Radical Acceptance is the acceptance of life, on life’s terms. While pain is part of life, radical acceptance allows us to keep that pain from becoming suffering. It is about accepting the facts of reality, no matter how painful, without avoidance, overthinking, or dangerous behaviors. When a person does not accept the realities of life issues, they often remain stuck in that pain and fail to move forward and lose the chance to heal. In other words, unresolved pain can continue to hurt you even when it is not happening anymore. If you simply do not accept the facts, it does not change the facts, and this can lead to unnecessary and prolonged suffering.
Resistance to reality may be a defense mechanism that helps to numb the pain in the short-run but in the long-run creates more problems. If you ignore a past due electric bill long enough, the lights will be turned off. Avoidance is not an effective problem-solving strategy.
During the course of your life, you can’t avoid pain and painful situations, but you can learn to cope with something you can’t change. When you practice Radical Acceptance, it does not mean that you approve of the issue or agree with it. It means that life happened, it was painful or hurtful, or unfair, and I can accept that it sucked. But now it is over, and I hope to learn from this, and hopefully not repeat it. I can accept that even though it was bad, I can live through it.
Some people hold on to unresolved issues with pain and anger. It’s exhausting to fight reality, and it doesn’t work. Refusing to accept that you were blamed for something you didn’t do, that your friend lied to you, or that you weren’t called back for a second interview for a job you wanted, doesn’t change the situation, and it adds to the pain you may experience. Until that pain is accepted and realized, the wound stays active.
This can also happen with false hope. Making excuses and minimizing toxic situations, pursuing abusive and toxic people in the face of negative evidence. Repeating patterns of violence and abuse; over and over again. Radical Acceptance is giving up the notion that you can control other people’s thoughts or behaviors. It is acknowledging that it is what it is, nothing more and nothing less. By holding on to a false hope, you may simply be fooling yourself and staying in a pain producing situation. The false hope that things will get better, that someone else will change, maybe this time, is keeping you and perhaps your other family members and children, in the grip of abuse and pain.
Working with trauma cases, one of the main things we do as therapists is to get to the acceptance of the trauma. We help a client look at negative thinking patterns that may be reinforcing an inaccurate self-story about a trauma event. And it is always a part of our treatment to confront the trauma and get away from denial and avoidance patterns. Again, you really can’t move forward if you are stuck in your past and in your pain.
DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy has offered the following ways that you can begin the process of Radical Acceptance. This is a part of strengthening your coping skills and ability to increase Distress Tolerance:
- Observe that you are questioning or fighting reality (“it shouldn’t be this way”)
- Remind yourself that the unpleasant reality is just as it is and cannot be changed (“this is what happened”)
- Remind yourself that there are causes for the reality (“this is how things happened”)
- Practice accepting with your whole self (mind, body, spirit) – Use accepting self-talk, relaxation techniques, mindfulness and/or imagery
- List all of the behaviors you would engage in if you did accept the facts and then engage in those behaviors as if you have already accepted the facts
- Imagine, in your mind’s eye, believing what you do not want to accept and rehearse in your mind what you would do if you accepted what seems unacceptable
- Attend to body sensations as you think about what you need to accept
- Allow disappointment, sadness, or grief to arise within you
- Acknowledge that life can be worth living even when there is pain
- Do pros and cons if you find yourself resisting practicing acceptance