What is Radical Acceptance?


Radical acceptance, a practice rooted in Buddhism, was developed by American psychologist Marcha Linehan, who is widely recognized as the creator of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).  

Behavior of radical acceptance is based on the belief that we should accept the reality around us instead of fighting against it because it is outside of our personal control.

Trying to negate situations in your environment that you cannot change has the potential to result in existential suffering much greater than the triggering circumstances themselves.

Radical acceptance borrows from the practice of mindfulness to encourage individuals to accept themselves and their circumstances as a method for enabling themselves to overcome them in their own way over time. 

Radical acceptance means accepting, without judgement or blame:

  • Yourself and your individual identity
  • Your current situation or circumstances
  • Your life and your reality
  • Factors beyond your control

Practicing Radical Acceptance Daily

Linehan has identified 10 key steps to practicing radical acceptance in our daily lives, increasing our tolerance to distress and avoiding suffering about what we cannot change. These 10 key steps are the following:

  1. Recognize the situations in which you find yourself questioning or fighting the facts of reality
  2. Remind yourself that the unpleasant reality is outside of your control
  3. Remind yourself of the events or causes that led to the current reality
  4. Practice accepting with your whole self (mind, body, spirit)
    *For example, employing accepting self-talk, relaxation techniques, mindfulness and/or imagery to elevate the process of acceptance
  5. List behaviors you would engage in if you were to accept the facts and then engaging in those behaviors as if you have already accepted the facts
  6. Attend to your body’s sensations as you think about what you need to accept; leaning into the physicality of acceptance
  7. Allow for disappointment, sadness or grief to arise within you
  8. Acknowledge that life is precious even with the presence of pain in it
  9. Acknowledge that life can be worth living even when there is pain

  10. Do pros and cons if you find yourself resisting practicing acceptance

The Evolution of Radical Acceptance During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has marked all of our individual realities in the past year. It has created a complex and challenging new environment that each one of us has been forced to learn how to navigate. 

Due to the rapid rate of change and the consequences of phenomena like the recurring lockdowns, the pandemic has truly transformed our traditional practices of radical acceptance

In some ways, it has made practicing radical acceptance a challenge in the face of global crisis. 

However, in other ways, it has helped us foster a new version of reality within which radical acceptance, on a personal level, can actually thrive. 

Despite the horrific events of the COVID-19 pandemic, this global situation has also effectively created the circumstances in which more of us can practice mindfulness and the steps required for radical acceptance, as described in Linehan’s DBT. 

1. This crisis is happening to everyone, worldwide 

Although not everyone around the world lost a loved one or was furloughed from their job over the course of 2020. However, because of the pandemic, most people did experience loss and pain. Recognizing the painful reality in which you find yourself becomes more likely when it is shared with others.

For example, asking questions like “Why is this happening to me?”, which go against radical acceptance, become extremely difficult when the global crisis you are experiencing affects everyone around you as well.  

2. The news is confirming the causes of this new reality

People who struggle with practicing radical acceptance often struggle with coming to terms with the circumstances that have led to their current reality. 

However, during the pandemic year, the causality of current events has been all over the news, all the time. Although different theories exist, you would be hard pressed to find a radio station, TV channel or online media that has not been covering COVID-19 in the past year. 

Unlike pain that has occurred only in our own personal reality, the mysticism of the pandemic reality is curbed by the intense circulation of information about it.

3. Lockdown created a focus on the home, family and your “bubble” 

Consequences of the pandemic, like the series of lockdowns in most major cities around the world, forced us into our homes and asked us to deliberately limit our interactions to the members of our households. 

Isolation and chaining ourselves to our homes certainly has its drawbacks. But, for many people, this shift represented an awakening. The home became a safe space where acceptance of the mind, body and soul could be practiced regularly, through meditation and relaxation. 

In a seemingly uncontrollable pandemic, the home became a space that we could fully control. 

4. Living in a contained environment presents hidden joys 

Moving from a fast-paced daily routine that throttles you from work to sports to events into a quieter, more confined way of life allowed many to focus on the small parts of their days that spark joy. 

If we didn’t have time to notice these hidden joys before, we definitely discovered them during quarantine. Fully changing our routine to adapt to working from home, limiting travel and social distancing can encourage us to make new space for us to practice mindfulness and live in the present moment. 

5. Virtual tools have opened up new opportunities for connection

The pandemic may have confined us to our homes, but it has also normalized simpler forms of communication that we were not accustomed to leveraging before. 

Tools for virtual connection like Google Hangouts, Zoom and Clubhouse were on the rise in 2020. These solutions replaced face-to-face coffee meetings, shared lunch breaks, team-buildings and live events with their online placeholders.

For those of us dealing with social anxiety or stress in crowds, the pandemic year presented new opportunities for us to be social from the comfort of our own couches. With an alternative channel to reach friends, family and even make new acquaintances, those of us seeking connection were able to establish it at a click’s notice. 

6. Being alone forces us to come face to face with our destructive behaviors

Loneliness can be dangerous to radical acceptance. However, it can also represent an opportunity. Like meditation itself, spending time alone can help individuals pay more attention to their thoughts, reactions and sensations.

Instead of trying to escape becoming accountable for your own journey to acceptance, being alone gives us a chance to lean into the exploration of ourselves. 

By focusing on ourselves during quarantine, we effectively allowed our own emotions, instead of someone else’s, to lead our experience of how we spend that time by ourselves.

7. Understanding the benefits of slowing down to protect your community

Pace, multi-tasking, context-switching- and juggling —these are all behaviors that were a badge of honor before the pandemic hit. In our professional and personal lives, these ways of being were praised above all others. 

Suddenly and from all directions, slowing down became the new recommendation. Working from home, limiting your use of public transport, and resisting your urge to travel became ways that individuals could make a difference in their communities. 

For many, slowing down, without judgement or condemnation from those around them, became a vehicle for progress further along the path to radical acceptance.

8. A chance for reinvention

Having a clear idea of who you are, what you want, and what you care about are pivotal to effectively navigating your reality with confidence. 

The socioeconomic shifts as a result of the pandemic have carved out space for new virtual businesses, working from different locations, home schooling and many, many other novel ways to approach daily activities. The events of 2020 have reshaped our culture giving individuals a chance to reshape their role within it as well.

Within this new reality, there is space for reinventing ourselves and experimenting with our routines to find what works for us. Seizing these opportunities and adapting will come down to whether we can evaluate who we truly are and develop a stronger sense of our own identities in the name of radical acceptance.

Radical Acceptance is a Journey

No single path will always lead us to true, radical acceptance of ourselves and our realities. 

By any means, a global pandemic is certainly not anyone’s recommended path towards moving through and past the pain we can’t control. 

However, whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has so dramatically shifted our established reality that it has given us pause to explore new opportunities for going through the steps toward radical acceptance on our own terms.

Whether we choose to lean into these new spaces and adapt them to our advantage is up to us. 

About the Author

Melissa Reeve is the creator of theorangenose.com – a website that explores Orange Noses – those things that make use different, in sometimes uncomfortable ways. Melissa’s Orange Nose is being 6’2″, which makes her ‘stand out’ in a crowd. The site explores both visible Orange Noses, such as physical traits, as well as less visible Orange Noses, such as trauma, diseases, mental conditions or debilitating fears. theorangenose.com is a safe place to explore topics, share stories and embrace #radicalaccpetance. Melissa strives to bust the myth perpetuated by our society that “normal” has a single definition and one look.

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