Acceptance is Radical

radical acceptance

Acceptance is total and complete

By: Dr. Tyler Fortman

Did your partner cheat on you and you want to stay in the relationship, but just can’t get yourself to accept that it’s happened?  Maybe you find yourself harboring resentment or even planning revenge strategies?  Your partner is sleeping comfortably at night, but you’ve struggled to find brief moments of enjoyment.  You aren’t alone!  (Notably, you may choose to leave a relationship after an affair and that’s a reasonable decision).

This discussion is about deciding to continue the relationship and not being able to “get over it.”).  Maybe you’re a Millennial who has hopped from job to job or city to city.  You’re looking for the perfect work setting or maybe even find yourself daydreaming about not needing to work at all.  Or, maybe you’ve looked in the mirror for 20 years and still feel disappointed that you aren’t 5’11”’

These experiences – and many others – aren’t all that different.  They are linked by a resistance to accept.  A disillusioned idea that if you wish hard enough, reality will change.  Reality won’t change.  You may be able to skillfully plan and execute a plan to change your circumstances, but sometimes your circumstances can’t be changed (i.e., your partner still had the affair, the “perfect” job doesn’t exist, you can’t change your height, etc.).  Enter radical acceptance.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is complete acceptance.  It’s radical!  It’s accepting with your heart, mind, and body.  It’s when you stop fighting reality, stop trying to change reality, let go bitterness, and start acknowledging what is.

For those of you familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous (or other 12-step programs) you probably know that radical acceptance is sometimes referred to as “surrender.” The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that radical acceptance is a surrender of power.  It’s a way of gaining power, by acknowledging what has power over you (i.e., alcohol, the past indiscretion of a partner, you genetics, etc.).  Maybe you’re also familiar with the electricity metaphor:

Consider your surrender to electricity.  When you moved into your current home, did you have an internal debate about having electricity?  When you paid your electric bill last month, did you struggle with paying the bill or calling the company to have the power shut off?  No.  You didn’t suffer the internal struggle of non-acceptance to electricity.  You radically accepted that electricity has a cost and you will pay it.

Now, consider the outcome.

You weren’t devastated by the acceptance of the costs of acceptance; instead, new opportunities opened.  You watched your TV, logged onto the internet, made dinner in your oven, and were able to function after the sunset.  The overall outcome was an increase in personal gains, with little consequence, because you had radically accepted.

Benefits of Radical Acceptance

That’s right – fully and truly accepting reality without trying to change it may actually benefit you.  You may feel more at peace, more powerful, and less afraid to fail.  On the other hand, refusing to accept reality gives you no chance to change it.

Rejecting the pain turns it into suffering and keeps you stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, shame and other painful emotions.  Radical accepting may lead to sadness, but feeling the sadness opens the opportunity to no longer feel it.  Dr. Marsha Linehan is quoted as saying, “The path out of hell is through misery.”  By refusing to accept the the misery that is part of escaping hell, you fall back into hell.

Strategies for Radical Acceptance:

If you’re ready to commit (or re-commit) to radical acceptance, consider using these steps as a guide.

  1. Notice! – Beginning to observe when you are questioning or fighting reality.  A good indicator might be that you feel yourself being frustrated or upset.  In these moments, ask yourself, “Am I fighting reality?”

Consider drawing out all the ways that you’ve tried to change the situation as well as the outcome.  Make space for new solutions, such as radical acceptance, to come.

  1. Decide to radically accept. – Surrender. This isn’t the same as saying that you are “okay” with things as they are.  Conversely, it is acknowledging that you can’t change things and trying to do so makes the problem worse (or seem worse).  Practice this acceptance fully – mind, body, and spirit.  Remind yourself of what reality is and that reality has causes.  Consider even weighing the pros and cons of accepting versus denial or rejection.
  1. Feel! – Allow yourself to feel the feelings that are produced by reality. These may be painful feelings (i.e., sadness, loss, disappointment, etc.).  Assuming that you can avoid the feelings by avoiding reality is often a factor in people worsening or failing to resolve the situation (usually by losing control of other life situations because one’s effort is tied up in avoiding).  It’s like running from your shadow!

Consider the act of “watching” your feelings, bodily sensations, thoughts.  Simply observing them and letting go of judgement that come.  “Unhook” from each feeling/thought/experience so that you can feel it, but it can also go.  Try mediation practices to improve your skill in this area.

(Did you know that, when stimulated by a feeling or thought, your brain only fires for 2-3 seconds?  This means that if you didn’t retrigger a thought or feeling, you would only have it for 2-3 seconds.  Hence why the ability to unhook from your feelings and let them pass, is key!)

  1. Review your values and be sure that your behaviors align with your values. Set goals for yourself!

So, whether your battle is with accepting the actions of others, the circumstances of your life, or aspects of yourself remember to turn your mind – again and again – toward acceptance!  Be radical!