acceptance is an attitude toward someone else.

I once knew an old couple who just blew me away. They were the best! Sandi and Sol were their names. They both lived into their mid-nineties. To the extent that any relationship could be perfect, this one was. It was the second marriage for each of them. And believe it or not they began their relationship during prohibition in Chicago.

They were worlds apart, but very much in love. Sol was a Jewish orphan and Sandi was an Italian bombshell.

Things got started with a passionate romance. Times being what they were, the couple decided to formalize the arrangements.

After Sandi and Sol were married, they bought a run-down boarding house. He repaired things and she made up the beds. The two of them worked together and played together. Someone once observed that they really became one person. “She was right with me,” he used to say.

“Traditional roles were blended between us,” Sandi would often explain. “In our boarding house, he loved to barter, I loved to cook.”

“You got to be careful,” Sol said playfully. “She don’t agree with me and she might break my legs.

“Sure, the tenants might want to cheat me, but they sure won’t cheat her. She might call someone.” He used to wink when he said it.

I sat down and asked each of them why their relationship had flourished over the course of so many decades. Each had the same answer.

“I respect him,” she told me, “and we talk.”  

He said, “I accept her and I don’t try to change her. In my day, we called it live and let live. Now we just say accept. I accept her.”

I thought that was really impressive for a man of almost seventy. I asked him to define caring for me as well. He looked up and said, “What would a Russian Jew with nothing, who came to New York when he was six, know to tell you? I think caring is simply your concern for someone else. The ability to value them for who they are. And it’s a pretty close cousin of acceptance. Does that help?”

He was exactly right.

Acceptance, in its own right, is a way of showing respect for the other person in a relationship. Part of Relationship Bridge-Building is developing acceptance as an attitude. And it is important that each of us act genuinely when we exercise acceptance. Many people feign acceptance and are quickly branded phonies. That same genuineness applies to caring. The regard we spoke of earlier in this chapter involving caring is not a sentimental attitude. It is a true, positive regard for the other person.

Acceptance is really an unspoken dialogue that says a couple of things. Many of us don’t think much goes on inside of us when we accept someone else. But that is not true. A lot happens between two people who truly accept and care about each other.

Have you ever watched a movie with a really romantic love scene? In between all of the physical maneuvers, a really good love scene communicates acceptance and caring. We often take it for granted. Let’s break down some of those unspoken messages.

Let’s pretend you are a character in a movie. Imagine how you would relate to someone in a romantic scene in your favorite film. How would  you communicate caring and acceptance? What subtle actions would communicate your acceptance? What slight gestures of the eye would show caring?

The point of this illustration is not to show your acting ability. The point is to shed some light on what is being communicated between two people who experience acceptance and caring. If I were in a movie, several things would happen. I would exchange some unspoken thoughts with my on-screen partner. Imagine an unspoken dialogue that goes something like this. 

"I am for you. I care about your needs and interests. I am committed to those things that you care about. You are worth my time and attention.”

When  people really connect in a relationship, they express caring and attention. The act of caring provides the warmth between individuals that we all love, and acceptance is the embodiment of affection between two people.

Both acceptance and caring are the brass ring we look for in relationships. Strive for them. You deserve as much acceptance and caring as can be poured into one lifetime.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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