Radical Acceptance

One mental health technique that I have been thinking a lot about recently is radical acceptance.  According to Psychology Today, radical acceptance is the process of accepting life the way it is, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

When something feels unfair, “it’s almost as if we think refusing to accept the truth will keep it from being true, or that accepting means agreeing.”  But refusing to accept what’s really happening only strengthens our negative emotions, since we’re hanging on to them in the attempt to deny the truth.  When we’re more in control of our emotions, we often react better to the next part of the situation, since we’re thinking more with our brain and less with our feelings.  This is where radical acceptance, a formidable mental health tool, comes in.

I first learned about the concept of radical acceptance when I was having my worst semester of college.  I had overloaded myself with classes and activities, my team was experiencing lots of negativity and interpersonal conflict, and many of my friends were struggling with problems of their own.  To top it all off, my boyfriend broke up with me near the end of the semester.  At this point, I started to feel hopeless, angry, and exhausted.  I went to talk to my therapist at school, and she explained how I could use radical acceptance to deal with my breakup instead of shutting down after it all added up.  I still had a lot of emotions during that time, but using radical acceptance allowed me to get back up and survive the semester.

I believe that radical acceptance isn’t just for those situations where we feel like life is unfair.  We can also use it when a situation is making us scared or anxious.  I did this while I was studying abroad in Spain—I was excited and happy, but often, very nervous.  Often, “the only way out was through”, and I had to accept my discomfort during the moment in order to achieve what I wanted or get through it to laugh about it later.  For example, in learning Spanish, I had to get used to accepting making mistakes, so that I could push past the embarrassment to learn more.

Lastly, radical acceptance is an important concept for everyone to know during the time of COVID-19.  I have read several articles saying it’s normal for us to feel like we’re grieving during this time—we have lost a lot, whether it’s our sense of normalcy or a plan for our summer or fall that we had looked forward to.  While we should be able to grieve anything we have lost to the pandemic, it’s also important to be able to keep living our life.  In this case, radical acceptance could help us reclaim our time, so that we’re not spending every moment obsessively remembering what things were like before the pandemic, and we can make the best of the moments we have now.

Have you ever heard of radical acceptance? Is this something you’ve wanted to, or have ever practiced in the past? Why do you think it can be difficult to accept things for the way that they are?

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