Radical Acceptance: What It Is and Why Using It Can Help, Part II

In the previous article, we focused on Radical Acceptance and some examples of how it can be used. Now we will look at how to utilize radical acceptance step by step.

Step 1: Observe That You Are Fighting Reality. To change any behavior, we must first note that we are doing said behavior. Fighting or questioning reality may look like any of the following:

“It shouldn’t be this way.”
“Why does this always happen to me?”
“I can’t stand this! You are wrong!”
“It’s always going to be like this!”
Feelings of bitterness, anger, annoyance, and avoidance of emotion.

Once you have observed that you are fighting reality, you can move toward change.

Step 2: Remind Yourself That Reality Is What It Is. Speak aloud or to yourself that this is the reality, and it cannot be changed. You can adopt a mantra if you’d like, such as ‘Everything is as it should be,’ ‘The situation is “__________” (state facts),’ ‘Reality is “__________” (state facts),’ etc. Remember that when we say that reality is the way it is, we are not condoning it or letting others off the hook. We are simply acknowledging that it has happened or is happening.

Step 3: Remind Yourself That There Are Causes for Reality. Radical acceptance can be a bit easier if you are willing to understand the causes of the reality. Some believe that when we note the causes of reality, it is really just “making excuses” for the behavior. Remember, you can acknowledge what led to the reality without condoning any of the behavior. Without understanding the causes of behavior, it’s actually more challenging to change the behavior, so look at the history that has led up to the reality.

Step 4: Write Out the Pros and Cons of Radically Accepting. Writing out the pros and cons of accepting is a great way to organize your thoughts on paper. For example, a pro of radical acceptance may be an increase in peace, and a con may be that it will bring up emotion for you. Remember that when we do pros and cons, it isn’t necessarily about which part has more or fewer points. It is about the short-term and long-term consequences of each point. Ask yourself, “Which points are going to get me to my long-term life-worth-living goals?” and “Which points will move me away from reaching my long-term goals?”

Step 5: Practice Accepting with The Whole Self. We are talking about accepting not only with the mind but with the body and the spirit. Practicing Radical Acceptance is practicing letting go of what we can’t control. When we try to control and protest reality, our muscles tense up. When we practice accepting with our body, it may literally mean noticing when and where we are tense and allowing our muscles to relax (paired or progressive muscle relaxation can help with this!) Accepting with the whole self can also look like:

Mindfulness of breath
Visualizing a place in your mind that feels safe
Half-smiling and Willing Hands (see more on this below)
Using positive self-talk and affirmations

Step 6: Practice Opposite Action. Opposite action is acting opposite of your action urge. For example, perhaps you have the urge to yell at your partner. Opposite action may look like speaking nicely to them. Opposite action of avoiding your emotions may look like you spending just a moment to notice them. Opposite action is just as it sounds! So, with radical acceptance, there are a few ways to practice opposite action, including:

  • Acting as if you’ve already accepted something (this is kind of like “faking it till you make it”)
  • Say out loud over and over that you radically accept the thing you are trying to accept. If you
    are having difficulty with this, try repeating, “I make a commitment to radically accept __________” over and over.
  • Place your palms face up in your lap (aka willing hands) and bring the corners of your mouth slightly up while relaxing your face (half-smiling) while thinking or stating the above statements over and over.
  • Imagine yourself accepting whatever it is you are trying to accept.

Step 7: Attend to your body. Notice the sensations that arise in your body while you think or state what you are trying to accept. For example, you may want to direct attention to spots in your body where you feel tension or scan your body slowly to notice sensations and curiously ask yourself, “Hmmm, what is going on here?”

Step 8: Allow Grief, Disappointment, and Sadness to Happen. When we truly radically accept something, feelings of sadness, disappointment, fatigue, and even grief can come up for you. This makes perfect sense! We are noting what is actually happening, and when we do that, we will notice that perhaps we have lost something, such as loss of autonomy, your childhood, or someone you love dearly. Remind\ yourself that these emotions are temporary and that there is usually a sense of peace and relief that follows that sadness. In addition, try the following:

  • Just noticing the sadness/disappointment/grief come up
  • Do not try to suppress or distract from it
  • If there is anger that comes up after noting the sadness, note that you may be falling out of
    acceptance and that anger may be trying to block your processing of sadness
  • Do your best to let anger go (maybe saying to yourself, “I am allowing this anger to arise and float on by”)
  • Breathe into where you feel the sadness arise within you
  • If it becomes too much, utilize distress tolerance skills such as temperature, paced breathing, paired muscle relaxation, exercise, or distraction.
  • RETURN to the sadness later while practicing radical acceptance again.

Step 9: Acknowledge that Life Can Be Worth Living Even When There is Pain. Pain is inevitable. Whether it is the loss of a friend, physical health, or security, we will all experience it at one point in our lives. Acknowledging that our lives do go on and that we will experience joy at some point once again is one of the central tenants of radical acceptance, and if we can keep it in mind, we can more easily radically accept things we can’t change.

Most of this article was taken from Marsha M. Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition (2015).


Shelby Milhoan, LCPC

Posted in ,