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Radical Acceptance

Posted on Mon, Nov 23, 2020 By:
Posted in: blogMental Health & Mindfulness

Here in Calgary, we’re in the middle of navigating a 2-week period of targeted health measures with enhanced restrictions to social gatherings. We are halfway through and alot of people are saying it’s just going to get more restrictive.

Are you feeling, like me, overwhelmed with uncertainty and lack of control? That no matter how much hand sanitizing and social distancing and masking I do, I’m still not able to guarantee a favorable outcome? And there’s nothing more I can do?

When I get to this point, I realize there is only one thing I CAN do. And that is called RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical Acceptance is a distress tolerance skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Linehan, M.3) that provides people with an option for coping with difficult hard-to-control events and/or emotions. And it’s called Radical, because it’s hard.  But it’s also possible, with alot of determination and practice.

What radical acceptance is NOT1:

– it is not deciding that you like the situation or emotion,
– it’s not avoiding or denying the situation or emotion,

– it’s not a manipulative strategy so that things will turn out the way you want them to

Radical Acceptance IS1:

– accepting that the situation or emotion IS WHAT IT IS

– accepting that life deals us situations that are hard and/or unfair but believing that overall, it’s worth the effort

– coming to accept reality with your body, mind, soul, and spirit2
– not a linear process but rather a continuous journey where moments of non-acceptance are mediated by a renewed intention towards acceptance2

Acceptance is more about letting go of your attachment to your desired outcome and accepting life just as it is in this moment. Once you accept reality for what it is, only then can you focus on the changes you need to make, which are within your control. The more we reject the reality of our experience the more difficult it becomes to cope with it or change it”2.

Is there anything you’ve been fighting against for which radical acceptance may be helpful? Seems to me, so many of the challenges we have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic would benefit from a stance of radical acceptance. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, radical acceptance is neither easy nor common sense for many of us. We want to problem-solve our way through crisis and exert our resources to change what we don’t like. What does it take to come to a place of Radical Acceptance? Here are a few suggested steps from Marsha Linehan:

Steps to Radical Acceptance3:

A. Noticing what I am fighting against: all-consuming fear of the unknown; beliefs that “it shouldn’t be this way3“, “this is not right or okay”, uncertainty about what is right or wrong in this situation; fear of the future; powerlessness to change the situation.

B. Reminding myself that I don’t have to like this situation, but it is as it is and I cannot change it3

C. Acknowledging the events that led up to this experience and the reasons for the current reality. “This is just how things happened”3 

D. Noticing what thoughts, feelings, physical sensations arise within as I sit with the facts. Allowing these to show up without judging them.

D. Identifying ways to accept this reality with my mind, heart, body and spirit. Trying a mindfulness practice (mindfulness of emotions); deep breathing; positive affirmations (“I can get through hard times”); coping statements (“This too shall pass”); spending time with someone, or somewhere, where I gain comfort; half-smiling and/or willing hands3.

E. Imagining that I did accept reality and how that would feel, what I would think, what I would do. Acting as if I have already accepted the facts of the situation and seeing what changes for me. This is called Opposite Action3 Identifying coping strategies for getting through the situation if the event I am fighting against were to happen.

F. Affirming and reminding myself that life is worth living even when it brings moments of suffering and pain3

G. Repeat A-F as needed

Wishing you strength as you strive towards radical acceptance whatever comes your way this week,

stay well,





3. Thank you to Marsha Linehan for all of her life’s work, research, and sharing of these amazing DBT skills, including Radical Acceptance and it’s step-by-step application.  Book Reference: Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. The Guilford Press: NY.


Marsha Linehan talks about her own experiences learning radical acceptance:

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