What is the difference between acceptance and giving up?

We work a fair bit with the concept of acceptance, which can deliver very powerful and liberating effects on how a person feels about themselves and others. However, every now and then the question comes up, is acceptance just giving up?

Let’s try to answer it.

The first important question is whether this problem is something that we can change, or not? If it is something that we can change, and want to change, then we can work toward that.

If it is something that we cannot change, then the best course is probably acceptance. Let’s look at the alternative approaches to something we cannot change but are unhappy with. We can have some of the following reactions: denial, frustration and anger, fighting it, avoidance, self-medication and escape, giving up and shutting down, to name a few. These are usually not very helpful, especially in the long run, even though they may feel right in the moment; and given how destructive they can be, acceptance, even though counter-intuitive, is likely the healthiest response.

So, how is acceptance different from giving up? The difference may be subtle but important – giving up is often a more passive and defeated response, while acceptance is more active and engaging. Acceptance is about acknowledging whatever problem you are facing and taking charge of what is within your control, even if it’s just your reaction. For example, if one is faced with a chronic illness, giving up may lead to neglecting one’s care, but acceptance leads to making the best of the unfortunate situation - by fully understanding the condition and what can be done to best manage it.

Though, just like with everything else, it is not black and white. Sometimes giving up is the very best thing to do, especially if it helps us move on with our lives, such as giving up on keeping trying in an unhealthy relationship. The wisdom is in knowing which to choose when.

Are you naturally prone to accepting or giving up? The choice may be driven by the specific challenge or situation, one’s personality style, and learned behaviors around problem solving.

In conclusion, the distinction may be subtle, but sometimes those details make all the difference: giving up can lead to more of a shut down, and acceptance more to moving forward with openness to life, whatever the situation.

I hope this helps,

Ragne