What Is Radical Acceptance and How Can You Use It to Be Happier?
From an early age, we become bombarded with difficult emotions.
We experience fear of failure, anger over the things that we feel we can’t change, and sorrow when we experience loss.
However, one of the unfortunate threads throughout all of this is our tendency to err towards non-acceptance. That is, to hide from fear, resist anger, and act like sorrow doesn’t exist.
As a result, this spirit of non-acceptance causes us great pain. But there’s a different path available to you that requires no special training or skill set. It’s a path which allows you to break the pattern of non-acceptance and work through your emotions more skillfully.
It’s called radical acceptance.
We are mindful of desire when we experience it with an embodied awareness, recognizing the sensations and thoughts of wanting as arising and passing phenomena. While this isn’t easy, as we cultivate the clear seeing and compassion of Radical Acceptance, we discover we can open fully to this natural force, and remain free in its midst.
– Tara Brach
Radical acceptance, a term made popular by Tara Brach in her 2004 bestseller, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, is a dialectical behavioral therapy (or DBT) principle which refers to facing pain and accepting it fully without judgment.
When we experience a form of pain, our most common response is to either turn away from, or act against, it whether that’s turning to drugs and alcohol or simply working ourselves to the bone in an attempt to act like the pain isn’t there. In either case, we’re not fully accepting what’s happening. This then leads us to experience even more suffering than if we had instead faced it openly without judgment or aversion.
For this reason, radical acceptance can be used not only to help you reduce unnecessary suffering but to lead a happier and more fulfilling life as a whole.
While pushing away at your experiences and the emotions that arise in connection with them might offer temporary relief, it will only make you suffer more in the long run.
Use the steps below as a framework for practicing radical acceptance and replacing harmful behaviors with healthy ones:
- Acknowledge the situation: Radical acceptance is part self-awareness, part nonjudgmental acceptance. Before you can accept what’s going on within you, though, you have to develop the self-awareness necessary to see with clarity and the courage to face it. When you’re experiencing pain, whether through the loss of a loved one, a breakup, you were fired by your longtime employer, or something else altogether, pay attention to what you’re feeling and acknowledge what’s happening.
- Accept it non-judgmentally (even if you don’t like it): Now that you’ve brought the issue to the service, it’s time to accept it– all of it– fully, openly, and nonjudgmentally without question. Even if you don’t like it. You don’t have to agree with what’s going on, or the cause involved, you simply have to recognize and accept that it’s a part of your reality. Remember, no more running, fighting back against, or hiding from. It’s time to accept what you’re feeling.
- Think of how you can make the best of things: Now that you have clarity and you’ve fully accepted the situation and what’s going on inside you, you have the opportunity to move forward with wisdom. Take some time to think about how you can make the situation better and remember to use sustainability as a benchmarker. Getting drunk might make you feel better for tonight, but come tomorrow morning, you’ll same pain will hit you all over again– if not worse. Try meditation, read a good book, or take a walk through nature. Or maybe even consider going on a little adventure and doing some travel if you feel you need something a little more.
Radical acceptance isn’t easy, but no one ever said true happiness was. Stop running, fighting, and hiding and face your life to realize peace. You have it within you– all you need is the courage to make it happen.