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Key Takeaways:

  • Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance skill.
  • Radical acceptance can help us get through difficult times and embrace reality.
  • There are 10 steps to achieving radical acceptance, including planning ahead and embracing difficult feelings.

Pain, like joy and pleasure, is a natural part of life. However, that does not always make it easier to face. The world today is full of uncertainties that cause difficult and painful situations that can trigger our fears and anxieties. But rather than running away from these realities, we can use radical acceptance in DBT. Practicing radical acceptance is all about helping us get through difficult times. Here, we’ll talk about what it is, how it works, and why it’s important in our daily lives.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is considered a DBT distress tolerance skill, which are techniques that can help us manage distressing situations, whether perceived or actual. Radical acceptance means completely recognizing and accepting the reality you’re in, despite the pain and discomfort. It is designed to prevent pain from turning into suffering. While pain is a normal part of life, using techniques such as this one can make it more manageable. Radical acceptance makes reality easier to accept.

Radical acceptance also proposes that non-attachment is essential to overcome suffering. This does not mean you shouldn’t feel emotions. Non-attachment refers to the intentional act of identifying whether we are allowing ourselves to feel worse than necessary. This helps us prevent pain from becoming suffering.

What is the Goal of Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance aims to stop us from fighting reality, which can include responding with impulsive or destructive actions when things don’t go our way. It helps us to arrive at a point where we can see the options in our situation, even if it is difficult or negative to deal with. Overall, the goal is to achieve a state of mindfulness, that is, to be present in the current moment without any judgment attached to it. Accepting reality in this state of mind means understanding both the past and present, even if they might be uncomfortable or undesirable. This allows us to accept and move forward with life even if pain is present.

Reasons for Lack of Acceptance

Many people exhibit a lack of acceptance when confronted with difficult realities. One reason for this is that they feel that accepting is the same as agreeing with or justifying what happened. Another common reason for the lack of acceptance is not wanting to acknowledge the pain that comes with it.

The issue with a lack of acceptance is that when we choose not to acknowledge the pain, we also prevent any opportunities to feel happiness and joy. Avoiding your emotions can lead to more problems down the road, including anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.

It can be challenging, but it is not impossible to eventually arrive at a place of acceptance. It does, however, require practice and dedication.

Signs of Lack of Acceptance

There are many ways to tell whether you are showing signs of a lack of acceptance. Here are several of them:

  • Thinking thoughts such as “This isn’t fair” or “Why is this happening to me?”
  • Blaming yourself for all of the bad things that happen in your life
  • Feeling stuck and that changing for the better isn’t a possible outcome
  • Feeling angry at the world
  • Wishing things were different but feeling powerless
  • Being disappointed in the choices that other people make
  • Being resentful of things that have happened in the past
  • Holding grudges

Examples of Radical Acceptance

To better understand what radical acceptance is, it helps to look at a few real-life examples where this skill can be applied. Here are several examples of radical acceptance:

  • Going through the end of a relationship. Relationships are almost always difficult when they come to a close. Rather than holding onto what’s left of the relationship, it may bring you less pain to use radical acceptance to come to terms with the end instead of prolonging your suffering.
  • Experiencing unexpected change, such as job loss. Many people lost their jobs during the pandemic, and this was a very difficult thing to accept. Being upset over this unexpected change is a natural reaction, but it might be counterproductive in the long run. You can use radical acceptance to draw your focus back to the present (using mindfulness) and take the necessary action steps to find another source of income.

There are other examples where radical acceptance can be applied, such as the loss of a loved one, experiencing a traumatic event, or feeling stuck and unable to move on from a negative event.

10 Steps to Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance does not happen all at once. There are steps you can take to practice and apply this skill now and in future situations.

  1. Observe that you are resisting or fighting against reality (e.g., “It shouldn’t be like this.”)
  2. Remind yourself that the reality you are facing, no matter how unpleasant or negative, cannot be changed (e.g., “It happened.”)
  3. Acknowledge that something caused or led up to this moment (e.g., “This is how it happened.”)
  4. Practice acceptance with your mind, body, and spirit. While doing so, be mindful of your breath, posture, and thoughts. You can also use distress tolerance skills like half-smiling and willing hands.
  5. List down what your behavior would look like if you did accept the unpleasant reality and then acted accordingly.
  6. Plan ahead with situations that seem unacceptable, and then think about how you would cope appropriately.
  7. Continue to be mindful of physical sensations in your body, such as stress or tension.
  8. Embrace feelings such as sadness, disappointment, and grief.
  9. Acknowledge that life is still worth living even when there might be pain.
  10. During times of resistance, try completing a pros and cons list to better understand the impact and consequences of your choice.

How to Practice Radical Acceptance in Daily Life

There are a few realistic ways that you can practice radical acceptance in your daily life. Here are a few tips that you can follow:

  • Acknowledge the present. Being mindful is one of the most important elements of radical acceptance. Think of the unpleasant situation or reality you are in, and recognize that it exists in a non-judgmental way. This does not mean that you are willing to put up with manipulative or abusive behavior; it simply means accepting the reality that you are dealt with.
  • Ask yourself if you can change or control the situation. It can be difficult to admit that you are not in control, but it is also very freeing. Try asking yourself if you can change or control what is currently happening. If not, then learn to let the situation be and accept it for what it is.
  • Leave the past where it belongs. Remember, the past cannot be changed. Ruminating on what you could have done better takes away from the present and prevents you from accepting the way things are now.
  • Breathe. This sounds elementary, but remembering to pause and breathe can do wonders. Whenever you feel like you are resisting reality, take a moment to breathe and release the tension in your body. This will help relax you and ground you in the present moment.
  • Practice intentionally. Choose radical acceptance every day and recognize that it takes exercise to master the skill. You can use mantras or coping mechanisms of your choice to help you get through the most challenging moments.

Coping Statements for Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is not an easy thing to master. Sometimes you’ll need ways to cope, and one of these ways is through the use of coping statements. You can say these mantras out loud or simply think them in your mind; what’s important is that you practice them whenever you feel overwhelmed. Here are some coping statements for radical acceptance that you can use:

  • I have no control over what happened in the past.
  • This situation is only temporary.
  • I can’t change the past.
  • I am focusing on the present moment.
  • I have no control over other people, what they do or say. I can only control how I react.
  • I can only control the present moment.
  • I can accept things as they are.
  • I can accept myself the way I am.
  • There is no point in fighting with the past.
  • I am letting go of these negative emotions.
  • This feeling will pass, and I will be OK.

Frequently Asked Questions About Radical Acceptance

There are many questions being asked about radical acceptance. Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked ones:

What is the difference between radical acceptance and approval?

There is a distinct difference between radical acceptance and approval. Approval means agreeing with the way situations have happened while acceptance means accepting with all of our being that the current facts cannot be changed, even if we do not like them.

How effective is radical acceptance?

Radical acceptance is effective in preventing you from getting caught up in unhelpful emotions after a stressful or distressing event. This technique, when mastered and applied successfully, can be very effective in moving you toward contentment and away from pain and suffering.

Is radical acceptance mindfulness?

Radical acceptance steps rely on mindfulness to help us accept the reality of experiences and situations that we cannot change. By doing this, we may still feel pain, but we are able to reduce our suffering.

The Bottom Line

Everything we have discussed above can help you learn more about what you can do to accept and move on from your past. It is important to acknowledge that unpleasant things have happened to us and that some people have hurt us. But we also have to move past self-talk such as “That shouldn’t have happened” or “It was all my fault.” You can use radical acceptance examples to think of ways to let go and embrace reality. You can also use some of our DBT worksheets for other concerns.