Radical acceptance is a transformative skill we teach in our San Francisco Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills group.
If you just so happen to have my skills training book, when you get up to go get paper, go get your skills training manual. If you don't have the manual but you've got the handouts, well go get your handouts. And there are two pages. On the first page you're going to have Radical Acceptance, Turning the Mind. We're going to be going over.
Therapy is usually focused on change. And of course, you will work on change in therapy. But sometimes there are things in life we can’t change, or can’t immediately change. Sometimes we need to accept what feels unacceptable to lessen our suffering and figure out how to move forward.
Part 1 of this series on radical acceptance explores the concept of radical acceptance.
This post explores how to radically accept. Because understanding the concept is one thing, doing it is another.
The first step towards radical acceptance is awareness that you are resisting reality. Sometimes this is obvious, but other times it’s subtler.
Clues that you might be fighting reality:
Once you’ve recognized that you are resisting some truth in your life, the next step is to turn your mind toward acceptance.
‘Turning the mind’ is a DBT skill that supports radical acceptance by helping you turn away from resisting reality and turn towards acceptance.
You don’t have to go from resistance to acceptance – often that’s too big a leap. But you can make an internal commitment to stop fighting what is.
Turning the mind is about choosing to radically accept, which is often the precursor to acceptance. It is becoming willing to accept.
When you are fighting reality, your body may be tense. It’s not uncommon to tense the muscles of the shoulders, face or stomach when you’re resisting something. Tight muscles work against relaxing into acceptance.
The first one is called Willing Hands.
While sitting, relax all the muscles in your arms and then turn your palms facing upwards, resting them on your lap. Notice if that shifts anything in your body.
The second one is called Half-smile.
Making sure your face muscles are relaxed, turn the corner of your mouth up slightly. Notice how that feels and if that moves you towards acceptance.
Even if you’re not able to radically accept, try acting as if. If you did radically accept, what would you do differently? How might you feel?
If I radically accept something, it means I’m giving up
When you practice radical acceptance, it does not mean that you stop working on things you want to change. It’s not about passivity. But the only way to work effectively towards change is by fully and completely accepting what is.
Radical acceptance is saying that whatever bad things happened to me are ok
Practicing radical acceptance does not equal approval, forgiveness or even compassion.
Radical acceptance is a process
Usually, radical acceptance is not one-and-done.
Radically accepting that it’s raining outside when you planned to go on a hike isn’t too challenging. You can probably accept it, feel disappointed and move on.
If you’re working on radical acceptance of something very painful, though, you will probably have to radically accept over and over.
If you lost someone you love, or are dealing with a chronic illness, it’s normal to go in and out of acceptance. Each time you notice that you’re fighting reality, remind yourself you’re not doing anything wrong and gently shift your focus towards full acceptance. Let whatever emotions arise move through you.
This is the path to freedom and peace.
Call (415) 310-5142 to get started with therapy in San Francisco. We offer individual therapy, couples therapy and adherent DBT.
Behavior analysts have been called mechanists, and behavior analysis is said to be mechanistic; that is, they are claimed to be aligned with the philosophy of mechanism. What this means is analyzed by (a) examining standard and specialized dictionary and encyclopedia definitions and descriptions of mechanism and its cognates and (b) reviewing contemporary representations of the mechanistic worldview in the literature on the philosophy of psychology. Although the term mechanism and its cognates are sometimes an honorific (e.g., “natural science”), their standard meanings, usages, and functions in society, science, psychology, and philosophy do not aptly characterize the discipline. These terms mischaracterize how behavior analysts conceptualize (a) the behavior of their subjects and the individuals with whom they work and (b) their own behavior as scientists. Discussion is interwoven throughout about the nature of terms and definitions in science.