May is Mental Health Awareness month and, in honor, we’ve decided to cover one of the newer and fast-growing techniques for maintaining and growing mental health: Radical Acceptance. Radical acceptance is a skill taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). It is noted as a “distress tolerance skill designed to keep pain from turning into suffering“. The idea here is to take the time to actively and consciously acknowledge things that have happened, the actions around them, and how to move forward.
Sounds like every other type of mental health advice, no? Thankfully, no. It looks to have people accept the good, bad, and ugly of a situation as without judgement. It is not looking for people to find false positives or obsess over changes that could have been made.
This guide is broken into steps, but keep in mind that this is a non-linear practice. While you will hit each one of these steps at some point in the process, it is not necessary to go through them in this exact order. Additionally, healing and addressing a situation might also mean double-tapping some of these steps, so feel comfortable in doing so.
Acknowledging Reality Avoidance
It starts with acknowledging that you are actively avoiding reality. This could range from questioning reality to actively denying it. Pushing to desperately cling to control without enacting change is a sign of avoiding reality.
This is different when you actively work to create power over a situation, as that changes the circumstances of the current reality. “Should” statements, especially the repeated use of them, serve as a good clue that you are fighting reality.
Admittance of Denial
When you are open to admitting to denying reality, you can start to work to change that. Radical acceptance works to reduce the suffering that comes from dwelling and denial. The saying largely attributed to this practice is “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. While there is no absolute record as to who coined this phrase, it stands as a great description of what this practice aims for.
Start with admitting what the situation is. You may not like a situation, but you do not need to approve of in order to admit that it is reality. The loss of a loved one, a major disappointment of expectations, or regret over action or inaction can all cause a desire to suffer, but doing so will not change the reality of the situation.
Give yourself an accepting statement, such as “it is what it is”. In the same way that repeating thoughts of suffering and obsession deepens the belief continues to amplify the feeling, repeating acceptance and forgiveness can bring peace to turmoil thoughts. Accept that there are causes for this reality, even if you are not entirely sure as to their nature, and accept, even if you do not necessarily forgive, yourself in context of the situation.
Fake it Until You Make it
Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done. If you have trouble reaching or passing this step, then it might pay to fake it until you make it. Essentially, ask yourself how you would act if you did accept reality as it is, without judgement. Make a list of the actions you would take and try to engage in those behaviors.
During times of trauma or extreme distress, the body and mind can shut down, including ignoring the need or desire for sleep, a balanced diet, and basic hygiene. Because of this, it can be easier to care for yourself properly when you remove yourself from the situation. Instead of forcing yourself to acknowledge a reality you are not ready to face, take a step back and acknowledge the pros and cons of addressing reality in the moment.
If you know that your mental state is not strong enough to process what is or has happened, take a step back and ask yourself what you would normally be doing. Go through taking care of yourself step by step and, when you feel safe physically and emotionally, then work to start addressing the trauma.
If you are strong enough, even if you are not happy to accepting of the situation still, then take time to ask yourself what you would be doing if you did accept the reality facing you. Follow through those steps one at a time, emulating the actions you would be doing until they come to you naturally.
Addressing Your Emotions
When you have acknowledged the truth of a reality, you are now able to take the time to emotionally address it. While radical acceptance asks that you accept a situation even if you do not like it, it does not suggest to hide or ignore your emotions. You should always allow yourself to feel the emotions that might arise, be them sadness, anxiety, grief, or disappointment.
The key is to address them and accept them as well. Remember, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Embrace the feelings that come and remind yourself that life with pain is still life worth living to its fullest. After taking time to accept that you are feeling these emotions because of the reality at hand, you can start to move on to coping strategies.
Coping with stress, anxiety, avoidance, and fear can be taxing, to say the least. It is through repetition of good practices of coping methods that you build up the strength to move forward.
Mental Health America suggests coping statements such as “I can’t change what has already happened. I can accept things the way they are,” and “I can only control my own actions and reactions”. These statements reassign power to where you have true control and give you relief from a perceived and untrue responsibility of controlling everything in a situation.
Radical acceptance is something you can work to. It is incredibly unlikely that it will be perfectly effective the first time you use if, but repetitive use can help manage mental health and reduce the degree of mental stress that you can experience from suffering. Practicing radical acceptance becomes easier and more natural with time, though, so the sooner you begin to actively use the practice, the sooner it will prove to be incredibly effective.
If you would like to find new opportunities that might allow you to help others with their mental health needs, check out our job board! If you do not see a position that interests you, send us your resume and we’ll be happy to help you find that perfect job opportunity.