How To Accept Your PTSD Symptoms

June 13, 2014 Michele Rosenthal

All too often we’re told (or we tell ourselves) the wrong things in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)recovery. For example, a woman recently wrote to me:

How do you maintain acceptance of PTSD and its symptoms while pursuing healing?

My answer: You don’t have to.

And then a man I met at a survivor event last week asked me:

If you’re constantly pursuing healing aren't you in a different state of mind than acceptance?

My answer: Yes, and no. Both these questions depend on how you define “acceptance.”

The Role of Acceptance in Recovery

All too often we’re told (or we tell ourselves) the wrong things in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery. Learn to accept your PTSD symptoms.When post-trauma symptoms begin to show up you do the normal thing: You try to build your life around them. This can include the full range of what it means to:

  • Learn how to spot the signals that symptoms are coming on
  • Outline coping skills and strategies
  • Discover how to fake who you are and cover up the dysfunction

Ultimately, you “accept” that the symptoms are, in fact, a major part of who you are and so life goes on. You accept them in a way that means “be okay with it.” In order to do this, you have to suppress how much you hate the way you feel and live.

Suppression, of course, only gets you further from healing and requires additional coping skills. Then, one day, you get into recovery and the idea of “accepting” symptoms seems to be the antithesis of what healing is all about. After all, the reduction and/or total elimination of symptoms is the goal of recovery, right?

If the objective is to eradicate symptoms then, by definition, it seems like they are (as you feel they are, which is why you’re in recovery) unacceptable. Here’s where the confusion sets in. Accept or don’t accept? Let’s look at it from a different perspective.

Technically speaking, acceptance is “the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.” Synonyms for acceptance include “favorable reception” and “confirmation.” Those all imply a feeling of equanimity, which you absolutely would not have about flashbacks, insomnia, mood swings, emotional dysregulation, fear, anxiety, stress, grief or hypervigilance. If you felt that good about those post-trauma issues then you wouldn’t be trying to eliminate them.

Asking yourself to accept PTSD symptoms may feel utterly wrong to you. The truth is, you do not have to consent to receive your post-trauma symptoms. You may be willing to endure (suffer patiently) but living with PTSD doesn't require that you accept its symptoms unless you feel comfortable doing so.

What to Accept with Power and Strength

Instead of accepting symptoms, you can choose to use the idea of acceptance in a wholly new way that supports rather than frustrates your recovery efforts. To do this will require choosing and applying new meanings to old language. Rather than accepting symptoms, what you accept in healing is the action of consenting to the recovery process. That can be challenging. The work is hard, it happens too slowly, it doesn’t go in a straight line and there’s no specific end date. All of these, however, are elements that need to be accepted as the journey of a post-trauma life.

Here’s the beauty of this kind of acceptance:

The old application of embracing symptoms can feel like a commitment to prolong the status quo. In that experience, you feel little empowerment, zero choice and constant negative moments in which you seem powerless.

Accepting the action of consenting to the recovery process (symptoms and all), however, shifts you into an entirely different space. You acknowledge there will be good and bad days, intense symptoms and lessened symptoms. Your awareness of these elements is all part of how you know you are working toward feeling better. Acceptance utilized in this way is a strength rather than a weakness -- a source of energy, power and creativity versus a soul-sapping burden lashed to your back.

In the end, as in all facets of PTSD recovery, the choice is up to you: Will you stand up straight and proud and accept the challenge of facing your symptoms head on and learning to regulate, control and diminish them? Or will you bend beneath the weight of those unwanted reactions and accept that they will continue to call the shots?

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity. Connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her website

APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2014, June 13). How To Accept Your PTSD Symptoms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 21 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

December, 2 2017 at 12:27 am

I find the final sentence to be utterly offensive. The choice to 'stand up straight' or bend beneath the weight is rediculous. If you have a 200lb weight on your shoulders, you don't make a choice between standing up and bending. There is a physical limit. For an author who seems to understand PTSD, they lack understanding of how much we have control over our mental health. If we could just choose to "stand up straight" under the weight of PTSD then we wouldn't need recovery.

November, 10 2017 at 4:39 am

I found that since it was a childhood series of events that caused my cPTSD, that my body has associated many everyday things with traumatic reaction of my body and brain. It was an epiphany to understand that there is no monster in control and no one is mind controlling you or your body and that there really isn't anyone out to get you.... it is and was the body telling me of danger that wasn't and is still is not there.
"it is easy to comment on how it is inside a condemned home, it is hard to see your way out of it, when it is the only home you ever knew"

July, 24 2014 at 1:56 am

i still lack the PRACTICAL suggestions or advice on how to overcome these they impact my mental emotions and my very self........

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