Radical Acceptance … …Now More than Ever!

Radical Acceptance … …Now More than Ever!

04/9/21 Laura Gibbons

A year ago when the pandemic started, we likely didn’t think we’d still be here. There were many things out of our control, and many things we tried to regain control of again. Some things have improved, and in other ways we are still waiting for things to get better. Even if we feel there is often little we can do about something, there is ALWAYS something we can do about our REACTION to a given issue.

This is the heart of “radical acceptance.” Whether the issue is big, small, or anything in between, radical acceptance is a concept that, if practiced and applied, is likely to enhance our mental health.

What is Radical Acceptance?
Nearly everyone can relate to a situation in which they overreacted to a given situation. Now, throw in the added element of all the concerns and uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s not hard to see how an already stressed employee could be ready to blow up at any time. Put another way, we all had our own sources of stresses and concerns in the workplace before the coronavirus – THEN came the pandemic on top of everything else! It’s no wonder so many of us need all of the stress management tools we can lay our hands on.

So just what is radical acceptance?

  • Radical acceptance means accepting what is going on; completely and totally. “I cannot do anything about what happened.” Say it. Repeat it. Believe it.
  • Radical acceptance involves accepting the event that is occurring in both your heart and mind. “Thinking” you’re all right with what happened, but then revisiting the issue minutes later is NOT acceptance. Radical acceptance involves moving on. Recognize this might take time.
  • Radical acceptance means you stop fighting reality, you stop blowing your top because reality is not the way YOU want it – and you let go of bitterness. Harmful emotions will only make the matter worse.

There are many things in our work and personal lives that are simply out of our control. Even though there’s something we’d like to do about it, the truth is we usually can’t.  Accepting reality is the case for not only interpersonal matters, but also much bigger issues like financial difficulties, and anxiously worrying about not only when the COVID crisis will end, but the impact it will have on your job.

Think of a work situation, responsibility or task that’s been difficult to accept – something that changed as a result of the pandemic. Why has this been hard to accept? Is there something that could be done differently to cope with this change?

What is it that Has to be Accepted?

  1. Reality. Reality involves the FACTS – the facts about what happened as well as the current facts – facts are facts, even if you don’t like them.
  2. Limitations. There are limitations on the future for everyone – but only realistic limitations need to be accepted.
  3. Cause. Everything has a cause, including events and situations that cause pain and suffering.
  4. Pain. Things simply don’t always go as you had planned. But life can still be worth living, even with painful events in it.

Accepting Reality
There are numerous reasons why it is important to accept reality:

  • Rejecting reality does not change it. Reality is reality.
  • Going forward, it’s possible to change today’s reality, but even then, changing reality requires first accepting reality. Acceptance is always key.
  • Rejecting reality turns pain into suffering.
  • Refusing to accept reality can keep you stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, sadness, shame, or other painful emotions. In other words, refusing to accept reality will only make your current situation worse than it already is. Acceptance is key to healing.
  • Acceptance may lead to sadness, but a sense of calm usually follows.
  • The path out of hell is through misery. By refusing to accept the misery that is part of climbing out of hell, you fall back into hell.

What is most difficult about accepting reality for you?

What Radical Acceptance is NOT
It’s imperative to point out that radical acceptance does NOT mean approving of the reality (what has happened). We all have to accept drastic changes in our lives: loss of a loved one, a job, divorce, or the dramatic ways in which our lives have been altered due to the pandemic. But this does not mean we APPROVE of it. Radical acceptance is also NOT about being passive or against change.

Factors that Interfere with Acceptance

  1. You don’t have the necessary skills for acceptance; you do not know how to accept really painful events and facts.
  2. You believe that if you accept a painful event, you are making light of it or approving of the facts, and that nothing will be done to change or prevent future painful events.
  3. Emotions get in the way. For instance, unbearable sadness; anger at the person or group that caused the painful event; rage at the injustice in the world; and guilt about your own behavior.

Do any of these factors affect your ability to accept reality? If so, what could you differently?

Turning the Mind
An important part of radical acceptance involves turning the mind. Turning the mind is like facing a fork in a road. You have to turn your mind toward the road of acceptance, and away from the road of rejecting reality.

  • Turning the mind is choosing to accept.
  • The CHOICE to accept does not in of itself equal acceptance. It just puts you on this path.

Turning the Mind: Step by Step

  1. Observe whether you are accepting the given situation. Look for feelings of anger, bitterness, thinking “Why me?” or “Why is this happening?”
  2. Take a deep look at yourself and make a commitment to accept reality as it is.
  3. Do this again and again. Keep turning your mind to acceptance each time you come to a fork in the road where you can reject reality – or accept it.
  4. Develop a plan for catching yourself in the future when you drift out of acceptance.

Source: “Distress Tolerance Handout”, from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, Marsha M. Linehan. Part of the EA Report Brown Bagger December 2020/January 2021 included in the Employee Assistance Report, Volume 23, No. 12.

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