Imagine what it would feel like to completely and utterly accept a situation, individual, or life itself. Perhaps even the thought of this visualization exercise triggers feelings of fear. While it’s not always easy, learning how to practice radical acceptance without judgment and release control can lead to a happier, more fulfilling life. If it already sounds like a challenge, you’re not alone. We’ll guide you through this exercise step-by-step to explore whether this mindful tool might be the next best step for you.
What Is Radical Acceptance?
In it’s simplest definition, radical acceptance involves accepting your emotions, thoughts, people, and life’s events. When you radically accept, you acknowledge and accept the current reality, even if it causes pain or discomfort. Doing so allows you to build emotional resilience, move forward, and accept things as they are without judgment or resistance.
What Are the Origins of Radical Acceptance?
Interestingly, the theory of radical acceptance originates from Buddhist teachings. Yet the term was first popularized as a principle of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan to help those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Those with BPD have long-term patterns of intense emotional reactions and often use maladaptive coping mechanisms to combat self-image issues, intrusive thoughts, tumultuous relationships, and impulsive actions. Therefore, DBT uses mindfulness and emotional regulation strategies to teach people to ground themselves, develop better coping skills, regulate their emotions, and improve their overall well-being.
What Can Radical Acceptance Be Used for?
Since DBT combines mindfulness and other research-based tools, radical acceptance has now been proven to help those with various conditions beyond BPD, including:
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal behavior
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance abuse disorder
Even if you aren’t experiencing any of these conditions, you can still learn how to practice radical acceptance to discover how to regulate your emotions and anchor yourself in the here and now.
How to Practice Radical Acceptance
Here are the 10 principles of radical acceptance and how to practice them according to its founder, Marsha Linehan.
The opposite of acceptance is resistance. It may look like, “I can’t believe this is happening. This isn’t fair. What’s wrong with me?”. It can also show up through the word “should” (I should have done that), thinking you would only be happy if (insert wish) happened, or trying to control other people’s behavior (“If you were more understanding, maybe I would be nicer to you”). Therefore, the first step is to observe when you resist or fight reality through self-talk and actions. Keep a journal to note when the resistance occurred, where you were, and what was happening to develop an awareness of your triggers and patterns.
2. The reality
Remember, being willing to accept something doesn’t mean you condone or agree with the painful situation. On the contrary, instead of replaying it in your head or trying to change the outcome, you recognize what happened and free up space and energy to improve how you respond: no more should-of, ifs, or could-of. Acceptance allows you to find new perspectives and solutions to ease the suffering. So, we can tell ourselves “This is what happened”.
3. The reason
Reflect upon the situations causing you pain and consider the decisions, contextual factors and events. After practicing the prior steps, your mind may objectively see the causes. For example, perhaps you played a part, or someone else did. Yet, assigning blame, whether towards yourself or others, won’t help you. So, ask yourself, how can I reach the point of “This is how things occurred, and that’s okay“.
To embrace acceptance, practice with your entire body, self, and soul. For example, increase your mind-body connection to discover where you’re holding resistance. Perhaps you feel tension in your neck or shoulders or experience recurring headaches or an upset stomach. When you notice this pain, acknowledge its presence, release it with palms facing upwards or one hand over your chest and the other on your body, and repeat powerful affirmations like “This too shall pass” or “May this serve self-love, healing, and compassion to myself and others”.
Now, it’s time to put acceptance into action. For example, jot down the behaviors you would change if you accepted the facts and practice the behaviors as if you accepted reality. For example, if you’re upset about your breakup, act as if you accepted the outcome and behave like you did when you were single. What did you do each day? Did you start your day with a workout at the gym, journaling, or mindful meditation? Think back and write a list.
Think about what you do not want to accept and imagine what you would do if you embraced what appears impossible or too painful. For example, imagine how your life would look, feel, smell, hear, and taste if you accept the situation. We can’t consider acceptance if we don’t practice visualization to envision what we could achieve if we let go and move forward.
Like the “Practice tip”, attend to your body and observe what’s happening when you imagine accepting the situation. How do you feel? Where do you feel the pain? As you attend, practice grounding techniques to center you as you learn how to challenge any intrusive thoughts that may arise. For example, as you notice the painful sensations and thoughts, breathe and let them go instead of assigning blame towards yourself or others or holding onto resentment.
Thinking about a painful situation will inevitably cause a wave of grief, sadness, loss, or intense emotions. It’s natural. So, when this occurs, notice the sensations and allow them to come and go like passing clouds in the sky. They are temporary and won’t last forever – they are just one of the many lies anxiety loves to tell us. You can even practice rain meditation to balance your emotions to calm your nervous system and practice responding rather than reacting.
We often believe we need to avoid suffering at all costs to achieve happiness. However, a significant part of radical acceptance stems from mindfulness and Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, said, “Without suffering, there cannot be happiness”. This quote means experiencing pain is unavoidable and a part of our human condition. But if we accept it rather than resisting pain, and we are willing to learn the beautiful lessons it brings, we can experience life, the good and the bad, with self-love, compassion, and ultimately achieve happiness.
10. Pros and cons
Unfortunately, the process of radical acceptance doesn’t occur overnight. You will face several circumstances and situations where your ability to accept and move forward will be tested. In fact, you may even find yourself back at square one — resistance — and that’s okay. Just bring your attention back to what’s happening and practice the above steps to consider choosing acceptance.
Remember, learning how to practice radical acceptance isn’t a quick fix. It’s an ongoing practice that will create resistance and setbacks. But continue to observe, acknowledge, and apply mindfulness to increase your self-love and compassion amid the painful moments.
This post contains affiliate links.
Did you find these tips on how to practice radical acceptance helpful? We’d love it if you shared this post on Pinterest!
Looking for more mental health therapies and various coping mechanisms? Make sure to follow our Mental Health board on Pinterest!