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Radical Acceptance: What Is It and How Does It Help? (Part 1)

I work with many clients who are struggling with a stressful life transition in their personal and/or professional life, and for some clients possibly both at the same time. My job as their clinical therapist is to help the client better understand why this life transition is causing stress, what impact it has on the client, and how to better manage this life transition. Some clients, due to their life circumstances, cannot fully change the life transition, but rather are hoping to learn how to cope with something that cannot be changed in their life.

I recently read an article from Psychology Today that touched on this very topic, “Radical Acceptance” by author Karyn Hall, Ph.D. Below are some key points from Dr. Hall’s article regarding how to implement radical acceptance in your life.

  • What is radical acceptance? Radical acceptance is about not resisting things in your life that you cannot or choose not to change. It is taking life as it is. For example, let’s say you have been saving money for a special purse at a store and notice it in the window. You realize you don’t have your credit card with you and are able to put the purse on hold for 24 hours. You come back the next day, less than 24 hours after you put it on hold, and see a customer on their way out of the door with the purse you put on hold. When you speak to the store manager, they say there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s not fair and it should not have happened, but unfortunately it did happen. You likely feel sad, hurt, disrespected, and frustrated. Dr. Hall discusses that, “suffering is what you do with that pain and the interpretation you put on the pain. Suffering is optional, pain is not.” It is so hard to accept things that you wish were not true; however, it is more difficult to not accept. Refusing to not accept pain brings more suffering. 
  • What happens when I refuse to accept reality? When we refuse to accept the reality of something challenging, it simply makes it worse. Saying things like, “why did this happen to me” “this isn’t fair” “this can’t be true” is almost denying yourself the ability to accept the truth of what is actually happening. Saying these things to ourselves is almost like acting like if we believe it didn’t happen, then maybe it didn’t actually happen. Others also believe accepting something means we are agreeing to it; however, accepting something does not mean agreeing, they are completely different concepts. It takes a lot of emotional energy to fight reality. Refusing to accept something just adds more pain to your experience. Life can be incredibly stressful and painful at times, but unfortunately that is part of life. When we avoid allowing ourselves to accept the reality, we are simply making the experience harder on ourselves. The beautiful thing about life is that we are allowed to feel a variety of feelings, both the happy and painful feelings. When you avoid allowing yourself to feel something, whether good or bad, it likely will lead to anxiety and/or depression. Avoidance of feelings can also turn into maladaptive behaviors such as drinking, gambling, spending 60+ hours at work simply to put a temporary fix on your feelings. Again, none of these options are helpful nor healthy for your mental health.  

The part 2 of this blog post will explain how to practice radical acceptance and why it is helpful. 

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