Radical acceptance is one of the hardest skills in DBT to learn and also one of the most powerful. It is accepting reality as it is, not the reality you want or the reality that is just. It’s acknowledging things as they are. This is not an easy task. We want things to be a certain way and when things don’t go the way we plan we become frustrated, angry, sad and suffer. The principle of radical acceptance is to take our suffering and make it into regular pain. Suffering comes from not accepting reality. If we say "it shouldn’t be this way”, “It’s not fair”, “it’s not right”… We are not accepting it as it is.
I had an experience at 12 years old where I had broken my foot and during a fire drill at school fell down a flight of stairs, breaking my other ankle. I then had to spend three months in a wheel chair. I had also been accepted into a summer dance program at the NYC ballet school, which I was very excited about. That dream was crushed. I was hurt, disappointed and incredibly sad. “It wasn’t fair!” “It wasn’t right!" I spent the first three weeks in that wheel chair feeling miserable. Watching my friends as they walked, ran, danced and moved in ways I couldn’t. Feeling tormented by what I now couldn’t do. I felt helpless, useless and depressed. It wasn’t until I let go of all my feeling about how unfair it was… that I was able to move pass suffering and into the sorrow. I took my suffering and turned it into normal pain.
Radical acceptance is about an honest acknowledgment of what is and a willingness to be with what is in the present moment. It is not the same as approval. Some client’s resist acceptance in fear that if they accept "what is", they are saying they agree with the injustices that have befallen them. Acceptance is not approval. It is only an honest look at reality. We can accept an experience without liking it. I didn’t like being in a wheelchair for three months but accepted the reality of it. Nothing was going to change the fact that bones take time to heal. There is an increasingly well-known adage that says “What you resist, persist”. The more you push something away or run form something, the more it hangs around. This non-acceptance takes pain and leads it to suffering.
For more information on Radical Acceptance check out the link below:
Books on Radical Acceptance: