How to overcome Depression, Anxiety and OCD with Unconditional Acceptance

Medically reviewed by Dr Sameer Hassamal — By Mat Arrain - Updated on 14/03/2023

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  • Mat ArrainAuthor
  • Dr Sameer HassamalMEDICAL ADVISOR

Dr Sameer Hassamal

Dr Hassamal is a quadruple board-certified psychiatrist who is the CEO and medical director of The California Neuropsychiatric Institute. He pursued his residency at Virginia Commonwealth University and subspecialty training at UCLA and Cedars Sinai Medical Center. In addition to being a prolific author, Dr Hassamal has held key leadership positions in several healthcare start-ups and is the founder of Clinicaltriallink.

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Mat Arrain

Mat studied human biology for 3 years at Sheffield Hallam University, where he learned about a range of different health and medical topics. Mat developed a deep understanding of different health topics through first-hand experiences of practical lab work and lectures. Mat also learned how to fact-check information from reliable sources such as Pubmed and learned how to reference and cite accurate information from reliable sources by researching up-to-date studies, systematic reviews and randomised controlled trials. As well as being a medical writer and researcher, Mat also has a lot of knowledge and experience in mental health improvement, and has successfully recovered from OCD and depression.

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Unconditional acceptance

1. What is unconditional acceptance?

Unconditional acceptance is a mental health improvement strategy first coined by Albert Ellis the founder of a precursor to CBT: rational emotive behaviour therapy.

Is made up of two components: unconditional acceptance of life circumstances and unconditional acceptance, non-judgement and compassion towards people.

The ultimate goal of unconditional acceptance is to dampen down people’s anxiety levels in relation to core fears and worst-case scenarios.

unconditional acceptance
Many people recommend exercise as a mental health improvement strategy. Whilst working out is great for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem which is rigid and unhealthy beliefs.

2. The problem with conditional acceptance

On the other hand, conditional acceptance is the idea of accepting your life, yourself or other people only if certain conditions are met.

With conditional life acceptance, the person believes that they need X to be the case for them to achieve happiness and inner peace. People may spend their whole lives trying to make X a reality without ever trying to fix the underlying root cause of the problem which is unhealthy rigid beliefs.

Having rigid beliefs about conditional life acceptance leads to a low frustration tolerance because the person never learns to be comfortable in uncomfortable or unfavourable life circumstances (eg physical injuries, financial problems, mental or chronic illness) etc.

Anger and aggression can often be the result of the person having a low frustration tolerance

Conditional acceptance of others is also problematic. Conditional acceptance is based on the principle of measuring people’s value or self-worth based on their work performance, abilities, actions etc.

When you conditionally accept others based on their ability or actions it usually results in you ruminating and analysing your life to make sure you deserve to be happy. Furthermore conditionally accepting friends or your partner only if they act in a certain way will lead to higher levels of frustration, anger and resentment.

3. Unconditional acceptance vs complacency of life circumstances

Many people confuse unconditional acceptance with complacency. However, there is a significant difference between the two things. With life complacency, there is an absence of goals and actions. For example, someone might have no expectations and no motivation to improve their life in any way.

On the other hand, unconditional acceptance means accepting the situation as it is but not giving up on trying to improve it. It is the idea of accepting what you can’t change and changing what you can. Unconditional acceptance means accepting that life won’t always go your way.

This mindset is about making peace with feared outcomes of unfavorable life circumstances – the goal is to dampen down your anxiety levels in relation to core fears or things that are out of your control. On the other hand, complacency refers to being content with the status quo and not taking action to improve one’s life circumstances or to focus on what we can control.

Circle of control

You can still work towards your life goals (eg being healthy and successful) without using these factors as a crutch for your happiness. You can also be mindful and in the present moment and grateful for what you do have whilst being on the journey.

People that have learned to overcome some type of struggle (eg mental or chronic illness, financial difficulties etc) have had to learn to cope in their circumstances, therefore they have built a high frustration tolerance. People with mental health conditions have had to learn to make room for unpleasant feelings of intense anxiety/depression/worthlessness.

More specifically, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps people accept intense feelings of anxiety however it is not to be confused with unconditional acceptance which is to do with changing unhealthy beliefs.

4. How to reduce chronic anxiety about loss and failure: unconditional life acceptance

Example 1: Unhealthy belief about life circumstances and loss

Unhealthy belief: “I could never accept my situation if I lost everything that is important to me (family, friends, health, job, money etc)

This attitude and way of thinking can often cause high levels of anxiety in relation to core fears, especially when it comes to things that you have no control over.

Healthier belief:Throughout history humans have been able to survive and thrive in extremely challenging and painful circumstances, therefore I will also be able to handle whatever life throws at me.”

Example 2: Unhealthy belief about deservingness and failure

Unhealthy belief:I 100% deserve to have X amount of success if I put in a lot of work

This mindset will leave you feeling highly frustrated when life doesn’t go your way.

Healthier belief:There is never a guarantee that things will go my way, therefore I may as well learn to expect set backs and difficulties and learn to accept and make the most of my situation when life doesn’t go my way

5. Unconditional acceptance of people

Conditional acceptance of others is also problematic. When you conditionally accept others based on their ability or actions it usually results in you ruminating and analysing your life to make sure you deserve to be happy.

Unconditional Self Acceptance

This results in an increase in negative emotions such as feelings of worthlessness or anxiety in response to triggers or uncertainties.

6. Why you should unconditionally accept yourself and value your self-worth regardless of your work performance or final outcomes

Measuring your self-worth based on final outcomes (eg income level) is irrational because everyone is born with different levels of advantages, privileges, disadvantages, weaknesses, strengths etc. Rather than rating yourself as good or bad at something recognise that there are grey areas. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, talents, days that they perform better or worse than others and skills that they need to improve.

unconditional self love

Overworking is often related to maladaptive perfectionism. To learn more about how to recover from maladaptive and OCD perfectionism please read this useful article.

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