I went to a retreat this past weekend – a recovery workshop for women. Two and a half days of fellowship and meetings centered on the spiritual journey and learning to rely on other women in our recovery.
It was a fantastic weekend, but it was draining for me. I’m an introvert (I’m sure you’re surprised), and the constant human interaction was exhausting. There were moments when I had to retreat from the crowd and go back to my cabin for some quiet time.
I accept this part of my nature – this introversion – easily. I like being an introvert. I’ve found great depths of strength in solitude and quiet time.
There are other parts of me that I do not accept so easily – like being an alcoholic/addict. Like being bulimic. Like being a cutter. Those things come with shame and guilt. They are much harder to accept.
But acceptance, especially radical acceptance, is a powerful tool. Acceptance allows me to get past the suffering I feel when I dwell in the pain of a situation or circumstance.
Pain + non-acceptance = Suffering
Radical acceptance is a skill taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). According to the Huffington Post, radical acceptance is:
- Acceptance of things as they are.
- Understanding what we can and cannot control in life.
- Being non-judgmental.
- Looking at “just the facts” of the situation.
- Acknowledging our situation.
- Letting go and not fighting against reality.
- An ability to tolerate the present moment, even if it’s painful or uncomfortable.
- Mindfulness of our emotions and allowing ourselves to lean into the discomfort of painful emotions. (remembering that no feeling lasts forever and if we can sit with them, they will eventually rise and peak on their own-much like ocean waves).
Radical acceptance does not mean being okay with or agreeing with what is going on. It does not mean that you don’t get to assert your thoughts/feelings. It doesn’t mean that you give up your needs or that you condone poor behavior.
Radical acceptance simply means that you accept the situation or circumstance as it is without judgment.
Take, for example, my alcoholism or my bulimia. I am not okay with either of these diagnoses. I can choose to deny them, dwelling in pain and suffering, perhaps continuing to drink and purge – or I can radically accept them.
How? How do I accept something so dark about myself? Wouldn’t I want to change it? To ignore it? To pretend it’s not a part of who I am? The thing is I’ve tried doing all those things, and it has only prolonged my suffering.
Radical acceptance has been especially helpful for me when it comes to my eating disorder. I do not like the way I look. There are times when I do not like the fact that I have a body at all. Practicing radical acceptance helps me look at the situation (being human and needing food to function) without judgment.
Practicing Radical Acceptance
- Notice that you are fighting reality. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Whenever I feel restless, irritable, or discontent, there is something in my life that I am not accepting. Other times, it’s more subtle – like when I slip back into codependent behavior and start trying to get people to change the way they think, feel, and behave. Noticing that something is wrong is perhaps the most important step in radical acceptance. Self awareness is key.
- Practice “turning” your mind. This step usually takes some effort from me. Usually when I am struggling against something, the last thing I want to do is turn my mind towards acceptance. I want to fight whatever it is that has me disturbed. I want my way. I want to be right! This step isn’t about acceptance, though. This step is just about willingness.
- Tune into your body. I don’t know about you, but I get really tense when I’m resisting something. My shoulders go up to my ears, and my stomach turns sour. Pay attention to the cues your body is giving you, and try to consciously relax where you are tense.
- Act as if. Even if you’re not ready to fully accept your situation or circumstance, act as if you did. Imagine how differently you would feel. Think about what you might do differently.
Radical acceptance is about acknowledging reality and accepting what seems at first unacceptable. You must set aside judgment and look at reality as it is. Once you’ve accepted reality – really accepted it, you’ve given yourself the power of choice.