BLOG: Radical Acceptance – learning to understand things you can change and wisdom to know the things you cannot change
As a psychotherapist, I work with clients who sometimes struggle with overwhelmingly negative emotions for many years. Helping them to understand why things can sometimes be consistently so hard for them, working through these feelings, helping to give them some insight and control of their feelings, can really help some clients through these difficult times.
I found the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook by Marsha M. Linehan very useful. One thing that really stood out for me when reading the workbook, was Radical Acceptance.
Radical acceptance means that you accept something completely, without judging. With your mind, heart and body, accepting something from the depths of your soul, opening yourself to fully experiencing reality as it is in this one moment.
From the workbook:
“Radical acceptance means that you accept something completely, without judging it. For example, radically accepting the present moment means that you don’t fight it, get angry at it, or try to change it into something that it’s not. To radically accept the present moment means that you must acknowledge that the present moment is what it is due to a long chain of events and decisions made by you and other people in the past. The present moment never spontaneously leaps into existence without being caused by events that have already taken place…”
“… it also creates an opportunity to respond to that situation in a new way that’s less painful for yourself and others.”
This has resonated with me deeply. It reminds me of a situation with a friend where I was consistently getting upset, disappointed and frustrated. I am frustrated about how I am treated. I am positive about our arranged meetings but get predictably upset when the person acts predictably and then feel angry and resentful for days.
The concept of radical acceptance has really helped me to understand the situation better and the overwhelming negative thoughts have not affected me as much. So firstly if I radically accept the circumstances and the way the person is, I won’t be nearly as upset by it when it happens again. My need for approval and wishing that things will be different is also part of the problem.
The workbook suggests coming up with “coping thoughts” to help with some of these negative feelings. I could perhaps instead of hoping that things went well next time (hoping that I get approval and not criticism), I could completely change my goals around the situation and just go with the resolve to make it through and not react. This doesn’t mean that you are giving up or accepting bad situations, but sometimes in life there are just situations you have to deal with or get through.
It makes sense to me to begin by radically accepting a situation as it is, to just accept it without judging it, even if you normally wish with all your heart that it were different. All the usual noise around the circumstance just dies right down. Can you feel the quiet?
Now from this place, ask yourself the different circumstances that led to this situation. What role have others played? What role did you play? Could my choices or behaviours be different?
Radical acceptance isn’t about fixing or changing anything at this point. It’s just about accepting what is, without judgement to help you get through the situation in a different way.
Balwinder Hunjan is an Integrative psychotherapist, life and relationship coach and professional speaker. She is dedicated to helping people, reduce stress, anxiety and enjoy more meaningful lives. Bal is available for workshops, media commentary, private life and relationship coaching and psychotherapy.