Radical Acceptance During Difficult Times

December 14, 2020

It seems like an understatement to say we are in a time of unknown. We hope COVID is coming to an end, and as we approach the end of the year holidays, people are evaluating and re-evaluating their plans. These type of events can leave us feeling anxious or overwhelmed. For some, the pain and uncertainty we are experiencing can start to turn in suffering. There is some exhaustion that comes with having life “turned upside-down” and not being able to engage in normal activities. We may not be in as much control as we like. Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, has developed distress tolerance skills to help manage actual or perceived emotional distress. Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance skill that can be utilized to keep pain from turning into suffering.

Linehan states “radical acceptance rests on letting go of the illusion of control and a willingness to notice and accept things as they are right now, without judging.” Understanding and practicing radical acceptance can help reduce suffering while also increasing a sense of personal freedom.  It can be hard to accept difficult things, yet when we stop and accept reality, our suffering is less. The best way to understand and remember radical accept is the phrase “it is what it is.” Although that may not feel like the best answer right now, it can provide the start to accepting the situation and making it feel more manageable.

Have you ever misplaced something, such as your wallet or headphones? You go to check where you always leave them and they are not there? And then you go look around some more, but continue to check where you know you left them, but they still remain not found? This is non-acceptance. We eventually accept that they are not there, retrace our steps, and find our missing items. This is radical acceptance.

It’s important to understand that radical acceptance is not approval of situations, but understanding that there are things that we cannot change right now.  It is a way of accepting something cannot be changed.

Resistance to accepting a situation causes pain that usually turns into suffering.  This can lead to distress. Here are a few ways to practice radical acceptance in daily life:

  • Acknowledge that you may be fighting reality (ex: it shouldn’t be this way)
  • Remain mindful of physical sensations throughout your body (tension and stress)
  • Acknowledge that life is worth living, even if there is temporary pain right now
  • Repeating to yourself: “I accept this moment as it is” and “Although I and/or my emotions are uncomfortable, I will get through it”
  • Understand that the moment is precisely as it should be even though I may not like it

It is up to you to decide if you want to accept reality as it is, or try and fight against it. Remember that acceptance is not approval, and that’s ok.  If you are struggling with acceptance, and you notice the impact on your stress, anxiety and mental health, please reach out, there are therapists, social workers, and staff that can provide support and help you through these challenging times.

Written by: Meaghan Warner, LCSW-S