Radical Acceptance: What is It and How Can You Put It Into Practice?

Sometimes you find yourself facing difficult situations that are hard to accept. Radical acceptance proposes that you can reduce your pain via its particular way of understanding life.
Radical Acceptance: What is It and How Can You Put It Into Practice?

Last update: 01 November, 2021

Imagine that you’ve been preparing yourself for years to work for your dream company. One day, you feel that the time has come and you ask for an interview. It goes well, even better than you expected. After a few days, they tell you that the position is yours and that they’ll call you later to sign the contract.

You’re ecstatic. You’ve finally achieved that one thing you’ve been wanting for so long. However, the call doesn’t come and your spirits start to fade as the days go by. You end up contacting the company and they tell you they gave the position to someone else more qualified and with more experience than you. How do you think you’d you feel?

You’d probably feel that the situation is completely unfair and you’d experience uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions. These might be anger, rage, frustration, sadness, feelings of defeat, demotivation, and emptiness. You wouldn’t necessarily feel them all at once. However, you’d probably experience all of them, among others, at some point after receiving the unexpected bad news.

The question is: how would you manage these feelings? How would you deal with the whole situation? Perhaps you’d get stuck, going over and over your emotions, anchored in your own suffering without really knowing how to act. Or, perhaps you’d ignore reality and continue with your life as if nothing had happened.

With both of these kinds of behavior, you wouldn’t be facing what happened to you in a healthy way. Therefore, we’re going to talk about radical acceptance. This is a different perspective you can adopt when these kinds of things happen to you.

Radical acceptance

Throughout your life, no doubt you’ll have experienced situations that have been extremely difficult for you to accept. For example, maybe a partner rejected you, you were sacked from a job, you experienced financial difficulties, or even suffered the death of a loved one. Indeed, however, big or small a situation, it can still generate great frustration and suffering.

We all know people who just can’t accept that they failed an exam or were reprimanded at work. In fact, they won’t even acknowledge that someone has sneaked into the queue in front of them at the supermarket. In all these examples, the basis of their suffering is the same. It’s the non-acceptance of reality.

Radical acceptance is nothing more than the willingness to live life as it is, with all its pros and cons. This concept is part of the dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) developed by the psychologist Marcha M. Linehan. It’s based on concepts from cognitive-behavioral psychology as well as oriental Zen practices. However, it was Tara Brach, a psychologist specializing in meditation and Buddhism, who really popularized this technique.

Worried woman

How to put radical acceptance into practice

The first step is to acknowledge reality, whatever it is, and stop fighting it. Because you suffer the most when you don’t accept what happens. You resist and, as a result, you experience deep pain.

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to resign yourself. Resignation is a defeatist option. It doesn’t provide any solution. On the other hand, radical acceptance gives you at least two solutions to the conflict.

Firstly, it encourages you to stop investing your energy in fighting reality and managing your uncomfortable emotions. Then, when you no longer resist, it makes it easier for you to take control of the situation and focus on managing it. Thus, it allows you to be proactive in the face of the problem.

Steps to follow to improve your radical acceptance

Each process of life that causes you pain is different. However, most of these situations will follow a common structure related to suffering.

For this reason, you can apply some basic principles of radical acceptance to help you better channel your pain. They’re as follows:

  • Find a quiet place where you can sit for a few minutes in a comfortable position.
  • Focus on your breathing.
  • Focus on any thoughts that appear related to the situation that make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Don’t cling to these thoughts. Look at them as if they’re clouds passing by. These thoughts aren’t who you are, even though you identify with them.
  • Analyze what emotions they generate in you.
  • Embrace those emotions and let them manifest. They have the function of channeling your frustration and your pain.
  • Repeat a mantra to allow you to better accept the situation. This can be a typical phrase like “It is what it is”, “This is just one more experience in life and I accept it” or “I’m totally at peace with what’s happening to me”. It’s important that the phrase resonates with you, otherwise, it’ll be extremely difficult for you to internalize it.
  • The pain will most likely not go away immediately. However, you can repeat this mantra to yourself as often as you need whenever your uncomfortable thoughts and emotions reappear.
Relaxed woman with closed eyes

What happens if you don’t accept your circumstances?

Rejecting reality doesn’t eliminate your pain. On the contrary, it increases it and turns it into suffering. Think for a moment about the classic example of the person who won’t accept that their relationship has ended, even if months or years have passed since the separation. Their life turns into a downward spiral that can even lead to depression if they don’t address it properly.

This doesn’t mean that accepting difficult situations is easy. In fact, it’s anything but. Going through adverse circumstances is extremely painful. In addition, your instincts can often lead you to deny what happened or not accept it because it hurts less at the time.

The problem is that resisting inevitably increases your pain. For this reason, radical acceptance can be a very useful tool.

In the end, this approach proposes that human life is full of experiences, some pleasant, some neutral, and others painful. Sooner or later, you’ll experience them all. Accepting that life is like this can bring you great relief and a great sense of calm to your life.

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  • Brach, T. (2003) Aceptación radical: Abrazando tu vida con el corazón de un Buda. Madrid: Gaia Ediciones.
  • Dimeff, L. & Linehan, M. (2001). Dialectical Behavior Therapy in a Nutshell. The California Psychologist, 34, 10-13. Recuperado de https://acortar.link/7IYa9y
  • Linehan, M. (1993) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy of Borderline Personality Disorder. Nueva York: The Guilford Press.