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  • Writer's pictureDr. Susanna La

Simple Ways to Practice Radical Acceptance

Updated: May 28

Why is my life like this? Why are people like this? Why can’t things be different? Why me? These are common questions we tend to focus on when we are going through a difficult time and are often wallowing in self-pity. Further, these questions usually make us feel worse since we are currently struggling to accept our reality. 



Sometimes in life, we want a certain outcome. As we know, life doesn’t always go the way we hoped or planned. In the face of difficult circumstances, we often ruminate on what is not going well or what could have been. For those of us struggling with anxiety and/or depression, these regretful and blaming thoughts often consume our mind and time. 


In any painful situation, you can: 

  1. Make things worse 

  2. Do nothing about the situation (that can cause you to stay miserable) 

  3. Attempt to solve the problem 

    1. Change how you feel/view the problem 

    2. Focus on things you can change 

  4. Accept the problem and/or situation 


Example: Situation - Seeing a difficult family member during a holiday celebration 

  1. Make things worse - Get into an argument with them 

  2. Do nothing - Ignore and/or avoid them 

  3. Attempt to solve the problem - Try to empathize with them and/or practice assertive communication 

  4. Acceptance - Recognizing this family member will likely not change 


In the example situation, it is common to try different strategies to figure out what works for you. In the heat of the moment, we tend to say or do things that make the situation worse, especially if we are feeling intense anger. However, this is often painful and can cause everyone involved to feel worse as well as potentially lead to future arguments. We can also try to ignore and/or avoid the difficult family member, but chances are you’ll continue to see this person at future gatherings. Additionally, suppressing our emotions about the person and/or situation may only work for the short-term. Or we can practice other outlets to release pent-up emotions that may not be the healthiest, such as taking it out on other people or numbing out


Radical Acceptance 

Another technique we may want to try is problem-solving in certain situations. Sometimes focusing on things we can change and control works. Other times, we can exhaust our options, and nothing seems to work. On the other hand, radical acceptance is a concept from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT; Linehan, 2015); it acknowledges our painful situation and accepting our reality as it is. This does not mean we want or approve of our situation. This simply means we stop trying to fight against it and/or wishing for things to be different. In approaching our situation in this way, we learn to let go of the pain that comes from fixating or trying to change something/someone we have no control over. 


Simple Ways to Practice Radical Acceptance 

  • Notice a situation you are resisting and make a conscious decision to try something new 

  • Open up to various thoughts and emotions, allowing them to be there without trying to change or make them go away

  • Pay attention to what is going on for you currently in your body and your senses  

  • Shift away from judgmental thoughts about people/situations as “good” or “bad” and use more descriptive words

  • Acknowledge there are circumstances out of your control 

  • Focus on your values and what is important to you

  • Take actions and make choices that allow you to have the meaningful life you want


In situations we cannot problem-solve or have choice over the outcome, the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to recognize our pain and limit our suffering when possible. With Lunar New Year coming up and the other holidays throughout the year, we will inevitably encounter difficult family members, who say hurtful comments or pass judgment on our lives. Our inner wisdom comes from freeing ourselves from unrealistic expectations of them being different, not engaging with them that can lead to arguments, allowing instead of repressing our thoughts/emotions, and accepting they will probably never change.


If you are interested in working with us on radically accepting painful life experience(s), you can reach out to us here.


Quote:

"Turn meaningless pain into meaningful pain." -Dr. Russ Harris


Resource:

Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual. The Guilford Press.

Stay tuned. The next topic is "Introverted and Highly Sensitive?"


Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.

Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.

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