Do you ever experience those moments where you are shaking your fist at the world and want to shout, “It’s not fair!”, “Why is this happening to me?”, “It shouldn’t be this way!” and no matter what you do, you can’t seem to solve the problem at hand or feel better about it? I often see clients experiencing this when a major life problem arises or a pile up of minor annoyances are happening. To help them cope, I teach them a skill called Radical Acceptance.
What is Radical Acceptance?
Radical acceptance is the skill of accepting things that cannot be changed. These may be major life events such as moving, ending a relationship, or having an uncurable medical condition. Or it may be minor annoyances in life like being stuck in traffic or your neighbors playing loud music that they refuse to turn down. Regardless of the unchangeable situation, radical acceptance asks us to recognize the situation for what it is, rather than what we think it should be.
Why use Radical Acceptance
- Denying the problem doesn’t make it go away.
- To change the problem or feel better about it, we first have to accept reality.
- When we deny the problem, we increase our suffering and add to our problems.
When I was in high school, I had a friend that learned they were moving to Alaska. This move was unavoidable as their father was being deployed. In the months leading up to the move, they denied it was happening and began arguing with their parents, which led to them becoming grounded, which meant less time to spend with friends, which meant more icky feelings. Had my friend been able to radically accept the move, they would have been able to express their feelings appropriately to their parents, which would’ve led to more support from them, they wouldn’t have been grounded, and would’ve been able to spend more time with their friends before the move. Essentially, with radical acceptance, there would have been less icky feelings and problems.
* Important note: Radical acceptance is not approval of the problem or denial of how you feel about the problem! Just because we are accepting the way things are, doesn’t mean we like it or that we won’t work towards change. We just need to know and accept the reality of situation.
How to practice Radical Acceptance
- Notice what you are not accepting. (Hint: you can usually identify this during those “shaking your fist at the world” moments).
- Rate your level of acceptance on a scale of 0 (non-acceptance) to 5 (radical acceptance).
- Remind yourself of the facts, that this is the way things are.
- Consider how you would be thinking, feeling, and acting if you were to radically accept the situation. Please note: Feelings of sadness may arise here, followed by a feeling of calm as you head towards a place of acceptance
- Act “as if” you are radically accepting the situation.
Notice that radical acceptance is a skill, and it takes practice! It is not switch whereby you go from non-acceptance to acceptance. Rather it is a spectrum, and it is normal to move across the spectrum from day-to day, or sometimes, even moment-to-moment. You’ll need to develop a regular practice of using the steps above to keep yourself moving towards a place of radical acceptance. Check out this video for more ways to practice. And if you need support figuring out how to radically accept something in your life, book a free consultation with me here!
Alyssa Davis, LMFT #130175