Radical Acceptance

January 15, 2017 in Stress and Coping
by Valerie Siegman, M.A.

There can be frustrations and disappointments that show up like unwanted guests in our daily lives. These frustrations can morph into real suffering for us as we ruminate over the past, wallow in self pity or willfully stay passive when action is needed. Like an old worn out song, we tantrum, we demand things to be different or we stay stuck in our own version of how things “should be” despite having experienced them over and over again. Those realities that cannot be changed and may require a skill called radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in her quest to answer the question; why do some people get destroyed by suffering and other people grow through suffering? Dr. Linehan studied and researched saints, holocaust survivors, survivors of torture in South America and people who had experienced abject rejection. What set the destroyed apart from those who grew was one trait in particular. Those who grew despite adversity somehow seemed to find a way to radically accept that suffering had come. They somehow knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t be denied. In addition, those who grew seemed to accept the pain in their lives as well as the mundane, the exciting and the joyful in their lives.They seemed to accept whatever moment they were in. She named this learned ability “Radical Acceptance” because it had a deep, committed quality to that acceptance. Since it was not a trait she naturally possessed, she decided to learn how to do it.

First, she acknowledged the barriers and misconceptions surrounding it. A common misconception is that people accept things in their lives that aren’t facts, such as “I’m a rotten person.” This would be a judgment - and judgments are not facts. Another misconception is that if you radically accept something, you are also approving of it. Radically accepting something or someone does not mean you are approving of the event or their actions. What has to be accepted is the actual facts about the present and the past and reasonable probabilities about the future. Limitations on our future are caused by factors that have occurred in our lives. If we don’t change the factors that limit us, we cannot change the reality of our future. We have to be careful not to accept distortions or judgments, exaggerations or unlikely limitations.
Next, she learned to mindfully accept the exact moment she was in - without judgment or rumination about the past or worry about the future. She recognized her wishes, desires, wants and demands as she was experiencing them,then purposefully shifted her focus from her wishes, desires, wants and demands to just that one thing: right now. For example: If you are washing dishes, wash dishes. Without judgment. If you are baking with family, just bake; without judgment. Be aware of when you are expecting more of someone or of a situation and keep turning your mind back over and over again towards radically accepting the moment simply as it is. Just this moment.

How can this apply to you? What and who do you need to radically accept?

Watch how your negative emotions decrease as you mindfully accept just that which needs to be accepted; turning your mind back to acceptance over and over. It’s never too late to free yourself from self-pity,rumination and judgmental thinking and to create a new song. It takes practice and commitment to learn how do it - and it’s worth it.

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