What's the Difference Between Acceptance and Resignation?

Acceptance implies a learning experience. Resignation prevents us from capitalizing on a circumstance and transforming ourselves in a positive way. Learn more in this article.
What's the Difference Between Acceptance and Resignation?
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 08 August, 2022

Acceptance and resignation have clear differences, although some people tend to think that they’re the same thing. First of all, acceptance leaves us open to the possibility of changing the way we feel about a situation.

On the other hand, resignation – although it’s also a way out – leaves us trapped like “the dog that bites its own tail.” This is a metaphor for going over the same issue again and again. So, why is one attitude healthier than the other? Let’s take a look.

Acceptance and resignation: What are the differences?

Both acceptance and resignation manifest themselves in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. However, resignation leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouth, with a defeatist attitude, or with the feeling that there’s no other way out but to accept that things are the way they are.

On the contrary, acceptance leads us to understand that a situation is presented in a certain way, but invites us to think about what change we can activate in ourselves to face it in the best way.

Therefore, we assume an active role oriented to a personal transformation when we accept something. This makes us active participants and agents and also makes us feel better. In other words, we get involved with the change when we accept something. Likewise, acceptance is a way of turning the page, since it encompasses a process with different emotions.

This allows us to recognize that we did what we could and that other aspects simply escaped our control. It puts us face-to-face with the circumstances and allows us to avoid self-deception or self-pain.

However, resignation leads us to the same situation again and again since it often leads us to wish we could do more. We’re then left with the idea that something is still pending. Sometimes we even assume the role of victims by believing things like “it’s not up to me,” or “it wasn’t me who made that decision.” Finally, resignation prevents us from working on our emotions since we deny our living reality.

Acceptance versus resignation
Acceptance implies a process in which emotions are managed, and our vision of situations is changed.

The main differences between reisgnation and acceptance

Bearing this in mind, let’s recapitulate the main differences between these two concepts:

  • The role: While acceptance invites us to “take control” of the situation, resignation leaves us immobile. With acceptance, we can look for solutions or think of alternatives.
  • Orientation in time: Resignation returns again and again to the past, while acceptance is oriented in the present, and this allows it to move towards the future.
  • The result: Acceptance leads to resilience, while resignation anchors us to suffering.
  • Emotions: In the case of resignation, we deny our emotions. However, in the case of acceptance, we address them, experience them, and transform them. Thus, resignation leaves us with pessimistic emotions, while acceptance activates us and invites us to the enthusiasm to reinvent ourselves and to generate new goals and bonds.

Acceptance and resignation progress differently towards adaptation. The first is proactive – I recognize everything that is happening, but I will look for circumstances that allow me to act in my favor and for my well-being – and the second is passive: “there’s no other way out.”

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: 5 Keys to Calming a Restless Mind and Finding Internal Peace

Let’s take a look at an example of acceptance and resignation

Imagine that you’ve just received a diagnosis of an illness. The news, in the first place, gives us a shock. Now, after getting over the shock of the news, we have a choice: do we resign ourselves, or do we accept it?

Acceptance implies mobilizing resources, while resignation blocks us, as it leaves us stuck in the situation, without any tools for dealing with it and unable to think about what we can do to face it.

Acceptance summons us to look for a meaning and a deeper reason behind why we may be experiencing something. It allows us to re-signify an experience and is the starting point to work on our resilience. That is to say, after a process, we’re able to understand that the disease can teach us something and that we can transform ourselves.

Thus, we begin to change our lifestyle and turn to new habits, lead a healthier life, and have frequent medical check-ups, among other measures. We broaden our view, we ask ourselves about other variables, and we reach a broader and more complex reading of our situation.

Then, it stops being self-referential and personalistic and helps us to understand it. Of course, this also requires work and willpower because this is not something that comes naturally.

Meanwhile, resignation traps us in a vision of misfortune and in the recurring question, “Why me?” In fact, it often adopts a guilty appearance that makes us feel responsible; “I should have gotten tested sooner,” “I should have taken care of myself…”, or“what if…” are some of the many ideas that can destroy us if we adapt this perspective

A sad woman
Resignation limits our ability to find solutions. It leads to a more fatalistic view of everything.

Like this article? You may also like to read: A Mind that Knows How to Be Grateful Knows Inner Peace

Acceptance is not linear; it requires a process

No one is saying that acceptance will be “without pain and without glory.” In reality, it requires a process of coping with the situation until it can be accepted. It’s also not something linear that begins and continues without ups and downs. It’s to be expected that we will encounter many different emotions.

However, from the moment we recognize them, we will be able to manage them, and little by little, we will feel better. This doesn’t mean that we’re happy with a certain experience, but it does encourage us to develop a new understanding and improve ourselves.

Acceptance also doesn’t lead us to conform or to regret not being able to control everything. On the contrary, it allows us to focus on what really is under our control.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Guerola, E., Prieto, M., & Panigua, D. (2020). Culpa, aceptación de responsabilidad y conductas reparatorias en el proceso de perdón a uno mismo. Clínica Contemporánea, 11(3). https://doi.org/10.5093/cc2020a19
    • Zamora, R. L. (2008). Cambio social y cultura de la resignación y el sufrimiento. Espacio abierto17(2), 267-284.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.