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What is Radical Acceptance? How to Fully Embrace Yourself?

What is Radical Acceptance? How to Fully Embrace Yourself?Updated on September 21, 2020 | Published on November 17, 2019
Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, Psychiatrist

What is Radical Acceptance? How to Fully Embrace Yourself?

In a world where people are falling into unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking, smoking, rebelling without a cause, and binge eating, accepting yourself without judgment is the first step towards a healthy and happy life. The term ‘radical’ means ‘all the way’ and radical acceptance is literally accepting your mind, body, and soul for the way they are.

Essentially, it is self-love in its purest form. Radical acceptance is when you let go of how life should be and accept how it is. It is allowing yourself to be non-judgmental about yourself and your life. When you stop rebelling against your reality or pushing it away, you let it flow. Instead of complaining or getting bitter about it, you start accepting things, radical acceptance sets in.

There is so much more to learn before you start practicing radical acceptance, and it’s only after you accept the reality that you tap on your new life and improved life. Read on to understand everything related to this practice.

Radical Acceptance Definition


SUMMARY
To put it simply, radical acceptance is based on the thought process that reality should be accepted rather than fought against. It should be taken precisely for how it is rather than how you would like it to be.

The practice was originally developed by Marsha Linehan, a giant in the field of psychology. It stands for the notion that reality should be accepted, even if it is painful, sad, hurt, or bitter. You do not have to fight it or rebel against it; you just have to breathe in and accept it.

For example, when you lose a loved one or go through a bad breakup, sometimes, your mind is not ready to accept your reality. Some people try to flow through it while others indulge in self-destruction. The latter happens when you are not prepared to accept the situation. This is when radical acceptance steps in.

As easy as it sounds, many of us often lose our control over our thoughts and feelings, especially when life turns hard on us. However, one must remember that things won’t stay the same way forever. You can change your circumstances and your reality.

So, what’s the best way to change your reality? By accepting it first and then looking for ways to improve it. Thus, radical acceptance is the first step towards living a fulfilling life.

Why Don’t People Accept The Reality?


SUMMARY
People who accept their reality have already accepted the situation that puts them into pain or reminds them of the same. People who fail to recognize their reality are usually attached to an idea, or a person, or anything that makes them deny the situation for what it is and accept the things that they want to be true, but aren’t.

Another reason is that people do not want to feel pain. They would instead go numb or fight with themselves rather than breathe and let the situation pass through them. People must remind themselves from time-to-time that pain is a part of life, suffering isn’t.

Tara Brach, a celebrated psychologist, wrote one of the best books on radical acceptance. It is titled ‘Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, and has helped more than a million people in practicing radical acceptance.

Tara guides and helps people to let go of feelings of shame and guilt and accept themselves, with the power of meditation. Anyone who is suffering in life must buy this book and transform his or her life.

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If you are struggling with accepting the core tenets of radical acceptance, it may be worth picking up the book, or even consulting other resources. And if all else fails, you must connect to a trained, professional therapist.

What are the Main Components of Radical Acceptance?


SUMMARY
There are many underlying issues in a person’s life that affects his or her behavior. Sometimes, it is hard to accept reality because that would also mean facing their issues. This can be quite devastating at first, but with self and/or professional help, the other side is full of healing and self-acceptance.

Some of the characteristics or components of radical acceptance include:

  • Understanding that there are a few things that you cannot control in life
  • You know that you need to acknowledge the situation before accepting it
  • Being kind towards yourself
  • Being non-judgmental about your situation
  • Knowing that things will pass soon
  • Being mindful of the situation and trying to live in the present moment
  • Motivating yourself to get past the situation
  • Accepting things as they are

It is a bit tough to accept the reality of a situation. It requires a lot of practice, self-help, and professional help to achieve the point of radical acceptance. However, once achieved, it won’t seem like a task to you. You will be free from your own mind and struggle.

NOTE
There are certain misconceptions about radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is not condoning behaviors. It is also not putting a hold on your needs. 

People who do not deny, ignore or judge situations or emotions. There is no situation or emotion as good or bad. They just exist, waiting for you to accept. People who do not listen to their hearts do not practice radical acceptance.

How To Practice Radical Acceptance?


SUMMARY
Life is tough, and there are countless painful things that can happen to you. However, there are also good things that make your days better—this is the first step to change your mind. Bad things come with good things and vice-versa.

If it is hard for everyone to change their mindset, but once done, it seems like a cakewalk. If you are struggling with many emotional reactions, then remember this formula:-

“Pain + Non-acceptance = Suffering.”

You do not have to wait for a situation to go out-of-control before accepting things for how they are. Here are a few steps that will definitely help you find your way to radical acceptance.

Different ways to practice radical acceptance
Different ways to practice radical acceptance

1. Try to Put the Finger on Your Brain Pattern  

Unfortunately, most of us have a brain pattern that involves negative thinking and an attitude of suffering. This often results in self-destruction, anger, sadness, and disappointment, and other painful emotions. The real suffering happens when we are unable to accept pain in our lives. 

One needs to break the pattern. These patterns have been rooted in your childhood and are always a part of your subconscious behavior. Therefore, one will have to identify the triggering behavior, traumas, and greatest pains of their lives, such as a loss, breakup, or any other unpleasant experience to release them. You can start with meditation, journaling, self-realizing, and exploring new ways to get to the root of your issues.  Once you do that, you will start healing your inner child, and thus, you will find peace and calm within you.

2. Practicing Non-Attachment 

Once you come out of your trauma, you shall focus on the fact that nothing in the world is permanent. Things will change, so will your life, for good or bad. Thus, it is highly important to stay attached to any person or thing in your life. In the end, it’s just you, and thus, non-attachment is the way to follow in order to accept yourself and situations around you.  

Suffering is the result of an attachment to a person, thing, or idea once you accept that it’s nothing but an illusion, you will get through it. 

3. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT

The word ‘dialectical’ means balancing or comparing two contradictory things. If you tend to self-sabotage your life without seeing any solution to it, then it’s high time you consult a professional. 

One of the solutions that professionals suggest practicing radical acceptance is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. It is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, which helps in the treatment of borderline personality disorders, such as suicidal tendencies, self-destructive behaviors, and other mental illnesses.  

Under DBT, the professional interacts with the patient to get an emotional reaction out of them. And this is the reason why the expert emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment. Many a time, people exhibit extreme emotions after their deep-rooted issues are pointed out. Eventually, they start feeling better about themselves and start accepting their reality. 

4. Practicing Gratitude 

One way to relax your mind is to be grateful. Studies have shown that you cannot be angry and grateful at the same time. The best and most natural way to accept your reality is to be grateful all the time.

With a little practice, you will also grow to be a great manifestor and attract abundance in your life. You can start by writing five things you are grateful for every day. Slowly, you will start noticing changes in your brain. It will also balance serotonin levels in your brain, which improves your mental health. 

5. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT

Under this therapy, the patient is counseled through his or her issues using clinical behavior analysis. Under this therapy, acceptance and mindfulness are used in various ways to help people meet their true selves. Once people can understand the whys and hows behind their negative emotions and thoughts, their behavior changes, and they learn to accept situations rather than running from them.

Start journaling all your thoughts, exercise at least three times a week, meditate, eat a healthy diet, and keep your thoughts clear—these are a few natural ways to practice self-acceptance.

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If you have been practicing the above four points for a few months and still not seeing any difference in your behavior, then perhaps it’s time to seek help from more people. Consult more professionals, doctors, and self-help tutorials to address and completely transform your behavior.

Coping Statements to Deal with a Negative Situation and Accelerate Radical Acceptance


You must speak to yourself kindly and send your brain certain messages to help it cope with the situation. Some of the radical acceptance coping statements are mentioned below:

  • I can’t change what happened, but I can learn from it.
  • I only have control over myself. Thus, I will accept this and let things flow.
  • This is the reality, and it is what it is.
  • I am in the present. I will be happy with it.

What Does Not Constitute Radical Acceptance?


SUMMARY
Any situation where your mental health is deteriorating, like tolerating other people’s bad behaviors, ignoring a bad situation, and ignoring your own feelings does not constitute radical acceptance.

To avoid any confusion, it is important to clarify what radical acceptance doesn’t comprise and doesn’t mean. It is not approving of the bad situations that have unfolded in your life. Neither it is withholding your feelings and emotions towards these unexpected changes.

Rather, radical acceptance is acknowledging your fears and feelings, and at the same time, accepting that you cannot change everything.

Additionally, radical acceptance is not:

  • Categorizing or judging situations as good or bad
  • Tolerating or forgiving behaviors
  • Giving up what you need
  • Ignoring a situation or worst, denying it
  • Never stating your thoughts and feelings
  • Mistaking acceptance as equal agreement

It is imperative to identify what doesn’t comprise radical acceptance because any confusion in this matter can have a seriously negative impact on your mental well-being. For instance, radical acceptance does not mean ignoring a bad situation or your own feelings and thoughts.

Living in a situation where someone is abusive to you is not radical acceptance. These behaviors can have immensely long-lasting negative effects, and it is important that one learns to distinguish between them and radical acceptance.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Radical Acceptance


Now that you know what radical acceptance is and why people do not accept it widely, let us talk about a few scenarios where it can be extremely helpful and certain scenarios where it is not. Keep in mind, accepting or not accepting these situations is contextual and you need to judge what you need to do very carefully.

Because radical acceptance is extremely useful and can help you fight depression, anger, and free you from being stuck in a loop of negative emotions, but it can also have negative consequences when it is not done correctly or when it is applied in a wrong situation.

When is Radical Acceptance Helpful?


SUMMARY
Radical acceptance is helpful when your spouse cheats on you and you are finding it difficult to come to terms with reality. If you feel like you are being mistreated at work, or dealing with the death of a family member – radical acceptance is helpful in these cases as well.

  • Suppose your partner cheats on you with one of your closest friends. It is perhaps one of the most hurtful and trickiest situations you would ever be in. On one hand, you feel betrayed by the person you loved, and on the other, you feel deceit from a close friend. However, you must accept that this situation is beyond your control.

    Trying to ‘solve’ this situation would simply trying to rebuild your friendship and getting your partner to stay with you. But, none of this will take away the hurt and betrayal you feel. That heart-wrenching pain would still be there. And, nothing would ever go back to normal.
  • Another quite possible situation could be at your workplace. You spend years working hard at your job, and when the time comes for promotion, the social butterfly who barely works a full day gets it. What can you do? You can be angry and miserable.

    You can try to reason with your superior. You can complain to whoever will listen about how unfair the choice was. Eventually, everyone would accept the change and move on. They would stop listening to you. You would stop venting out how you feel, and that anger would stay bottled up.
  • One more situation where you could possibly use radical acceptance is the sudden death of a loved one or unexpected estrangement. If someone, a friend or a family member, decides to move on and away from your life without a reasonable logic, it will not only emotionally hurt you but also create a void.

    You could try to ask them to stay, you could ask for an explanation, or you could try to change your perception. Either way, the loss of trust and the void won’t bring them back. Similarly, when a sudden demise of a loved one hits you, you could cry for days and be depressed. You could feel like your life is on a stand-still. But, is that going to change anything?

In all these situations, radical acceptance is obvious and the only choice. It implies that you accept the situation for what it is and learn to walk away instead of trying to change things beyond your control. It implies, while you are understandably upset and heartbroken, you choose to heal and strengthen yourself.

Infidelity, betrayal, rejection, lack of appreciation, and departure of a loved one are all very strong emotions. When you are faced with any of these, the instinct of your mind and body is to be defensive. However, accepting these emotions and understanding that there isn’t anything you can do is the only way to let go and move on.

Also, it is important to deal with emotions as and when you face them. Being in denial and avoiding facing them would not only keep you stuck in the negativity but would also hamper your mental well-being. Radical acceptance is your only way out of negativity.

Radical acceptance doesn’t have to be limited to the above-mentioned situations though. And, it doesn’t have to be used only in crises. A powerful tool such as this can be used to cope with childhood traumas, things that upset you like your career, city, or anything else about your life, as well as insecurities.

As a matter of fact, radical acceptance can also be used as a temporary solution to problems that may not be solved for now but may change in the future. For instance, suppose you are miserable at your job and hate your boss, but you have certain financial commitments – loans, EMI, or a child’s education. Quitting the job can cause disruptions in your commitments.

So, by accepting your current situation and the need to stick to the job, you save yourself from a bigger problem. In the future, you could always look for a chance when you do not have any further commitments. Or, who knows, maybe your boss would quit.

Please check out this video to understand how radical acceptance changes everything –

how radical acceptance changes everything

When is Radical Acceptance NOT Helpful?


SUMMARY
In a situation where working out the solution to a problem might make you happier, radical acceptance is not the right tool to be used.

Of course, radical acceptance is all about accepting things for what they are. However, certain situations are in your control. You don’t have to choose it every time. In fact, there can be moments when radical acceptance is just the opposite of right.

Imagine, the apartment you live in or the city you live in makes you unhappy. You don’t want to live here, and you have all the possible means to make a move. But, you simply choose not to because you are perhaps too lazy to take action.

Accepting to stay in an unpleasant situation when you can get out of it isn’t radical acceptance. It is an excuse to not do what needs to be done. It is about rejecting reality. And, radical acceptance is all about facing reality.

It must be noted that radical acceptance talks about accepting a situation that cannot be changed or the changes that are beyond your control. It doesn’t ask you to accept negativity if there is something you can do to change it. It doesn’t ask you to use acceptance as an excuse for your inability to take practical actions.

Radical Self Acceptance – The Most Important Tenet of Radical Acceptance


SUMMARY
Radical self-acceptance means accepting yourself for who you are and moving forward with your goals without worrying about your imperfections.

Besides accepting negative situations, radical acceptance also teaches one to accept themselves radically. Radical self-acceptance means that you acknowledge who you are and you are happy with it. It involves accepting your flaws, just as much as it is about celebrating the whole idea of you. 

It is true that no one is perfect, but as human beings, we tend to struggle with the concept. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets in life. Most of us spend a lot of time trying to correct these flaws or change ourselves to fit in with some imaginary ideal. 

Radical self-acceptance teaches us to love the whole of our personality, even parts of us that we are not capable of changing. It means no saying things like, “I will go out more once I lose weight.” Or “I would make more money if I can network more.” 

Instead, radical self-acceptance tells us to stop worrying about whether we are good enough or not, and focus on pursuing our dreams and goals. It teaches us to stop creating barriers and hurdles to our own progress. Radical self-acceptance also means telling yourself that you are going to start living your life now, whether you have any flaws or not. 

It should be noted that radical self-acceptance gets easier as one gets older. Some people manage to do it naturally as well, while others may have to work hard for it.

What Happens When You Do Not Embrace Radical Acceptance?


SUMMARY
There are three alternatives to radical acceptance: solving the problem, changing your perception of it, or staying miserable forever. 

There are very few alternatives to radical acceptance. If there is a problem in your life and you are not ready to accept it and live with it, you can try to change the circumstances so that the problem is solved and you no longer have to deal with it. You can also try to change your perception of the problem. Or, the last and worst option is to remain sad and miserable about it forever. 

Of course, the last option isn’t really an option. No one should have to live with something they do not wish to. Generally speaking, one should try to solve their problems to the best of their abilities. Radical acceptance does not work in situations where you have the ability to make changes related to your environment. 

If you know that you cannot solve a problem, your next option is to change your perception of it. However, this option is not necessarily any better than radical acceptance. Simple things that are not complicated and easy to work with can be tackled with this method. For instance, if you are stuck in traffic, there is tremendous value in changing your perception of the situation. 

In fact, in such cases, a mixture of changing your perception and radical acceptance can be extremely helpful. But in many complicated matters, such as the death of a loved one, or a partner’s betrayals bring about many complicated emotions that may not be so easily dealt with by changing one’s perception. In such cases, radical acceptance seems to be the only way going forward.   

Radical Acceptance Books


To understand radical acceptance better and incorporate its principles in your life, you can read the following books:

  • Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach
  • Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love by Andrea Miller
  • Radical Self-Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame by Tara Brach

Radical Acceptance Quotes


1. “Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind, and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness. Radical Acceptance directly dismantles the very foundations of this trance.”

― Tara Brach
“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness. Radical Acceptance directly dismantles the very foundations of this trance.”
― Tara Brach

2. “The renowned seventh-century Zen master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom is being “without anxiety about imperfection.”

“The renowned seventh-century Zen master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom is being "without anxiety about imperfection.”

3. “What would it be like if I could accept life–accept this moment–exactly as it is?”

“What would it be like if I could accept life--accept this moment--exactly as it is?”

4. “We might begin by scanning our body . . . and then asking, “What is happening?” We might also ask, “What wants my attention right now?” or, “What is asking for acceptance?”

“We might begin by scanning our body . . . and then asking, "What is happening?" We might also ask, "What wants my attention right now?" or, "What is asking for acceptance?”

5. “On this sacred path of Radical Acceptance, rather than striving for perfection, we discover how to love ourselves into wholeness.”

“On this sacred path of Radical Acceptance, rather than striving for perfection, we discover how to love ourselves into wholeness.”

Final Thoughts

The ultimate goal of radical acceptance is to progress towards self-growth and let go of the past. When you stop clinging to the past and release your deep-rooted issues, you do not force yourself to do anything. Many people experience an awakening, healing that transforms them completely. Life becomes better once you practice radical acceptance effortlessly.

If you haven’t accepted your reality, you haven’t truly met yourself. In a nutshell, radical acceptance is the first step towards mental and emotional healing.


Radical Acceptance: FAQs


What are the 3 blocks that prevent radical acceptance?


1. Not wanting to let people off the hook for their mistakes. 
2. Fear of being misinterpreted. Believing that accepting will mean you agree, when in reality, you don’t.
3. Feeling that you need to stay angry to protect yourself.


Why is radical acceptance important?


1. It helps us accept things as they are.
2. It helps us understand what we can and cannot control in our lives.
3. It helps us be non-judgemental.
4. It helps us let go of pain.
5. It helps us acknowledge the situation.
6. It helps us let go of things and accept reality.


How do you practice acceptance in everyday life?


Radical acceptance can help you deal with negative situations. You can use some coping statements to help with the same:
1. I can’t change what happened, but I can learn from it.
2. I only have control over myself. Thus, I will accept this and let things flow.
3. This is the reality, and it is what it is.
4. I am in the present. I will be happy with it.


Does radical acceptance work for relationships?


In short, yes, it does.
Radical acceptance in relationships can help you persevere and maintain a stronger relationship with your spouse. It helps you accept them for who they are, love them with all their flaws, and make your relationship stronger.