God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Radical acceptance is a skill taught in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, with the main aim of “accepting reality”, even if something seems unfair, unjust, or unforgivable. This tool can be helpful to anyone facing an unpleasant situation or emotion, but particularly for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, anxiety disorders, or eating disorders.
There’s a quote I really like that goes something like this: Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
When I first heard this, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Holding onto anger doesn’t hurt the other person, or make the other person realise they were wrong, or change what has happened. All it does is hurt me. All it does is burn inside me, destroying me from the inside out.
Radical acceptance isn’t about approval. You’re not saying that what that person did is okay. You’re not saying the way you were treated was fair. You’re not condoning poor behaviour. You’re saying, I accept that this is what happened, and now I’m letting it go.
So what is the process of radical acceptance?
Radical acceptance has three stages:
- Can I change the situation? If yes, change it. If no, go to number 2.
- Can I change the way I think about the situation? If yes, change it. If no, go to number 3.
- Radically accept the situation. Acknowledge that this is the reality of the situation, stop fighting it, and accept it.
I can’t change it. I can’t change the way I think about it. How can I radically accept it?
There are lots of other DBT skills that we can use to help us to radically accept a situation. These include (but are not limited to):
- Mindfulness: Using your senses to observe, describe, or participate in physical sensations in a nonjudgmental way.
- Distress tolerance: There are various techniques of distress tolerance that can help here, such as self-soothing, crisis survival, meditation/prayer, distraction, and many others.
- Half-smile: This one is using your physical actions (smiling) to trigger your mind to feel content. It sounds fake, but it actually works!
The most important thing to remember about radical acceptance is that you are doing it for yourself; for your own wellbeing. You’re not “letting someone off” or condoning their actions, you are simply refusing to allow them to continue having power over your emotions. You’re giving yourself the gift of peace.
If you’re interested in learning more about Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, I recommend reading The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook*. This book includes more information on the DBT skills, along with worksheets for you to fill in as you go along.
Have you tried to use radical acceptance before? What helps you to radically accept unpleasant situations or emotions? Let me know in the comments.
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