I once knew a woman who had a pet snake. It was a beautiful snake; but, when she took it to the park, it wouldn’t catch frisbees. When she sat with it on the couch, it didn’t feel soft to pet. When people came to the door, it wouldn’t bark.
The woman had a beautiful snake, but she wanted a dog.
She complained about the snake, but it went on being a snake. She complained to the snake, yelling at it, criticizing it constantly, but it just flicked its tongue at her, coiled up, and prepared to strike. Whenever the snake shed its skin, she thought it was becoming a dog, but the new skin was still the skin of a snake. The woman was disappointed, having a snake for a pet, and I don’t suppose the snake was happy with her.
Her therapist said, “You must either get rid of the snake and find a dog or learn to accept the snake for what he is.”
“The snake won’t leave,” she answered. “When I try to get rid of it, it just slithers back.”
“Have you thought of leaving the snake?” asked the therapist.
“Oh, but it’s my home.”
“Then you’ll have to accept the snake for what he is,” her therapist repeated, “or go on being disappointed.”
“If I accept the snake for what he is, he’ll just go on being a snake, thinking I’m happy with it.”
“Has your disapproval changed the snake so far? Your snake will go on being a snake anyway, even if you disapprove.”
“I can’t say I like the snake when I don’t. I can’t not wish I had a dog, when that’s what I really want.”
That, in a nutshell is the problem of acceptance. Acceptance feels inauthentic.
Is it possible to accept something you don’t like and didn’t choose while still being true to yourself?
Yes. To see how you can do it, let’s look at another example, one that may be less fraught. You’re driving to someplace you really want to go, you’re late, and you want to get there soon, but a lake is in the way. Obviously, going around the lake will take time, but what choice do you have? You must acknowledge reality. You still want to arrive at your destination, but you know you must contend with the terrain until you get there. If a lake is in your way, you can’t just plow through the lake, you must accept it’s there and find a route around it.
If you accept the terrain for what it is, then you can relax for a minute and enjoy the lake while you’re driving around it. Otherwise, you’re fretting that you’re on the long way to your destination. The woman with the snake can do that, too. She can decide that ultimately, she’ll get a dog, but while she has the snake, she’ll learn to appreciate it.