What is Radical Acceptance

Life’s problems come and go. One common problem we have all experienced is an inconsiderate driver. Whether it’s the person that cut you off only to slow down traffic or the person that took your parking spot, these scenarios are unfair. Certainly, your initial reaction of annoyance or anger is warranted, but how do we not let this ruin our day?

For the problems and struggles that come into our lives with seemingly no solution in sight, radical acceptance is something to practice.

Radical acceptance is defined as, “accepting life’s terms and not resisting what you can’t or choose not to change.” By combining ancient Buddhist teachings and psychologist Marsha Linehan’s dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) foundation, the concept of radical acceptance was born.

From this perspective, the suffering that comes from life’s struggles is directly related to an individual’s attachment to pain. Ruminating on the fact that you could not get the closest parking spot next to the grocery store can lead to a day filled with unhelpful thoughts.

Pacific CBT's founder John Montopli, LMFT LPCC,  shared a list of negative thoughts that radical acceptance may be a useful in combatting. These thoughts include:

  • This is just not fair.
  • Things should be completely different.
  • Why does this keep happening to me?
  • I can never catch a break no matter how hard I try.
  • I’m never going to feel okay about this no matter what.
  • People shouldn’t act the way they do.

Of course, letting go of feelings such as regret or anger is easier said than done. Those thoughts about traffic may be easier to accept than losing a job or the death of a loved one. In practice, radical acceptance allows you to feel the painful feelings while still involving components of your logical mind. In other words, avoiding pain causes you to also actively not feel joy and happiness.

Through the combination of emotion and logic, a balanced state of mind can be reached allowing yourself to move closer to acceptance. When you are able to see the reality of the situation while finding ways to not let it stop future joy, acceptance has been achieved.

Radical Acceptance looks like:

  • Reminding yourself that reality can’t be changed
  • Practicing mindfulness and watching your thoughts for lack of acceptance
  • Spending time making a plan of action for when you recognize thoughts of nonacceptance

Carl Rogers, the humanistic psychologist, says “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” By learning how to detach yourself from pain, you have the power to prevent your pain from turning into suffering.

About The Author

Rudairo Segbeaya is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. Rudairo received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco in 2018. In 2021, she later received a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.