Imagine for a moment that you have been looking for an apartment for months and finally find the one of your dreams. You talk to the landlord and he tells you he will let you know as soon as the tenants leave the house. You wait a week, another and another, until you decide to return to the place to find out what happens. That's when you find the landlord signing a lease with another couple. You get angry and tell him, but he shrugs and ignores the situation. You think this shouldn't happen. It's not right! But it happened, and no matter how angry you get, you can't change it.
Undoubtedly, it is difficult to accept something that is not going the way you would like, but it is even more difficult not to accept it. Not accepting pain causes more suffering because it is nothing more than the interpretation we give to pain and the circumstances that produce it. In such situations it is much more helpful to practice radical acceptance.
What is radical acceptance - and what is it not?
"If I accept what happened, then it means that I approve of it, that in a certain way I feel good about what happened."
"If I forgive the person who hurt me, then it means that I allow the abuse, that I don't love myself enough."
“If I accept the loss, it means there is nothing I can do to change the situation. And this means resigning myself to being unhappy, rejoicing in suffering ”.
Many think that this is what it means to practice radical acceptance. They believe that accepting means giving in, being weak. There are even those who believe that if they don't accept reality they won't feel so much pain. Obviously, they are wrong.
Practicing radical acceptance simply means acknowledging reality, acknowledging what has happened or what is happening, because fighting it will only intensify the emotional reaction.
Accepting doesn't mean waving a white flag and giving up. On the contrary, when you accept reality you take control of it, because you can evaluate if you want or if it is worth changing it. You can say, "okay, this is what's happening, how can I handle it?"
In other words, practicing radical acceptance does not mean passively submitting or resigning, but paving the way for problem solving. If you don't like something, the first thing to do is accept that it's happening, because if you're too busy fighting reality, you won't have enough energy left to change or improve it.
Radical acceptance is a technique that is part of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy developed by Marsha Linehan M., a psychologist at the University of Washington, but it was Tara Brach, a psychologist and teacher of meditation and Buddhism, who made it popular. In fact, radical acceptance has its roots in Buddhist philosophy, according to which it is imperative to abandon the unrealistic expectations that are fueling suffering.
According to Tara Brach, radical acceptance is "clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present, so that we can approach this experience with compassion." Carl Rogers also referred to acceptance: "the curious paradox is that I can only change when I accept myself as I am." And several centuries ago William James wrote: "the acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcome the consequences of any misfortune."
Radical acceptance involves accepting life without resisting all that we cannot change. Therefore, it implies saying yes to life, as it is and as it comes.
When you have a problem, you can fight reality by judging the situation. You may think, "It shouldn't be like this", "it should be this way", "it's not fair" or "why is this happening to me?"
But fighting reality only creates suffering. While pain is inevitable in life, suffering is optional. Suffering occurs when you refuse to accept pain. Deep down, denying reality means fueling feelings of bitterness, anger and resentment.
In fact, neuroscientists at Harvard University discovered that when we can't accept what happened and move on, traumatic experiences remain etched as painful traces in our brains, and every time they are activated they generate suffering.
The risks of refusing to accept reality
We often say "I can't stand it", "it can't be true" or "it shouldn't be like this."
But fighting reality is exhausting and doesn't work. Rejecting what happened doesn't change the situation but adds other negative emotions to the pain we already feel.
Of course, accepting reality is difficult, especially when it is painful. Nobody wants to feel pain, disappointment, sadness or loss. But those experiences are a part of life and when you try to avoid or resist them, you only add more suffering to the pain.
Radical acceptance is a way to stop suffering and take a more active role. It means accepting that life is full of experiences that we like and others that we don't. In fact, when you run away or try to avoid sadness and pain, your ability to feel joy also diminishes.
Avoidance of reality can also lead to self-destructive behaviors such as addictions, which can be helpful in avoiding pain in the short term, but only make it worse in the long run.
Radical acceptance proposes to transform ruminant thoughts into accepting thoughts, such as: "I'm going through this situation, it's painful and I don't like it, but I realize that I can't change what happened and I know that in the future I will be Well".
Radical acceptance takes a lot of practice
Radical acceptance takes practice. It is not easy to accept that traffic is a nightmare, that it starts raining the day you want to go to the beach or that you fell ill just before the holidays.
But practicing total acceptance in everyday situations will help prepare you to accept even the most difficult circumstances in life, such as the loss of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious illness, or serious economic failure.
These situations will always be difficult and painful, but accepting them means you can begin to heal. Resisting reality delays healing and adds suffering to the pain you already feel.
How to start practicing radical acceptance?
Life offers you many opportunities to practice radical acceptance. If you have a problem to solve, you can start there. If you decide you can't solve it, try changing your perception of the problem, your attitude and expectations about it. If you can't change your perception of the problem because it really comes as a blow, then apply radical acceptance.
Start by focusing on your breathing, the thoughts that come to your mind about the situation, thoughts like "it's not fair" or "I can't stand it". Analyze how those thoughts exacerbate negative feelings and make you feel worse. Take note of those thoughts and emotions and don't cling to them, let them pass as if they were clouds.
Then, repeat in your mind: "it is what it is". Repeat the mantra several times. Assume that what worries you has already happened, that it is already part of the past and can no longer affect you, what affects you are the thoughts and emotions it generated.
At this point, you need to know that you will continue to experience different emotions that will not disappear in one fell swoop, but gradually they will be less intense and certainly will not last as long as if you just deny the reality.
In addition to alleviating suffering, another benefit of radical acceptance is that you will spend less time thinking about the problem or situation, because when you assume you can't change it, your brain starts to "disconnect" it.
In fact, people who practice radical acceptance often feel lighter and more relieved, as if a burden has been lifted.
With total acceptance the pain does not completely disappear but the suffering dissipates. And as you stop suffering, the pain will be more bearable. At this point you will be able to do something, change what you really have control over.