Radical Acceptance Exercises for Managing Suffering

Accepting the reality of a challenging and adverse event doesn't make it any less painful. However, it allows you to observe the situation from a more relaxed position and to become aware of the aspects over which you do have control.
Radical Acceptance Exercises for Managing Suffering
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 31 March, 2023

“This can’t be happening to me.” How many times have you said this to yourself when, suddenly, adversity appears in your life. Many times, no doubt. At these difficult moments, your brain instantly activates a fierce denial mechanism to try and make you stay afloat. It wants you to keep going no matter what.

Denying an uncomfortable and stressful reality can work for a while. For instance, it’s useful for the individual who now has to see their father who, before, could handle anything, as disorientated and failing to recognize those close to them. It’s also useful for the person who tells themselves that the neglect on the part of their partner is temporary and that, in a few days, it’ll return to normal.

However, sometimes, when what you never wanted to happen happens and it’s real, it’s useless to pretend that it’s not there. That’s because it gradually becomes more evident and there comes a time when you have to know how to handle it. The first step, the most decisive, is to accept the presence of this uncomfortable dimension. For this, there are some useful techniques you can carry out.

“Acceptance is the only way out of hell.”

-Marsha M. Linehan-

girl thinking about radical acceptance exercise
Every existence has its gray parts. Accepting them will allow you to move forward to enjoy brighter moments in the future.

Accept adversity to better regulate your emotions

Marsha Linehan is a renowned psychologist. In fact, she introduced dialectical behavior therapy to the clinical setting. She initially developed this model specifically for patients suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, she later found it to be valid and effective in treating many other psychological disorders.

In her book, DBT Skills Training Manual, she teaches us we often go through more than one hellish period in our lives. According to her, the only way to escape these realities is to go through a period of sustained misery. In effect, if we don’t accept those events and times when everything hurts, we’ll sink even deeper into hellish experiences.

Radical acceptance is a tool that allows us to better understand what’s happening to us. It helps us to accept adverse realities, as well as the difficult emotions that arise from them. Dr. Linehan developed this resource for a specific purpose.

In fact, it’s an ideal strategy with which to facilitate the reduction of unnecessary suffering and enhance the patient’s ability to navigate difficult moments. It focuses on those dimensions that are under their control.

Research conducted by the University of Heidelberg (Germany), states that radical acceptance improves the management of emotional states linked to trauma due to childhood abuse. Indeed, feelings of shame, fear, guilt, anguish, and disgust were significantly reduced.

If an individual doesn’t accept their difficulties, challenges, adversities, and traumas, they’ll develop a great emotional vulnerability, make bad decisions, and will have the feeling that they can’t control anything that happens to them.

Woman with light in mind symbolizing highly focused people
When we accept things as they are, we can make more thoughtful and logical decisions.

How to employ radical acceptance exercises

Exercises in radical acceptance can be both useful and enriching. In addition, they help you shape a ‘wise mind’. This means you develop a more reflective mental approach and are capable of filtering reality from a place of calm, not catastrophe. As a matter of fact, it’s only by doing this that you’ll be able to reflectively cope with your everyday difficulties.

Here’s how to carry out this healthy process.

1. What are you fighting against?

What are you resisting? Many of us develop complex resistance to difficult events that are difficult for us to accept. However, not wanting to see what hurts, frustrates, or contradicts, doesn’t make it disappear, it intensifies it. Heartbreak, illness, loss, disappointment, and the unhealed pain of yesterday will still be present, no matter how hard you try not to recognize it.

Therefore, the first step to carrying out the exercise of radical acceptance is to accept what’s disturbing you and reducing your feelings of well-being.

2. Accept that reality is unpleasant, you can’t change it

You’re powerless against fate. You can’t erase the unpleasant event that’s happened to you from your mind. Indeed, no one’s life or relationships run exactly the way they want them to. Consequently, the unpleasant parts of your existence can’t be changed, they are what they are.

Acceptance guides you to integrate the current moment as it is, without judging it or falling into a trap of anguish that blocks you. Or, by falling victim to the kind of fear that makes you view everything as catastrophic.

3. Find your own emotional acceptance resources

Radical acceptance exercises won’t make the pain go away, but they make it manageable. They allow you to think better, decide more effectively, and focus on what really matters. To do this, you must find the daily emotional regulation and acceptance techniques that best suit your needs and characteristics.

Here are some examples:

  • Relaxation and breathing techniques.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Shaping a more compassionate internal dialogue.
  • Receiving social support from your environment.
  • Physical exercise
  • Using art as a mechanism of emotional catharsis

4. Make a list of what you’d do if the unpleasant event didn’t exist

What would you like to do today if you hadn’t been diagnosed with that illness? What would your life be like if you accepted that your partner doesn’t love you? And, what plans would you make if you started to accept your traumatic past?

Make a list. Write down everything you’d like to do if adversity weren’t present in your life. Then, do it.

5. Recognize that life, despite everything, deserves to be lived

Believe it or not, no one has an idyllic life. Don’t believe what you see on social media. Don’t think that everyone else has a better life than you. In fact, everyone’s existence is defined by both light and darkness. Despite this fact, life is always worth living.

Your suffering, even if it’s overwhelming at the moment, is temporary. There’ll come a moment at which your sadness and anguish will start to subside and you’ll rise from the depths. To do this, you must accept what’s disturbing you and making you unhappy. Remember that, despite the black clouds, there are good times ahead.

You simply need to make sure you request help from trusted professionals to help you heal.

Don’t deny your suffering, try to accept it

If you’ve been allowing your internal voice to tell you that “You don’t have time to think about what’s hurting you now. Deny it. It doesn’t exist. It never happened”, stop. You won’t get far putting on those dark glasses.

It’s true that enjoyment and camouflaging filters prevail in life today. However, dressing up suffering makes us a sick society, one that doesn’t know what to do with the pain of daily life. These exercises of radical acceptance will allow you to empower yourself in the healthy competence of self-care.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Görg N, Priebe K, Böhnke JR, Steil R, Dyer AS, Kleindienst N. Trauma-related emotions and radical acceptance in dialectical behavior therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder after childhood sexual abuse. Borderline Personal Disord Emot Dysregul. 2017 Jul 13;4:15. doi: 10.1186/s40479-017-0065-5. PMID: 28717512; PMCID: PMC5508787.
  • Linehan, MM (2014). Folletos y hojas de trabajo de capacitación de habilidades DBT . Prensa Guilford.
  • Linehan, MM (2014). Manual de entrenamiento de habilidades DBT . Prensa Guilford.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.