As 2018 comes to a close, I look back on the passed year with its challenges, triumphs, disappointments, and celebrations, and feel called to write about one of my most favorite DBT skills – that of Radical Acceptance. Radical Acceptance does not allow for regret or self-flagellation. It allows for complete and utter acceptance that what has gone has gone, what is done, is done, what is, is! Radical Acceptance allows for an internal place in both mind and body to be completely in acceptance of reality.
For many Radical Acceptance is a difficult skill to grasp. There are times when pain cannot be avoided but suffering can. I tell my patients that suffering is inevitable and that we CAN choose the level of our suffering. Using DBT skills CAN reduce the level of our suffering. People may have a misperception that Radical Acceptance means approval of a specific situation. In fact, this is not what Radical Acceptance is about. To the contrary, Radical Acceptance is about accepting reality for what it is without judgment – with pure and total acceptance that nothing can be done to change a situation. It does not mean that you sanction or agree with a specific situation. Rather that you can acknowledge a situation for what it is – the death of a loved one, the eviction notice, the loss of a job, things not working out the way you think they ‘should’.
My husband and I love to travel to places around the world and it is in the challenges of our travel escapades that my use of the Radical Acceptance skill becomes invaluable: Missing flights, losing luggage, getting sick and being unable to crawl out of bed on the day a giraffe calf was born (a rare sighting on the African savannah), as well as accidents and broken bones. Whatever may happen, the good, the bad, Radical Acceptance has helped me overcome strong negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, disappointment, and anger. It has helped me accept whatever comes my way for being exactly that – a fully embracing acceptance of reality. IT IS WHAT IT IS!
The first part of Radical Acceptance is ‘turning the mind’ towards radically accepting situations, places, and people. The skill begins with knowing that radical acceptance will alleviate suffering and any negative emotions and responses that may result.
A rather mundane example is that of going to the dentist. This is not something I particularly enjoy because it can be painful, uncomfortable, and expensive – depending on the amount of dental work needed. But because I do my best to take care of my health, dental hygiene is a component of this. So I have to Radically Accept that this may be uncomfortable, painful and expensive. It is useless fighting this – and far easier to accept that this is what it is. Learning to create that space inside ourselves to fully accept ‘what is’ exactly as that.
As we begin a New Year, my hope is that you too can learn how to embrace the skill of Radical Acceptance. I guarantee that by doing so, this skill will decrease your suffering as well as offer you a greater path to peace and tranquility.
Dr. Michele Lob PsyD., MFT, CEDS