Staying Grounded: Managing Acceptance and Expectations in Addiction Recovery

Practicing acceptance and maintaining healthy expectations are crucial aspects of recovery for many people. There is a reason that the Serenity Prayer, which is a staple in many twelve-step meetings, asks for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

But despite the central role of acceptance and expectations in recovery, they can be difficult concepts to master. Learning to accept things can help people find peace of mind, but there are also circumstances that people shouldn’t have to flatly accept. Toxic behavior, mistreatment, and being taken advantage of are examples of things no one should ever be told to accept. There are many situations that we encounter in our daily lives, however, that are best met with acceptance.

Why Acceptance Matters to Addiction Recovery

The practice of acceptance observes the idea that as humans, we have very little control over what goes on in the world around us. We can control our own behavior, but the actions of others, the outcomes of situations, and even internal things like emotional responses can all be outside our control.

Because so much of what we encounter in daily life is beyond our influence, we are sometimes left with difficult emotions as a result of a situation. We get angry, sad, disappointed, frustrated, or have any number of other feelings as a result of an experience or a person’s behavior. Whether we wish them to or not, these emotions can impact our lives.

In a situation where someone feels hurt, rather than prioritizing their own healing and well-being, they might rely on their substance of choice to mask the negative emotions. But this only makes things worse. Learning instead to process, reframe, and accept the situation—especially when done with the help of a counselor, therapist, or support group—can help us move past difficult events.

The Importance of Maintaining Healthy Expectations

Like acceptance, managing expectations takes persistence and consideration. Setting unrealistic expectations for our own progress or success is an obvious way to set ourselves up for disappointment. Likewise, having very low expectations for ourselves can lead to poor morale and a negative self-image. But there are also subtler forms of expectations that can impact us negatively. For example, expecting that someone will treat us as respectfully as we treat them seems on its face like a reasonable expectation to have. But unfortunately, the people we interact with don’t always adhere to our expectations—even when all we expect is something simple like common decency.

Learning to set expectations that don’t rely on other people or events to align with our needs can help us avoid frustration, disappointment, anger, and other responses that can ultimately lead us to hurt ourselves. By keeping our expectations simple and in the interest of our own health, we can limit the potential a person or situation has to negatively affect us.

Finding a Balance to Prioritize Wellness

Finding acceptance and maintaining healthy expectations requires boundaries and a sense of balance. How do we know whether we should quietly accept something, or speak out and stand up for ourselves? This can be a delicate question to ask and can vary from person to person. But the best way to decide whether to be accepting or assertive toward a situation is by assessing which response aligns more with our own needs and well-being.

If a person has wronged us but speaking out will likely only escalate the situation and create turbulence, practicing acceptance and processing the event in a group or counseling session may be the best way forward. If a person has wronged us, and not speaking up only leaves the door open for them to wrong us further, asserting our own needs and boundaries may be a more appropriate response. Like many things in life, these situations involve nuance and require us to consider our personal needs.

It’s important to remember that acceptance is not the same as resignation. Acknowledging our current situation doesn’t mean we are destined for an undesirable outcome. Likewise, there’s an important distinction between setting unhealthy expectations and setting goals or having hope. Hoping for a certain outcome is not the same as expecting it to happen. But by monitoring our expectations and focusing on accepting that which is outside our control, we make room for peace in our lives.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or co-occurring disorders, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab. 

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