A Beginners Guide to Radical Acceptance

(March 21, 2022)

You are awake and it’s 2:03 in the morning.

Your alarm is set to go off at 6 am. You say to yourself “ok, if I fall asleep right NOW I can get 3 hours and 57 minutes of sleep” How do you feel? Anxious? Stressed about the following day? Not a great recipe for sleep. 

Now picture this: You are awake, and it is 2:03 am. Your alarm is set to go off at 6 am.  You say to yourself “I am having trouble sleeping tonight and that’s ok. If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, tomorrow might be hard, but I will get through it. I may not get enough sleep tonight, and I may be tired tomorrow” Does that make you feel less anxious? This is an example of radical acceptance.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance, developed by Marsha Linehan as a part of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, is the act of accepting experiences as they are, and not trying to force change. This can mean accepting the fact that you are feeling depressed, accepting that you are feeling let down by a friend, or, even accepting that you might not get enough sleep. The idea behind radical acceptance is if we accept that we have pain, we limit suffering. When we radically accept our own emotions or experiences, we feel more in control.

Radical acceptance is active and takes practice.

This does not mean accepting situations that are negative or dangerous to you, like an abusive relationship, or situations where assertiveness is an option to improve the situation, like a toxic friendship. 

Here are some ways to practice radical acceptance in your own life: 

  1. Accepting that an experience has caused you pain. We have all experienced forms of emotional pain. However, fighting against the pain or bottling it up can cause the pain to feel worse later. Instead, you can say to yourself “This experience hurt me and that is ok. I can heal”.
  2. Accepting that you are anxious or depressed. Anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression knows that these two things can be episodic. Some days are better than others. If you wake up one day feeling more anxious or depressed, the instinct can be to try to force yourself to feel better. Instead, try accepting the fact that you feel anxious or depressed that day. This can allow you to better operate within the confines of your mental health needs.
  3. Accepting that your boundaries are important. A lack of boundaries can cause us to feel taken advantage of and can even be dangerous. Sometimes, setting a boundary feels scary and can create feelings of guilt. Radically accepting that you need those boundaries to exist in a relationship can help you to feel more confident in getting your own needs met.
  4. Accepting an intrusive thought. When we have a negative thought, our instinct is often to try to not think about the thought. This can give the thought power and makes it stick around. Instead, try thinking of the thought as a breeze on a windy day. It blows into your head, and you can give it permission to blow right back out. If you accept that the thought exists, you give it less staying power.

Radical acceptance can feel uncomfortable at first. Our instinct is to fight pain, not to accept it. But, when we fight against something, we often cause pain to ourselves. Try using radical acceptance in small ways, and see what happens!

Are you or someone you love struggling with mental health? Interested in learning more about radical acceptance? Email or give us a call today at 217-203-2008 to schedule an appointment!