That’s how it goes.
You take it on, even if it’s reluctantly.
You convince yourself that there is nothing you can do to change it. And you resign yourself.
Many times resigning seems the best option. Other times it seems the only possible one. However, behind this apparent stoicism lies a trap.
What does it really mean to live with resignation?
Resignation has multiple meanings. None of them positive.
It can be understood as the acceptance of despair, the act of surrendering to bear whatever comes as best we can. From this perspective, resignation is to raise a white flag, lay down arms, stop fighting and put oneself in the hands of destiny.
From the etymological point of view, resignation is an action that implies the surrender of power. It implies, therefore, a setback and, at the same time, the renunciation of our ability to change what hurts or makes us uncomfortable. It is the equivalent of crying over spilled milk assuming doom with folded arms.
When we fall into a state of resignation we feel defeated and unable to bring about the change we need. In fact, resignation is accompanied by thoughts such as “I’ll have to endure it” or “I have no choice.”
We live resignation, therefore, as a force that presses and suffocates us. We feel trapped in circumstances and powerless to change them because we have given up our power. Sometimes the level of resignation is such that we don’t even try, and when the opportunities for change present themselves, we miss them because we have fallen into a state of learned helplessness.
The contradictory thing is that many times we resort to resignation to avoid suffering. We believe that by resigning ourselves the burden will be heavier. But if we resign ourselves to something that hurts us, that suffering is likely to only increase over time. Therefore, resignation ends up becoming a trap that we set ourselves, a trap that prolongs pain and helplessness.
The step from resignation to acceptance
When something happens that we do not like, we do not get any benefit from denying reality or pretending that nothing is happening. However, accepting what happened is not the same as living with resignation.
Resigning yourself to something is not the same as genuinely accepting it. When we decide that “that’s how it goes” and we submit to circumstances, no matter how unfair they may seem, it will be difficult for us to assume a proactive attitude that takes us out of that condition. Resignation often involves denying ourselves the right to be happy, satisfied or whole, or even changing what is hurting us.
Instead, acceptance is seeing things as they are, maintaining the ability to design our plan of action. Resignation is deciding that it is the way it is and we can do nothing to change it. To resign ourselves is to complain because it is raining, to accept it is to take note that it is raining and take the umbrella.
We can’t stop the rain. That’s a fact. We can resign ourselves to having a “terrible” day or, on the contrary, take measures so that the rain ruins our plans as little as possible. Resignation adds the weight of defeat. Acceptance is neutral and preserves our ability to be proactive.
In fact, it is no coincidence that a study conducted at the University of New Brunswick concluded that “Acceptance is associated with lower levels of pain, disability and stress,” particularly in people who suffer from chronic pain and have to get used to living with that condition.
So how do you go from living with resignation to acceptance?
Acceptance implies taking note of reality and, in many cases, acknowledging what we cannot do or what is beyond our control. But it doesn’t end there. Unlike the passive experience of resignation, acceptance is an active state in which we validate our feelings about what is happening out of understanding and compassion.
Then we look for alternatives. Unlike resignation, in which we feel helpless, acceptance allows us to focus on what we can do. Because there is always something we can do. Although we cannot change circumstances, modifying our expectations or reactions can imply a radical change in the way we deal with them and, above all, in their impact on our psychological well-being.
LaChapelle, D. L. et. Al. (2008) The meaning and process of pain acceptance. Perceptions of women living with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Pain Res Manag; 13(3): 201–210.