Depending on the day, life’s twists and turns can take us for quite a ride. Through these twists and turns, our emotions communicate clues that can become gateways to better wellness. One way to connect with our emotions is a practice called radical acceptance. Radical acceptance (also called reality acceptance) is a stress tolerance skill that helps us problem solve in difficult times and grow through situations that are beyond our control. It begins with coming to an understanding that our emotions are neither good nor bad, nor positive or negative. Instead, they are there to help us decide how to deal with situations we experience at any given time.
Dealing with a situation depends a lot on our ability to problem-solve through it. In order to problem-solve successfully, we have to start with accepting the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. Keep in mind that “accepting the moment as it is” does not mean we have to agree, approve of, or like the situation. Doing so would be forced positivity, which is an unhealthy denial of our experience as it is.
Let’s take the pandemic as an example. We don’t have to agree with reactions to the pandemic–and we don’t have to like what’s happening because of the pandemic, but we do have to deal with it. In dealing with it, we have the choice and the ability to make changes in how we react to the challenges we are experiencing. We may not be able to control what is happening in the world, but we can control how we respond to it.
Radical acceptance is a movement in our minds from the rejection of reality to accepting reality for what it is. When we accept reality for what it is, we can bring difficult emotions into our awareness, observe our feelings and reactions, and decide the next constructive thing to do. It can empower us to focus on the choices we have in any given situation, rather than suffer through them.
There are a lot of painful things that happen to us that aren’t our choice, but we can choose to not suffer in them.
The act of practicing radical acceptance takes time to develop and includes several components that work together:
- Accept yourself, your life, and your emotions for what they are–not for what you want them to be.
- Acknowledge what you can and cannot control.
- Observe facts without judgment.
- Focus on what you need to do to cope with reality as it is.
- Adopt a mindfulness practice that can help you live in the present moment.
Life events where radical acceptance can be helpful:
- Situations of loss (loss of a loved one, loss of a job).
- Sudden, sharp turn-in-life plans (divorce, global pandemic).
- A divorce or devastating breakup.
- Loss of a job.
Radical acceptance is:
- A mental process you go through to find a shift in perception.
- A tool that empowers you to focus on the choices you have in any given situation.
- A huge gift to yourself.
Radical acceptance is not:
- Being happy about the situation.
- Endorsement of what has happened/is happening.
- Forced positivity (denial of a situation or the effects of it).
When flooded with thoughts that bring suffering, the following strategies can help make the shift from hopeless to hopeful.
- Based on how I’m experiencing this moment, I may not be accepting things as they are.
- How do I tolerate this moment?
- What are my choices here?
- What can I do in my mind to make the shift?
- What can I tell myself at this moment to help me find acceptance?
Reframe your thoughts:
- Move from “I can’t do this” to “I can do this.”
- A shift from “this is unacceptable” to “I may not like it, but I can accept it.”
Connect with a counselor:
- Talking to a mental health professional can help you learn how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, and regulate your emotions.
Radical acceptance is a valuable skill to have in your toolbox when life - or the world is not exactly how you want it to be.