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Resisting reality leads to an internal struggle. Accepting difficult situations can lead you away from pain and into peace.
Some days, it might seem as if the universe is out to get you. You sit in traffic and find a random coffee stain on your shirt after spending all night up with a sick and sleepless kid. Perhaps you begrudgingly work a job that under-appreciates you, and — surprise — you’re out of that one ingredient you really needed for dinner.
As the sun sets, you finally sit down to have a moment to yourself, but the stressors of the day linger.
Instead of feeling proud of yourself for overcoming challenges, you might resent how the day fell apart. You could even feel sad that you were met with so much misfortune, despite your best efforts.
Your merciless inner critic might also criticize your competence as a parent, employee, or spouse. And your feelings of suffering beget more suffering.
Everyone has bad days. Difficulties are inevitable, and so much of life is out of your hands. But the one thing you can steer is your mindset.
Practicing radical acceptance can keep you from getting ensnared in unhelpful emotions after a painful or stressful event. Accepting reality exactly as it is imperfect can move you toward contentment and away from distress.
Radical acceptance means practicing a conscious effort to acknowledge and honor difficult situations and emotions. Fully accepting things as they are, instead of ignoring, avoiding, or wishing the situation were different, can be a critical step in moving through a difficult experience to experiencing more meaning.
The concept of radical acceptance falls under dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which balances change-oriented goals with acceptance to help people regulate emotions, limit dysfunctional thinking, and improve motivation.
You’re not a robot, so you’ll naturally feel difficult emotions in life, like:
When these emotions are simmering below the surface, radically accepting them and greeting them with kindness can help you:
- regulate emotions
- work with unhelpful thinking
- identify things that matter to you to help with fluctuating motivation
Myths and misconceptions tend to surround radical acceptance. Here are some of the most common misunderstandings.
Radical acceptance means you ‘approve’ of the situation
Accepting a situation does not mean that it has your approval or that you necessarily found it “acceptable” for your life.
For example, someone who survives a major childhood trauma may be unable or unwilling to confront residual emotions because the pain is too great. If that person processes the traumatic experience with a therapist or counselor, acknowledging the reality of what happened certainly doesn’t mean they found it “acceptable.”
Radical acceptance is ‘giving up’
To some, radical acceptance may sound like sitting back and giving up. “It is what it is, so why even try to improve the situation?”
But acceptance does not equal complacency. A
According to this meta-analysis, taking a compassionate, nonjudgmental approach to their situation and emotions helped ease internal struggles surrounding their diagnosis. Radical acceptance was an active measure they took to improve their quality of life while living with cancer.
As long as stress, sadness, frustration, and grief exist, there will be everyday opportunities to practice radical acceptance. Whether you’re looking to expand your patience and refill your cup as a parent or cope with the death of a loved one, radical acceptance can improve your overall quality of life.
Though more research is needed, some studies from a
Other areas where practicing radical acceptance could be beneficial include:
- coping with a divorce
- after the loss of a loved one
- as an anger management tool
- after the loss of a job
- preventing rumination
- improving your sense of self-worth
- as a healthy way to approach weight-loss goals
Radical acceptance can be an effective tool to alleviate undue grief.
However, there are circumstances where radical acceptance alone may not be enough:
- Medication. Radical acceptance is not a replacement for any medication you have been prescribed. Consider speaking with your doctor if you are interested in tapering your medication.
- Abuse. Radical acceptance can help manage intense emotions related to surviving abuse. However, it is not helpful or safe while you are actively physically or emotionally abused.
- Avoidance. Using radical acceptance to avoid addressing a situation you have the power to change isn’t typically helpful.
- Excusing unhealthy behaviors. A component of radical acceptance means embracing all emotions as part of your humanity rather than fighting or ignoring unpleasant emotions. But radically accepting unhealthy behaviors — such as ragaholism — is not an excuse to act on your anger or emotions in an unhealthy way.
Radical acceptance doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a habitual, conscious effort to change how you interact with your emotions and adverse situations.
Flexing your brain through radical acceptance might not be easy at first. When life throws crushing curveballs, it can be tempting to ask, “Why me?” But accepting your reality is often the first way to effectively manage hard situations.
A therapist can help you tune into radical acceptance to confront traumatic events or manage everyday stressors. But you can also implement radical acceptance on your own.
Some of the most accessible ways to practice radical acceptance can be found in mindfulness apps, like:
Psychologist Tara Brach also has a book, “Radical Acceptance,” and a under her name to help you learn more ways to change your cognitive patterns.