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Radical Acceptance: A Path To Healing And Growth

When faced with a difficult life circumstance, there are times when we’re able to solve a problem or change how we feel about it. However, sometimes there’s nothing we can do to change or improve a tough situation. This is where Radical Acceptance comes in. In brief terms, it’s the skill of accepting things that we can’t change. Developing Radical Acceptance can help you cope effectively with your emotions and move forward, rather than continue suffering with bitterness. That said, it’s important to note that Radical Acceptance does not mean we have to agree or approve of our circumstances.

What is Radical Acceptance?
As a concept in therapy, Radical Acceptance was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). However, it has deep roots in many philosophical and religious traditions. For example, the Serenity Prayer asks to know what we can control and accept what we cannot. Similarly, ancient yoga philosophy tells us to surrender, let go and trust. Perhaps the fact that similar messages have been around for so long tells us something about the importance of this skill!

While Radical Acceptance is a powerful and transformative tool, it can also be a very challenging one. Many things can get in the way of practicing acceptance in our lives, including beliefs (Does accepting this mean I’m somehow approving of it?), strong emotions (rage, bitterness) and feeling a sense of injustice. Moving towards acceptance doesn’t take away any of those things, but it can help take back some of the energy you’re putting into wishing things were different.

Incorporating Radical Acceptance into Daily Life
There are a number of ways to begin incorporating Radical Acceptance into your daily life:

1. Practice being mindful. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean meditating for 30 minutes a day. We can develop present-moment awareness by observing our surroundings, body sensations and thoughts in the present moment, without clinging to or rejecting them.

2. Recognize and acknowledge your emotions. Extend those mindfulness skills to your emotions. Practice pausing and identifying your feelings without judgment. Know that all emotions, even uncomfortable ones, are both valid and temporary. Avoid pushing emotions down, as this can intensify distress.

3. Cultivate self-compassion. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Acknowledge your humanity and embrace your imperfections. If this is difficult, try thinking about what you’d say to a close friend or loved one in the same circumstance, and then apply that to yourself.

4. Challenge judgmental thoughts. Notice and challenge thoughts that fuel self-criticism or judgment, and then try replacing them with more accepting and compassionate thoughts.

5. Practice “turning the mind.” Understand that practicing acceptance is not a one-time deal, but rather a process. Acceptance is a choice, and you might have to make that choice over and over again when you notice that you’re resisting your reality. Signs of resistance might include feelings of anger toward something we can’t change, bitterness or a feeling of “why me?”

6. Seek support. Connect with trusted friends, family or a therapist who can provide a safe space for sharing and understanding. A trained therapist can help you recognize areas in your life where you’re experiencing resistance that’s leading to additional suffering, and then help you work toward accepting reality. Remember that seeking support is not a sign of weakness, but a courageous step towards healing.

Anna Breton is a Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist providing Individual and Family Therapy at our clinic.

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