Acceptance of Reality Is a Key to Mental Health

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How is acceptance of reality related to mental wellness? What if you have a distorted perception of reality?

You live according to what you believe to be true. If you have a distorted perception of truth, you live out of sync with reality. According to psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, living according to a belief system that doesn’t align with reality is the basis of most mental illnesses. That’s why acceptance of reality is so important.

Continue reading to learn how acceptance of reality is a key to mental health.

Acceptance of Reality

Truth = reality. Your perception of the world is like a road map. When you see reality, you see the world as it is, and you can make wise choices from that standpoint. You can only see the path clearly if you see the world clearly. This requires the discipline to engage in constant awareness and revision of your perception. 

Many avoid making the map clear because acceptance of the reality of the world is painful, but if you see the world underneath a lot of illusion, lies, and so on, the path will be unclear, and you will feel lost. 

Obstacle: Transference and the Outdated Map

Transference is what occurs when an individual builds a belief system based on the environment of their upbringing and carries that belief system into adulthood even when it no longer aligns with reality. It is the basis of most mental illness, manifesting in both overt and subtle ways (all of which are generally unhealthy). Transference is a problem because you end up living by values you created to protect yourself from certain circumstances, and these values may no longer be valid or may have been built erroneously.

For example, you may have been abused by a parent and realized you could not trust that parent, which led to the belief “I can’t trust anyone.” It was protective when the abuse was occurring, but in adulthood, it’s destructive, because the perception was never meant to be applied across the board. Now, it’s keeping you from developing healthy intimate relationships. You might even unconsciously create experiences that reinforce the lack of trust.

It can be very difficult to overcome transference, revise your distorted perceptions, and accept reality. In many cases, it requires you to confront the exact feelings you’ve been protecting. For example, changing your perception of distrust would require you to accept that you did not have a normal upbringing, and perhaps that your abusive parent did not love you (among other things). All of this might be very painful to confront. 

Solution: Willingness to Meet Challenges

We are often extremely resistant to revising our map of reality, but to be healthy, we must accept reality and let go of outdated perceptions of it. This requires the discipline to see the truth at all costs. Being dedicated to the truth also requires an openness to challenge, because the truth of reality can be difficult to accept and you will often feel confronted by it. Spiritual healing has not taken place until being open to challenge is second nature. 

For example, most people seeking therapy are looking for relief rather than growth. Many quit once they realize therapy is a challenge. The therapist tries to teach the client that relief is found through practicing the discipline to embrace challenges. Sometimes, the patient will continue therapy but resist the process of growth. Consider free association, which is a method therapists often use to encourage openness in a client. Free association is saying whatever words come to mind without a filter, and if there are multiple, choosing the least comfortable words to share. Many patients end up curating their “free associations” to leave out any information that feels too vulnerable. 

What Does It Mean to Be Committed to the Truth?

A life dedicated to truth—acceptance of reality—means a life that is completely honest. To be honest is to be sure that all your communications are reflective of reality. This includes word choice, tone of voice, both verbal and written communication, and so on. This is not easy. 

Lying is an attempt to avoid real pain, but this avoidance often leads to mental illness. Avoidance encourages shortcuts, which can prevent you from completing the steps necessary to ensure a healthy, lasting outcome. That being said, a shortcut is not always bad. There is a distinction between a productive shortcut and a destructive one.

Destructive Shortcut: Psychotherapy as a “Fix It”

This occurs when you are in therapy or seeking therapy for the wrong reasons. Maybe you’re getting therapy with your partner because you want the therapist to fix your relationship, but you think your partner is the one who needs help, and you are doing nothing wrong. You are not looking to grow. You are looking for a way to avoid the pain of growth by putting the responsibility on someone else (your therapist and your partner).

Productive Shortcut: Psychotherapy as a Tool for Growth

This is productive because support during the process of growth makes the experience overall less arduous, without sacrificing the quality of growth.

Although it’s difficult, acceptance of reality—a commitment to truth—is crucial for mental health.

Acceptance of Reality Is a Key to Mental Health

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She has always appreciated nonfiction, especially about history, politics, and ideas. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. As a former intelligence analyst and a teacher of critical thinking skills, Elizabeth enjoys analyzing arguments on all sides of an issue. Her nonfiction preferences include theology, science, and philosophy. She studies the intersection of these three in pursuit of the highest truths. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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