Accepting the unacceptable

Watching the news the last couple of weeks has been like watching an extra-long episode of Black Mirror. Every day has brought new information, sweeping changes to our daily lives, and new waves of uncertainty. From “wash your hands” to “all non-life-sustaining business must close,” we’ve come face to face with the unthinkable in the last few days. For most of us, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has been a study in learning to accept the unacceptable.


For some of us, this is old hat.


Accepting the Unacceptable


Before you can heal from narcissism in a relationship, you have to accept that the narcissist is who they are. This is probably one of my most common, and least popular discussion points in my sessions with adult children of narcissists. But it’s also one of the most important. Before you can enact any changes in a problematic relationship, you have to come to terms with how it is problematic. And that means accepting the unacceptable: Your loved one is a narcissist.


There are many reasons why we balk at this realization. Some parts of us resist applying a harsh-sounding label to someone we care about. Some parts of us feel shame at having been in an abusive relationship. And some parts of us feel like calling someone a narcissist means giving up all hope of having a healthy relationship with them.


On the other side of the acceptance coin are the parts that rise up in fury at being asked to accept someone who demonstrates a marked lack of acceptance on their own part. “Accept them?” you ask in disbelief. “So they get to just do whatever they want and I have to just take it?”


No. That is not what acceptance means.


Acceptance is not approval


Here’s part B of this uncomfortable concept of acceptance: Acceptance does not have to indicate approval. Accepting your narcissistic friend, coworker, parent, or partner does not mean you lie down flatter and let them tapdance on your back. It doesn’t mean you tell your narcissistic sibling that it’s fine that they smeared your reputation all over your hometown. Nor does it mean you have to grin and bear it when your grandfather starts gaslighting you about your career in the middle of a family reunion.


Acceptance simply means seeing what is really there, rather than what you wish was there.


Accepting your narcissistic loved one means letting go of the fantasy that if you just say the right words, they will morph into the person you’ve always wanted them to be. It means taking off the rosy glasses and seeing that those flags you tried not to look at are, in fact, red ones. Accepting the unacceptable means coming face to face with reality, even though it can hurt. Only when you see what is really there can you begin the work of healing.



Across the globe, people in all walks of life are facing the unfaceable. As numbers climb, predictions change, and social distancing requirements tighten, we must all come face to face with our new reality. We are all being asked to accept the unacceptable. And for you, my strong survivors, this is something you are uniquely prepared to do once again.


Accepting your enough-ness


When life turns on a dime, and we are suddenly faced with the unbelievable, it is natural and human to wonder, “Do I have what it takes to deal with this?” And the answer is, unequivocally, yes.


We all have parts that fear the unknown, and parts that resist change. Uncertainty feels scary, and the rapid-fire changes threaten to overwhelm our anxious parts. But don’t underestimate your strength and resiliency. You have already faced the unfaceable at least once before. You can, and will, do it again.


When Frodo felt overwhelmed by the weight of his role as Ring-bearer, deep in the Mines of Moria, he voiced a wish that he would not have to face such evil times. Gandalf, wise as ever, offered him empathy and compassion. “So do all who live in such times,” he says comfortingly. “But that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”


You are enough. Strong enough, brave enough, resilient enough, good enough. You have everything you need to face the unfaceable and accept the unacceptable. The sun always rises, even when we can’t see it for the clouds. You are always enough, even when you don’t feel like it.


Be well. Stay safe. And wash your hands.