T here are five possible ways to respond to a problem:

Solve the problem: Look for a workable solution. Hungry and irritable? Go get a snack. Unhappy with your job? Start looking for a new one.

Change how you feel about the problem: Adopt a different perspective. Seeing things from a new angle can change your feelings.

Accept it (this week’s focus!): When a situation can’t be changed, reality is painful, or if something is permanent, acceptance can and will make you feel better.

Stay miserable: You may have a very valid reason to feel miserable, but realize that it is a choice!

Make things worse: When you’re miserable, the next step — making things worse — can happen very quickly. Yell at someone, send a nasty text, engage in an unhelpful behavior and face repercussions later… that will worsen the situation.

Our last session in the distress-tolerance module is an intense, often emotional one where we focus on the third response to a situation: reality acceptance.

One of life’s harshest realities is that there are situations that cannot be changed.

Accepting reality is an incredibly difficult skill. We’re often used to problem-solving or using other skills, but sometimes we simply can’t change reality.

Consciously making the decision to accept a situation is a process, and full acceptance takes a lot of effort; it can initially bring on a lot of pain and sadness. Once true acceptance is reached, it’s liberating.

The girls usually get passionate about this subject. They demand answers. But why? I don’t want to accept certain things in my life. Things shouldn’t be this way. I didn’t choose this. If I accept, that means I’m okay with it.

That’s when I teach them this equation: pain + acceptance = pain, but pain + nonacceptance = suffering.

Accepting doesn’t make the pain go away. It doesn’t magically make everything all better. The pain will still be there. But you won’t suffer.

A hush descended over the group as they mulled this over. Then, suddenly, Tamar spoke up, and not in her usual enthusiastic I-know-the-answer style, but in a quietly thoughtful manner laced with deep pain.

“I still miss my mother every day,” she admitted haltingly, “and the pain hasn’t gone away. Truthfully, I hope it never goes away, because then I’ll feel disloyal. But for the first few years after her death, I suffered terribly. I’d rage, I’d bawl, I’d fantasize about her still being here. I was stuck in the pain, and I was suffering. Until one day…” she risked a glance at the group and, heartened by their spellbound faces, continued, “one day, my sister got fed up and screamed at me. She said awful things, that I was being selfish and stupid and acting like a little kid. Then she said what everyone else just tiptoed around: Mommy is dead. She’s not coming back. Get a grip!” (Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 680)