This week I want to share one of my all-time favorite skills: radical acceptance. As we all know, pain is part of life – there is no such thing as a pain-free existence. However, suffering is optional. We suffer when we have pain plus nonacceptance of reality. This is why reality acceptance skills are so crucial. Reality acceptance transforms suffering that cannot be endured into pain that can be endured. Many people struggle with the idea of acceptance because they mistake acceptance for liking, approving of something, or giving up on trying to make things better. On the contrary, acceptance can often be a first important step toward change. For example, acceptance that a pandemic is occurring is needed for people to wear masks and engage in social distancing.
Accepting the things that we do not like is never easy, and, it can still help reduce our suffering. To practice acceptance, you may need to find willingness to adopt a stance of acceptance. You may need to turn your mind back toward acceptance many times per day, or even per hour. A personal example might help to illustrate this:
I was diagnosed with celiac disease at the beginning of 2020. I am also a person who tends to turn to food in times of stress. Dealing with this pandemic without the large majority of my favorite comfort foods has been a challenge. I often find myself engaging in all-or-nothing type thoughts such as, “I can’t have anything I want anymore” and “I hate watching everyone else get to have whatever they want when I can’t have anything good.” When these thoughts arise, the challenge for me is to:
- Become mindful (aware) that I am not accepting the reality of my diagnosis
- Decide if I am willing to accept reality in this moment (this is a real decision!)
- Turn my mind toward acceptance
- This often involves changing my thoughts to things like, “Even though this sucks, I’m eating many more healthy foods now and that’s probably for the best,” “I can still have chips!,” and “This is just how it’s going to be now.”
Radical acceptance does NOT mean that you have to change your thoughts such that they are 100% positive. It is simply the practice of letting go of fighting reality. It’s letting go of all of the “I hate this, I can’t stand this, I won’t be able to survive this, This is so unfair, not right, unreasonable…..” thoughts that only serve to keep us stuck and suffering, and instead focus just on acknowledging the reality of the present moment.