Radical Acceptance…to accept or not to accept….
One of the four options you have for any problem is “radical acceptance” (Linehan, 1993). Radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.
Imagine that you talk with an apartment manager about leasing an apartment in a popular complex that is completely full. He agrees to call you when the two-bedroom apartment becomes available . You wait for months, then stop by to check with him. When you arrive, he is signing a lease agreement with a couple for a two-bedroom unit. When you confront him, he shrugs. That shouldn’t happen. It isn’t fair. And it did happen.
The pain is the loss of an apartment that you really wanted. You may feel sad and hurt. Suffering is what you do with that pain and the interpretation you put on the pain. Suffering is optional; pain is not.
It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true. And it’s more difficult to not accept. Not accepting pain brings suffering.
Refusing to Accept Reality:
People often say, “I can’t stand this,” “This isn’t fair,” “This can’t be true,” and “It shouldn’t be this way.” It’s almost as if we think refusing to accept the truth will keep it from being true, or that accepting means agreeing. Accepting does NOT mean agreeing.
It’s exhausting to fight reality, and it doesn’t work. Refusing to accept that you were fired, are not making enough money, your health is failing, your spouse cheated on you or your tired of dating and being rejected or disappointed, or that you weren’t accepted into the college you wanted to attend; all that and more doesn’t change the situation, and it adds to the pain you experience.
Accepting reality is difficult when life is painful. No one wants to experience pain, disappointment, sadness, or loss. But those experiences are a part of life. When you attempt to avoid or resist those emotions, you add suffering to your pain. You may build the emotion bigger with your thoughts or create more misery by attempting to avoid the painful emotions. You can stop suffering by practicing acceptance.
Life is full of experiences, some that you enjoy and others you dislike. When you push away or attempt to avoid feelings of sadness and pain, you also diminish your ability to feel joy. Avoidance of emotions often leads to depression and anxiety. Avoidance can also lead to destructive behaviors, such as gambling, drinking too much, overspending, eating too little or too much, and overworking. These behaviors may help avoid pain in the short run, but they only make the situation worse in the long run.
Acceptance means that you can turn your resistant ruminating into accepting thoughts like, “I’m in this situation. I don’t approve of it. I don’t think it’s OK, but it is what it is, and I can’t change that it happened.”
Imagine that you are late for an important job interview. Traffic is especially congested, and you are stopped at red light after red light. Raging at the traffic lights or the drivers in front of you will not help you get to your destination sooner and will only add to your negativity and feeling upset. Accepting the situation and doing the best you can will be less emotionally painful, and likely more effective. With acceptance you will arrive at your interview less distressed and perhaps better able to manage the situation.
Radical Acceptance Requires Practice:
Radical acceptance is a skill that requires practice. The ability to accept that traffic is heavy, that it’s raining on the day you wanted to go to the beach, and that your friend cancels when you had plans to spend the day together is important for coping well and living a more contented life. When you practice acceptance, you are still disappointed, sad, and perhaps fearful in such situations, but you don’t add the pain of non-acceptance to those emotions and make things worse. Practicing acceptance in these situations also helps you prepare for more difficult circumstances.
Everyone experiences losing someone they love. The death of a parent, child, spouse, or dear friend is incredibly painful . Your first reaction may be to say something like “No, it can’t be!” even though you know it’s true.
The death of a loved one will always be difficult and painful. Acceptance means that you can begin to heal. Resisting reality delays healing and adds suffering to your pain. When you practice acceptance every day, you may be more prepared when the most difficult experiences in life occur. So accepting the heavy traffic is about easing your suffering in that moment — and also about being able to decrease your suffering in more difficult situations that may come.
Reasons to Not Accept Reality:
Sometimes people behave as if they believe not accepting something will change the situation. It’s like accepting painful situations or emotions is being passive or giving in. That’s not it. It’s allowing reality to be as it is.
Other times, people don’t want to feel the pain. There are many life situations that are painful and are not in our control. We can’t avoid that pain, but we can control how much we suffer over the experience. Suffering is the part we can control. Our reactions to the suffering we CAN control.
A Place to Begin:
Life gives us lots of opportunities to practice acceptance. If you have a problem that you can solve, then that is the first option. If you can’t solve it, but can change your perception of it, then do that. If you can’t solve it or change your perception of an issue, then practice radical acceptance.
Begin by focusing on your breath. Just notice thoughts you might have, such as the situation isn’t fair, or you can’t stand what happened. Let those thoughts pass. Give yourself an accepting statement, such as “It is what it is.” Practice it over and over again. Acceptance often requires many repetitions. Repetition is key to change.
What’s the key to setting a lasting habit?
Think of learning to tie your shoes, play a musical instrument, or perhaps something as complex as learning to write.
The truth is, we don’t think about these activities much at all.
Once we’ve mastered a skill, it goes onto the backburner of our mind along with all our other habits. Healthy habits offer significant benefits. Our ability to perform multiple tasks at once, such as listening and writing notes, are deeply ingrained habits, paving the way for significant gains in productivity.
Dr. Judson Brewer is a leading neuroscientist and expert in habit formation, mindfulness, and addiction. In Dr. Brewer’s TED talk, he describes the habit formation process as a sequence of “trigger, behavior, and reward.”
A study on the psychology of “habit-formation” published in 2012 by The British Journal of General Practice found that habit formation is reasonably simple. Repeat an action consistently in the same context until it becomes automatic. Perform the desired actions consistently for 10 weeks, and the behavior will become easier and eventually, automatic.
Some of us may remember learning multiplication facts in elementary school. Knowing the facts leads to “automaticity,” something Speech-Language Pathologists and Educational Therapists aim for when working with struggling learners.
Automaticity is a behavior that allows us to perform an action automatically, without even having to think about it. It frees up our conscious attention and mental resources, also known as working memory. Achieving automaticity allows us to attend to more complex matters.
Automaticity can be a double-edged sword. While it can help establish desirable habits, it can also make it difficult to break unhealthy or undesirable ones too. If we’re not aware of our behaviors, we can quickly forge counterproductive habits such as over-eating and self-medicating.
When practicing a new skill, we may fumble, stumble, trip or fall. This happens. It’s part of the process. It’s fine. Don’t give up. Keep at it until the act becomes fluid, and requires minimal effort. The more complex the action, the longer it may take to become automatic.
Keep in mind that practice over time makes a habit. The goal is not perfection. The goal is to channel awareness, efforts, and energy in a way that allows constructive and positive habits to form.
“Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex”.
By:Norman Vincent Peale