Radical Acceptance

Defined 

There is rarely a way to make full sense of the experiences we go through in life. However, we may try to make sense out of events in an effort to cope with what happened, or create a sense of closure. 

When we attempt to make sense where there is none, we sometimes insert our own ideas about what others thought, were motivated by, or actually did. Sometimes minimizing and sometimes exaggerating actions, words and meaning. These perspectives can influence how we come to remember the event, and what emotions we carry with us into the future. 

Radical acceptance offers us an alternative approach to coping and creating closure. One where we embrace ourselves as we are in the present moment. Where we allow our situation to exist as it is without shying away from it, attempting to control it, or passing judgment on ourselves or others (Brach, 2004). Within this healing space, we can accept responsibility for our thoughts and actions without the need to protect our self-image through false reimagining (Billias, 2018). 

The act of acceptance allows us to explore and engage different perspectives in a way that helps reduce internal pressures and conflict. It also facilitates our ability to maintain our own emotional stability, which in turn grows our capacity for building supportive relationships (Billias, 2018). Acceptance enables us to recognize our thoughts and emotions, acknowledge them, experience them, and then allow them to flow through us and diminish over time (Torres, 2021).

We can use radical acceptance as a buffer between our inner selves and the hardships we face. It can aid us in building up our ability to tolerate difficult emotions, which then allows us to feel the pains that ebb and flow in our lives without transforming it into long term suffering (Harris, 2020).

Integrating Acceptance

First, let's take some time to determine which emotions, memories or present-day conditions exist that are difficult to accept. The goal here is to identify areas where we are struggling to understand, or are actively fighting, the realities of life that are outside of our control (Harris, 2020). This process can be a little easier when we take a step back and try to imagine the situation as if we are looking in as a third party observer who does not feel an emotional connection to what is taking place. 

Take a moment to write out any thoughts, feelings, or beliefs that come up regarding external situations (involving our environment, community, family, friends, or occupation) that we view as unfair, wish were different, or would change if we could.

Next, evaluate all of the factors involved in creating the conditions that were just described (Harris, 2020). One way is to list them all, with ourselves at the bottom of the list, and then draw a medium sized circle. We then assign a percentage of responsibility to each factor in the form of a pie chart. Finally, we accept whatever percentage of responsibility is left over as our own (HCSAT, 2014). This exercise helps visualize that we often aren’t as responsible as we sometimes feel.

Accepting the role other play in negative events, and accepting our own role accurately - creates the opportunity to move past excess responsibility causing guilt or shame. 

Now we know what we are struggling to accept, and have a fair assessment of our participation in the events around it. This is a good time to acknowledge certain realities as they are by verbalizing the following affirmations:

  • The past occurred and it cannot be changed nor entirely forgotten.
  • I am a human person who makes mistakes and experiences successes.
  • I can offer grace and forgiveness to others, and I am deserving of the same.
  • I have gained skills, knowledge and experience from life and am capable of change.
  • The past can influence my future only to the extent that I allow it to.

We’re now going to do a bit of role playing. We’re going to imagine ourselves as a person who has accepted the situation as it is, their actions as they were, and themselves as forgivable, redeemable, and lovable. Someone who has integrated the past into their present, without holding onto harsh feelings about themselves or others (Harris, 2020). How would that person feel? What actions would that person take? Who would that person invest time into? What activities would that person engage in? Spend at least five minutes walking in this person’s shoes.

This imagining may create a moment of sadness as thoughts of how things could have been may come up. We can give ourselves permission to feel any disappointment, grief or pain that presented itself during this process (Harris, 2020). These emotions exist, and sitting with them despite their uncomfortable nature is strength. The strength to let the impact of such feelings wash to us, through us, and past us. For help identifying emotions, click here.

Engaging with these thoughts has almost certainly created physical sensations in our bodies (Van der kolk, 2015). Now is a good time to acknowledge that. One way to relieve that tension is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves a slow, orderly, tensing and releasing of our muscles. Click here for this technique and more information on how to use physicality as a healing tool.

We can benefit from engaging in an alternative or complementary therapy that will further relax us right now, at this moment. Maybe with a quick song, a walk outside, a healthy snack, a soothing drink, or time with someone we enjoy. Combining positive stimuli with radical acceptance can have an additive effect, amplifying our positive emotions faster (Potter, 2020). Click here for access to a list of alternatives and compliments.

It can be beneficial to take a moment to re-evaluate what it is that we are putting all this effort into (Harris, 2020). Remember that we are investing in ourselves and our ability to reduce our day-to-day suffering. Now is a good time to learn more about motivation, and ways to improve our outlook on the future. Click here for more on this.

If we are still experiencing internal conflict regarding the process of radical acceptance, consider creating a Pros/Cons list (Harris, 2020). Write down every reason we would benefit from radical acceptance, and compare that to the negative consequences we imagine coming from the process. 

There are ways to identify, rework and reintegrate highly difficult, troubling or challenging thoughts, ideas and beliefs into a healthier future outlook. Click here for more insight into the strategies available through cognitive behavioral therapy.