One of the most influential counseling sessions with my therapist, Ken, was one where he asked me a short and simple question. Well, simple for him to ask, not as simple for me to answer. On a chilly day in January, I sat on Ken’s leather couch proud of the strides I had made in the past few months of therapy. I could sense that I was nearing the end of my counseling journey with my recently acquired confidant and lifesaver.
“Would you rather be loved or accepted?” My answer was a 60-second ”deer in the headlights” stare. Ken laughed and rephrased his question, “If you could only choose one, would you rather have your parents love you or accept you for who you are?”
Now I was the one laughing. “This is a trick question, isn’t it? If my parents love me then they automatically accept me for who I am. And if they accept me who I am then they probably love me. To me, they are the same thing.” Normally Ken would follow one of my answers with another question (in true therapist fashion) but today was different. Ken replied “no, they are not the same thing.” I was taken aback by his bold rebuttal. I
argued discussed the question at hand with him for a few minutes and it finally clicked in my head, love and acceptance are not the same thing.
This was a profound moment in my life, a real breakthrough. With tears in my eyes, I told Ken that as far as my parents are concerned, I would rather be accepted for who I am than loved. I wondered if this was a normal answer? Wouldn’t most people want to be loved by their parents rather than accepted? I didn’t know. All I knew was that suddenly I had a new perspective on life. I realized that I in turn was capable of loving somebody while not necessarily accepting of his or her ways OR I could accept somebody without loving them, the former being the most relevant in my life.
The reason this is so important to me is because sometimes there are people in your life who are difficult to handle, but can’t be completely forgotten about. For so long I have felt guilty and have been internally battling with the idea of ”I love him but I don’t love his actions.” Now I have realized that this is okay. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you have to accept him or her. When you suddenly realize that the love you always thought was unconditional is actually conditional, it is okay to take a step back and not be accepting of others’ actions.
Love and acceptance are not the same thing. When the borders are blurred between the two and they become one, I think it is called unconditional love. It is a truly beautiful thing to experience and I am thankful that today my answer to Ken would be “love and acceptance are not the same thing, however I am lucky enough to have people in my life who both love and accept me.” Those types of people are rare and should never be taken for granted.