Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is a skill we teach in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that aims to help you move from anger and pain to acceptance of the realities of life. It is the key to feeling more in control of your emotions. We all face situations in life that interfere with our mental health and overall happiness and learning how to radically accept them can make a profound difference in your life.

Acceptance doesn’t mean approval; it means that you simply notice what can help you deal with painful situations and reduce suffering. It’s likely you’ve experienced a fight with a friend or a breakup with a romantic partner, right? Have you spent days and months blaming yourself or the other person, denying it was over or making excuses for why it shouldn’t have happened? This is a cycle of suffering that leaves you feeling anything but happy. When we learn skills to manage our emotions and accept the realities of the situation, we are able to heal, and learn, from the experience.

How Radical Acceptance Improves Your Mindset

Our minds love to focus on what we can’t control: the past, invalidation we’ve experienced or trauma endured. This isn’t because you’re not trying your hardest to make things better; you probably are! Our brains are often conditioned to focus on the negative thought processes, even though it isn’t effective. “If I worry or obsess I will feel better” your mind may say. At one point in your life you learned that this helps you feel in greater control. When we start to learn DBT skills, especially Radical Acceptance, we create new thought patterns that are more effective for managing these limiting beliefs and we become better at managing intense emotions. All of this makes it possible to heal and build a life worth living.

In our groups, a common misconception is that radical acceptance means that you approve of what happened, and thus, will become passive or lose your motivation to change things in other areas of your life. This is fear-based thought. The truth is, you can’t change the situation, but you can change how you want to live your life. Eventually you can change how you feel about the situation. Ongoing practice in accepting the things we cannot change ultimately shifts our emotions into a more neutral zone. If you can be less reactive, you suffer less, helping you be more at peace.

Radical Acceptance and Helping Self-Esteem Takes Practice

When you practice acceptance in everyday situations you become more comfortable and less stressed by events that impact your mood. Practicing when you are less emotionally dysregulated helps your mind remember the skill of Radical Acceptance when a crisis does occur (and it will).

I was stuck in an unexpected storm the other day. My umbrella broke due to high winds and I was soaking wet. I didn’t believe that the umbrella was broken at first. I forced it to open (which didn’t work); I blamed myself for not having a back up umbrella (who does?); and finally after my shoes were filled with water, I realized I was avoiding the reality of the situation: this isn’t working so I threw it in the trash. It was only after I radically accepted what was occurring that I could problem solve. I looked around and had the idea to go under the awning near me to keep dry. Once I made it there, I was able to think of my next move and realized I could hail a cab. I certainly didn’t like the situation I was in, but once I accepting things as they were, it opened up opportunities for me to figure out how to change the situation.

No matter how big or small the crisis, one thing that you can do today is make an inner commitment to try and accept it. If someone is running late to meet you, if your favorite team is losing or you forgot something at home, practice radical acceptance.

As the thoughts come to tempt you to blame someone, yourself or deny reality, try and turn the mind. Radical acceptance is something you have to do over, and over, and over. The good news is, if you practice turning the mind towards acceptance, eventually you’ll feel more confident and in control of your life.


Authored by:  Emily Roberts, MA, LPC