Radical Acceptance: Definition, Skills, & Exercises
What is radical acceptance, and why should you learn to practice it? Discover how radical acceptance can impact your physical and mental health and how it can improve your relationships.
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What makes this quote helpful is that it not only discerns between pain and suffering, two concepts we often use interchangeably, but it also recognizes our unique power in the face of challenges. This difference is crucial and can save your life or your relationships.
In this article, we will talk about what allows us to keep pain from transforming into suffering and helps us see reality as it is: radical acceptance.
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What Is Radical Acceptance? (A Definition)
Radical acceptance is accepting what is not under your control and embracing what is happening now in a non-judgmental way. When you wholeheartedly and radically accept emotional or physical pain, it can reduce the suffering they cause.
Marsha Linehan, a leading psychologist who introduced the idea of radical acceptance into Western societies, sums it up beautifully: “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”. It is a “complete and total openness to the facts of reality as they are, without throwing a tantrum and growing angry.” (2020; p. 503)
Lady Gaga shares how radical acceptance changed her life in an emotional and honest conversation about mental health and self-care with Oprah. Talking about how she balances pain and the creative process, Lady Gaga explains that the radical acceptance skills learned in therapy (when practiced daily) helped her heal from trauma and use that pain for her creative process.
Not only does Oprah agree with Lady Gaga, but she gives an insight into what radical acceptance is: “All stress comes from wanting something to be what it isn’t. And it doesn’t change until you first accept it for what it is, and then make a decision about what to do next.”
You can watch the full interview below or you can skip to the minute 19:14 to listen to Lady Gaga and Oprah talk about radical acceptance.
What Is Radical Acceptance Therapy?
Radical acceptance is a skill that helps people who experience difficult situations or intense emotions to accept their reality. Radical acceptance is a skill taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based therapy developed by Marsha Linehan. However, radical acceptance can be learned as a skill and practiced on its own.
“Dialectical” simply means the integration of opposites, the balance between two different ideas. The essence of Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a dynamic balance, a dialectical: acceptance of our life and our situation in life, and embracing change toward a better life. Bringing together two different ideas can enable us to move forward and unstuck from extreme positions (Behavioral Tech; Linehan, 2020).
Dialectics allows opposites to coexist. Marsha Linehan gives an example of how her clients who were traumatized by their parents still want to love them. She argues that dialectics and radical acceptance help the patients because it shows how the parents’ behavior was reprehensible and was caused, meaning that the parents’ behavior was a result of something else happening in their lives. She concludes “I can love a parent and disapprove of her at the same time.” (2020; p. 462)
Therapies that include radical acceptance are designed to stop the clients from having reactive behaviors and encourage them to respond to challenging situations skillfully. For example, it has been shown that these therapies can reduce substance use and relapse (Bowen et al., 2012), anxiety (Roemer et al., 2008), suicidality (DeCou et a;., 2019), and chronic pain (Hann & McCracken, 2014).
As a tool, radical acceptance can help people accept themselves wholeheartedly, increase well-being (Kotsu et al., 2018), and have positive weight loss benefits (Lillis et al., 2016). Acceptance is a central factor in understanding emotional disorders and is a predictor of psychological health in terms of anxiety, depression, stress, and happiness. Furthermore, emotional acceptance is related to resiliency, making people less likely to develop emotional disorders (Kotsu et al., 2018).
But, radical acceptance is a skill that needs practice. It can be challenging to master it. After all, it wasn’t easy for Marsha Linehan either. To learn more about her story and how she started practicing radical acceptance, check out the video below.
Video: On Learning Radical Acceptance
Radical Acceptance Examples
Suffering typically arises from not accepting pain. When reality is painful, it’s natural to try and sweep it under the rug, push it down, or fight against it. However, this strategy only provides temporary relief, and it’s not helpful in the long run.
There are many situations in your daily life where you can practice radical acceptance. For instance, if you’re stuck in traffic or the subway is not working, a typical reaction would be to get angry and frustrated: Why is this happening to me today? I have an important meeting to attend. I can’t believe it. However, using radical acceptance might sound like: Looks like we’re not moving anymore. There is no point in fighting with the traffic. Maybe I can call my friend and catch up or listen to this podcast I’ve been eyeing for a long time. This can help me relax before the important meeting I have today.
While this can be very hard to practice when things get tough, it’s important to keep practicing and being intentional.
How to Practice Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is a skill that may help you cope better with pain and suffering. Here, you can learn more about the steps you can take to improve your radical acceptance skills or to start them (Taitz, 2021).
Radical Acceptance Coping Statements
Radical acceptance is a skill that requires practice and can be difficult to master immediately. Coping mantras and breathing exercises can be very helpful to get you started. For example, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel overflooded, you can pause for a few seconds, breathe in, breathe out, and say some of these mantras.
Here are some coping statements you can use to practice radical acceptance. You can say these mantras out loud or in your mind, but it’s important to keep practicing them when you feel overwhelmed.
Considering that many studies have shown the positive effects of mindfulness and radical acceptance, practicing these strategies is likely to improve your well-being.
Radical Acceptance Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are available to everyone and have many positive effects on our mental health. A meditation practice can reduce stress, make you calmer, and even promote happiness (Mineo, 2018)
Mindfulness and radical acceptance are interrelated processes, as one enlarges the other. You can learn more about these two concepts in the video below:
DBT Skills: Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance
You can cultivate radical acceptance by taking a few minutes to meditate. As you practice bringing gentle mindfulness to pain, your ability to meet life as it is will only grow stronger.
There are many guided meditations on radical acceptance. You can check out the link below and try a meditation by Tara Brach, a leading figure in mindfulness and radical acceptance.
Radical Acceptance Meditation with Tara Brach
Radical Acceptance in Relationships
Many studies have shown how beneficial radical acceptance can be for various conditions, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, eating disorders, and also for the overall well-being of healthy individuals. Considering such positive outcomes of practicing radical acceptance, this skill may be useful too for interpersonal relationships.
In relationships, radical acceptance means loving someone for who they are, no matter what flaws or quirks they may have, in a non-judgmental way.
It is important to note that radical acceptance does not mean accepting abuse, maltreatment, or dangerous situations. For example, if you are sexually harassed at work or your colleague is constantly treating you poorly, radical acceptance does not mean you continue the job and get bad treatment. In cases like this, radical acceptance means acknowledging what is happening, the fact that is unfair, and starting looking for a new job. It is more prudent to try and change the situation rather than simply accepting things as they are.
In healthy relationships, radical acceptance means accepting the other person just how they are right now. For example, your significant other might prefer to sleep with a warm blanket, whereas you really don’t need it. Rather than trying to fight with reality (after all, you know your partner gets chilly at night), you may want to practice radical acceptance and figure out solutions.
In her book about radical acceptance in romantic relationships, Andrea Miller shares how using this tool saved her relationship. She gives five examples of how to practice radical acceptance to deepen our relationships when they are healthy and not abusive (Miller, 2020).
Articles Related to Radical Acceptance
Want to learn more about acceptance? Here are some more articles to read.
Radical Acceptance Books
There are many books about radical acceptance. If you’d like to learn more about this important skill, you can check out the titles below:
Final Thoughts on Radical Acceptance
As you can now see, radical acceptance can be a useful skill for improving personal well-being and interpersonal relationships. Hopefully, the information provided here gives you some ideas for how to practice it in your life.