Radical acceptance is a concept that I use quite regularly in order to help me cope day to day and to challenge negative thoughts and feelings. It is a concept that you will most probably hear associated with DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy), as it falls under the module of distress tolerance within its framework. I myself learnt the skill of radical acceptance during my time in a DBT programme and it has been an invaluable skill that has helped me in many areas of my life, so I figured it would be a useful thing to share!
What Is Radical Acceptance?
As the module, it falls under hints at, radical acceptance is normally used to help a person tolerate distress and deal with unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Life can be quite unpredictable at times. We may often find ourselves in distressing situations that we genuinely can’t change and so are required to process what is occurring and accept it, in order to reduce our suffering in that given moment. It sounds quite simple, but in a heightened state of emotion, alongside our automatic learned responses to stressful situations, it can be quite tricky to implement! Especially, if it goes against how we usually deal with things. However, what’s so great about this skill is that almost everyone can benefit from knowing about it, even if you don’t have a mental health problem. We all have to tolerate distress at some point in our lives, as it’s pretty much an inevitable part of existence. So, having this skill in our toolbox can only be a helpful addition, even if some people don’t end up needing to use it that often.
So, When and Where Can I Use Radical Acceptance?
Anywhere and everywhere! Radical acceptance can be applied to many areas of life. For example, I am very particular about being on time to appointments, meetings, classes etc. So when something happens that prevents me from being on time, such a traffic jam, it can cause me significant distress. In this situation, I try to acknowledge that what is occurring is out of my control. By ruminating and fretting about it, I am only increasing my suffering in a situation I cannot fix. Freaking out will not make the traffic clear faster, it will only make the experience more unpleasant and distressing. So, I must radically accept that I am in a traffic jam in order to help myself tolerate the situation in a more beneficial way. Sometimes, I find it helpful to say this out loud, so ‘I am in a traffic jam and I will be late, but that’s okay. There’s nothing I can do about this situation right now other than accept it and wait it out. It will be okay, Ellen.’
Radical acceptance does not mean denying ourselves acknowledgement of how we may initially feel in the moment. Awareness of this is actually very important. It allows us to consciously change our responses and accept the situation in relation to how we may react. So, if you know you are more likely to get angry when distressed, then the process you go through to achieve radical acceptance may differ from someone who cries when distressed.
Some other scenarios in which radical acceptance could be applied to might be: radically accepting the anxiety you feel right after an exposure. Yes, it is there and it feels pretty awful, but it must be accepted and tolerated in order for it to pass and for you not to give in to the compulsion. Exams are also a key situation in which this could be helpful. Once you’ve completed and handed in an exam paper, there’s nothing you can do to change your answers or the outcome. So, instead of ruminating over what you could’ve and should’ve done, radically accepting that it is finished and the grade will be what it will be, may help you to have a more relaxed summer break, whilst waiting for results day. Additionally, a very DBT centric example would be radically accepting a self-harm incident. Instead of getting angry and upset at yourself for what has happened, fuelling those negative emotions, by radically accepting it, you will be in a better position to focus on the skills that did and didn’t work for you and figuring out the triggers behind the self-harm. This way, you may feel more confident about how to tackle those urges when they next arise. This is a process though, so please, please be compassionate with yourself. ❤
This Radical Acceptance Thing is Trickier Than it Looks…Help!
Radical acceptance can be quite tricky. I often find it difficult and it sometimes ends up being a retrospective process of looking back on a situation I didn’t handle well and thinking of how I could’ve implemented radical acceptance, alongside other skills in hindsight. I think one of the most important things to do is practice. As with any skill, the more you do it, the easier it should hopefully become. So, please try not to get frustrated if you’re unable to implement this skill straight away. It takes time (which I know is frustrating) to get to grips with the concept and to figure out how best you can use the skill. So, for some people that might be saying out loud the situation and the facts so that they can more easily radically accept what’s going on. For other people, they may need to use mindfulness to ground themselves before they can radically accept the situation. There is no wrong way of doing it. It’s an individual process, so please don’t feel as if your method’s invalid. We all work in very different ways, so if you’ve found a way that works for you, stick with it!
Sooo, hopefully, I’ve explained radical acceptance okay?? It’s a relatively new skill for me too, so if you have any questions or queries please feel free to drop me a comment or tweet me @Ellen_White_.
Also, apologies for my sporadic posting this year. I’ve been so consumed by A-Levels, but I’ve finally finished them as of last Thursday woooo! So, I now have the whole summer free to blog and do all the things. I was thinking about possibly doing live-streams to answer questions about OCD, mental health etc. So, let me know what you think?
Hope you’re all well, I’ll speak soon!