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What is Radical Acceptance, and How Can It Help Me?

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

           It feels like anxiety and uncertainty are at an all-time high, and that it feels more and more unreasonable to manage.  After living in our current state for months, how can we maintain hope and see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel?  One thing that may be helpful in this fight is the practice of Radical Acceptance.  Radical Acceptance is a distress tolerance skill commonly used in Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, and its goal is to prevent emotional pain from turning into prolonged suffering.  Pain, discomfort, anxiety, stress, uncertainty are all parts of life and the practice of radical acceptance helps us face what is without straining ourselves in an effort to understand the “why”. 

           Radical Acceptance is not the same thing as approval, much like in the same way that validation is not the same as agreement, it is simply a recognition of facts.  There is much that is out of our control in the best of circumstances, and when we come to totally accept with mind and spirit that we cannot ultimately be in control at all times over all things, the pain of the unknown begins to diminish.  If you find yourself struggling with accepting the fact of what is, or experience anxiety when you feel you are not in control of all things then Radical Acceptance could be a helpful practice for you. 

           Understanding the concept is one thing, starting to practice it is another.  Here are some ways in which you can start practicing Radical Acceptance in your day to day. 

           Recognize when you are fighting reality – The very first step to towards Radical Acceptance is an awareness of when you find yourself resisting what is.  This may sound easy, but often there are clues that go unnoticed when we are upset, anxious, or angry.  Some of these clues could be feelings of resentment or bitterness at something or someone.  Also, thinking that if one thing were to change then you would be happy, or even finding yourself willing others to change their behaviors.  In instances like these, reflect on what it is that causing this distress, and why you might be fighting this reality. 

           Focus on acceptance – Once we learn to acknowledge when we are resisting reality, then it is time to “turn the mind” to accepting.  This is a DBT skill that supports this practice by helping us make the commitment to stop fighting reality and initiates the process of our mind starting to willingly accept what is. 

           Pay attention to physical sensations – How out bodies feel as they move through distress tells us things that are incredibly important.  The muscle tension we experience while we grapple with reality can be a physical manifestation of our psychological distress.  Having tension in our bodies as we move through the process of Radical Acceptance acts as a hinderance.  It is important to practice relaxation techniques if you find yourself tense during your reflection process.  Perhaps breathing into the areas where you notice tension, or even some progressive muscle relaxation could be helpful. 

           Even if you find yourself struggling to accept what is, act as if you are – If you find yourself having a hard time accepting a certain thing or circumstance, ask yourself “How would I feel if I did accept this for what it is?  How might I be living my life differently?”  And try and model your behavior on what you envisioned for yourself.  Radical Acceptance can sometimes be a challenging journey to embark on, and it is important to remember that it’s not a one-and-done type of skill. 

           If you are more interested in learning more about the practice of Radical Acceptance or just want to connect with someone for a listening ear then please reach out to one of the licensed therapists with Symmetry Counseling.  You can reach out to us online, or by calling us at (312) 702-5512 to set up an appointment. 

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