radical acceptance

Radical Acceptance: Reducing Suffering on Your Own Terms

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have a confession. I dislike the phrase “It is what it is.” It seems reductive and invalidating. So, it might come as a surprise that I love the DBT skill, radical acceptance, which essentially embraces the “It is what it is” philosophy.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance, as discussed by Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT, is about “accepting life on life’s terms.” As those who study or practice Buddhism can attest, the pain we experience in life is inevitable. There is death and loss, divorce, health concerns, and daily frustrations and disappointments. However, we create suffering (including anxiety and depression) when we choose not to accept all of these realities, when we bump up against them and maintain a narrative that whatever it happening shouldn’t be.

But it is.

Working with Radical Acceptance

Let’s say you’re stuck in traffic or on a subway train that comes to an unexpected halt, causing unanticipated delays in your daily  commute. Since there’s really nothing you can do in either situation (besides potentially find an alternate route if you’re driving), you really have two choices. You can get frustrated and impatient “I can’t believe this is happening, “Not again!” or you can choose to accept the situation “This is happening.” Fighting against the reality keeps you stuck in a loop of discomfort. Acceptance allows you to cope and move on. Maybe you put on some music, call a friend, or open a book on Audible. Maybe you take some deep breaths. Maybe you just let it be.

Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you have to approve of what’s happening. You can dislike it, disapprove of it, and still accept it. It just means you’re not getting  caught up in denying or refusing your reality.

But what if I want to change something?

There are plenty of things in life we can change or can work toward changing. Nothing about radical acceptance implies that you must surrender to everything that happens without trying to improve the situation. Radical acceptance, though, is reserved for what you can’t change or what you’ve determined isn’t worth fighting. It can be used in certain aspects of life over which we have no control or those battles we choose not to fight.

If , like me, you’re not a fan of the platitude, “It is what it is,” you can experiment with other statements that convey radical acceptance. You might say to yourself, “I don’t like this, but it is happening” or “I accept that this is not how I want it to be.” Incorporating radical acceptance can help you cope with distress, regulate your emotions, and experience reduced suffering immediately and over time. 

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