Radical Acceptance: What It Is and How It Can Help You
For many of us, when we believe that something is unfair we tend to become angry, resentful, and blame others or ourselves. This can cloud our judgment, and perhaps lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts and further distressing emotions. Oftentimes we become upset about matters that are very much out of our control.
Here’s an example: A young woman named Katie was driving to work one morning and feeling confident that she would arrive enough to prepare for an important meeting later that morning. However, unbeknownst to Katie there was a massive traffic jam about 5 miles up the highway she was driving on, and it would result in a minimum of a 15 minute delay. That’s certainly an unfortunate turn of events!
So now let’s take a step back for a moment. Let’s discuss a therapy tool called “Radical Acceptance,” which is a form of mindfulness. As the name implies it’s about accepting things as they are in the present moment, even when it means accepting things that appear unacceptable. It means that even when something is unfair, we make the decision to accept it and view the situation non-judgmentally. However, it does not mean that we necessarily agree with what has happened, nor do we condone it. We simply accept it, because quite frankly there may not be much else we can do in a practical sense.
Let’s go back to the example of Katie, who is now stuck in traffic while driving to work. While Katie’s first reaction was to become angry and resentful at the traffic jam that occurred, even slamming her fists on the steering wheel when she first discovered the traffic jam, now she has decided to practice Radical Acceptance. She’s says to herself: “This is the way that it has to be,” and “I can’t change what has already happened.” She even goes so far as to accept her initial angry reaction, as opposed to feeling guilty about it. She is now simply noticing the present moment, exactly as it is, without engaging in the urge to change it in some way or complain about it. She recognizes that the present moment simply is as it is, and it does not need to change for her.
Needless to say, this is a skill that requires practice! If you’d like to try it out, here is what you can do. First, consider a statement that you can say to remind yourself of the concept of Radical Acceptance. A few examples include:
“All the events have led up to now.”
“I can’t change what’s already happened.”
“Fighting the past only blinds me to my present.”
“The present moment is perfect, even if I don’t like what’s happening.”
Or you can also come up with your own statement that you believe is a better fit for you.
You can initially start with situations that you perceive as being mildly inconvenient, such as attending a work meeting, helping your child with a school project, or completing some sort of chore. Remind yourself of your intention to remain present-focused and non-judgmental throughout the experience, and simply observe the moment just as it is. You can also say your Radical Acceptance statement to yourself as a reminder of the concept.
While it may be challenging to practice Radical Acceptance during stressful situations, the rewards are significant. You will likely find that you will have a more positive mindset and more energy to deal with the stressors that are in front of you, as opposed to feeling upset!