Radical Acceptance

I have been teaching on the topic of acceptance for the last few weeks. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has a skill named “radical acceptance” and I would venture to say it is one of the most difficult skills to convince someone to practice.  It requires…a lot of PRACTICE! Acceptance is not a concept that one grasps overnight.

The idea behind acceptance is that of the classic Serenity Prayer:

“God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the wisdom to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference”

·    In life, there are a significant amount of things that occur that we cannot change directly: weather, politics, other people’s behaviors, our physical attributes/genetic traits, costs of items

·    In life, there are a significant amount of things we CAN change: generally related to our behaviors which influence our emotions and thoughts

Dialectical behavioral therapy as a whole seeks to help individuals determine what is in their control and what is out of their control and then take the appropriate action (either accept or change).  I believe acceptance is so difficult because as a culture, we are pushed to things faster, bigger, stronger…more, more, more…thus giving the message that everything IS within our control. This leads to a very anxious society!

Acceptance requires clarity, the ability to discern what is legitimately in and out of our control.  Acceptance is NOT to say that we will never change, it is NOT to say that we approve of it, and it is NOT to say that we like the situation.  Acceptance is to say that we recognize that we no longer want to suffer as a result of fighting reality. 

Let me give you a few examples:

Ex 1: You were bullied in high school and you continue to re-live it, dredge up the memories, look the people up on social media thus torturing yourself with the related thoughts

Radical acceptance means recognizing that you are continuing to keep those memories alive (this is not to say the actual bullying is your fault or that it is something you shouldn’t feel angry about), thus increasing your own suffering.  Radical acceptance looks like: admitting what happened and really allowing yourself to feel sad for your high school self.  You may need to disable your social media accounts as you are no longer going to allow those memories to rule your behaviors.   

Ex 2: You made poor financial choices in the past that have left you with debt and poor credit 

Radical acceptance means that you recognize that you own your past choices and get honest with yourself about their present implications. Often when people are fighting reality, they continue to spend excessively and put more and more on lines of credit. Radical acceptance would challenge you to life as if you believed you were capable of financial control (have a budget, pay more than minimum balance, etc).  Radical acceptance means you are going to change your internal self-talk and cease beating yourself up about past choices as they cannot be changed! 

Once you practice radical acceptance on smaller things: gas prices going up, weather, your paycheck size… then (and only then) you can begin practice radical acceptance on bigger and bigger things…all the way up to accepting past traumas.  I suggest practice with a therapist because this is such a complex topic!


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