Radical Acceptance

It’s exhausting to fight reality, and it’s not an effective strategy for feeling better or moving forward.  “I can’t stand this”, “this isn’t fair”, “it shouldn’t be this way”, are thoughts that contribute to our suffering.  Pain is inevitable, but our thoughts can escalate our suffering, making things worse. Radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what we can’t or choose not to change.

It’s important to note that accepting doesn’t mean agreeing.  Refusing to accept that your spouse cheated on you, that you were fired for something you didn’t do, that you weren’t offered the promotion you were hoping for, or that a loved one died, doesn’t change the situation but it adds to the pain of our experience.  Accepting reality means we turn our resistant, ruminating thoughts into accepting thoughts, such as “I’m in this situation, I don’t approve of it, but it is what it is and I can’t change what happened”.  This helps the brain get unstuck – there is no problem to solve, no situation to replay, nothing to change or do different.

Imagine that you are going to be late for an important interview, there is an accident on the freeway and traffic is terrible.  Watching the clock and worrying about just how late you are going to be and raging at the other drivers will not help you get to the destination any sooner, and driving like a maniac could make things worse.  These types of thoughts and behaviours will likely stress you even more.  Instead, focus your energy on what you can control – accepting the reality of the situation will be less emotionally painful.  With acceptance thinking, ‘it is what it is, there’s nothing I can do about it’, distracting by listening to music, and calling to let them know you’ll be late, likely means you will arrive at the interview much less stressed.

It is difficult to accept what we don’t want to be true, but it is actually harder on us psychologically when we do not accept reality, as non-acceptance brings suffering. When we practice acceptance, we are still sad, disappointed, hurt, angry, fearful, depending on the situation, but we don’t add the pain of non-acceptance to these emotions and make the situation worse.

Resisting reality delays healing and adds suffering to our pain, it keeps us stuck and prevents us from moving forward.

Life gives us lots of opportunities to practice radical acceptance: if we have a problem we can solve, then solve it.  If we can’t solve the problem, but can change our perception of it, then do this.  If we can’t solve it, or change our perception of it, this is where we practice radical acceptance. Start by focusing on your breath, then notice thoughts you may have, such as the situation isn’t fair, or you can’t stand what happened. Let these thoughts pass, don’t add fuel to them, instead give yourself an acceptance statement, ‘it is what it is’, ‘ or ‘whatever will be will be’, or ‘I will get through this’.

Acceptance is a skill people learn, and it requires practice.  It sometimes feels counter-intuitive, like we are giving up, giving in or giving our power away.  Remember, acceptance isn’t about agreeing with a situation, acceptance is about freeing ourselves from an emotional burden, as what we resist, persists, and what we accept, changes. Acceptance is the path of least resistance, where resistance leads to frustration and feeling disempowered.