Radical Acceptance


By Carolyn Simon, MS, LPC

One thing has become clear in the mental health field: the more we try to fight against our feelings and emotions, the stronger and more prominent they can become. We are quick to label our feelings and situations as “good” or “bad” and can take a judgmental stance when it comes to our emotions: I shouldn’t be feeling this way, this isn’t fair, why am I like this, etc. In turn, this can create a negative loop filled with shame and the desire to control.

When individuals hear the word ‘acceptance,’ they often associate it with being okay or happy with a certain situation or outcome. Radical acceptance offers a different approach and definition of acceptance, highlighting one’s ability to accept a case or circumstance not within your control for what it is. Radical acceptance looks to take a non-judgmental stance where one attempts to look at a situation objectively and rationally see what is, and what is not, currently within their control.

Attempting to fight against reality or not accept a situation outside of your control can result in an uncomfortable internal struggle, and trying to accept challenging situations can take away some pain and anxiety. Individuals can practice radical acceptance on their own or through working with a trained professional. Some skills that can be used to help build and maintain radical acceptance are meditation/mindfulness, identifying triggers, relaxation strategies, validation, reflecting after a stressful situation, mantras, and self-talk. Learning that some of our thoughts and feelings are automatic, and cannot be avoided, can lead to a sense of freedom.

Practicing radical acceptance can be used in a variety of situations: getting let go from a job, going through a breakup, or the passing of a loved one. Radical acceptance doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look to see how we can learn from a situation, yet it can alleviate feelings of sadness and stress that can linger and have negative effects.

Side note: there are certain situations where practicing radical acceptance is not always appropriate. For example, if you are in an abusive relationship, if you are experiencing verbal/physical/sexual harassment, or if you are battling an addiction. 

Mantras and Affirmations for Radical Acceptance

Practicing acceptance does not mean you are giving up or that you are pleased with the situation. These mantras and affirmations can be used as helpful self-talk statements when dealing with less-than-ideal situations:

  • I am actively working to accept this moment, no matter how difficult it may be, for what it is.
  • I can work towards and practice acceptance, even if I feel uncomfortable or anxious along the way.
  • I will get through this situation, just as I have gotten through everything else in my life thus far.
  • I may not like what I’m feeling right now, yet I can accept these feelings are present and try to make myself more comfortable in this moment.
  • I understand that at this moment, my reality cannot be changed, and I can only control what is within my control.
  • Radical acceptance and difficult emotions can be present at the same time, and both of them are valid.
  • I am going to engage with my rational mind to look at the facts of this situation.

Radical acceptance is a practice that takes time, dedication, and commitment. Results will not come immediately and the more you strengthen and practice your radical acceptance muscle, the easier it will become. 

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