Help me understand Radical Acceptance

Trying out the "Question" function instead of the usual "Discussion."

Radical Acceptance just seems like a bunch of bullshit to me, but apparently it really helps some people. The way I understand it, it's just taking something unchangeable in your life and saying It Is What It Is and then magically feeling zero emotions about it from them on.

The typical example is being caught in traffic. You can rage against the traffic, which won't make the traffic move any faster and will just rile you up for no reason. Just turn on the radio and sing along instead. If you're late for that important interview, you're just gonna be late. T.S. Got it. I can do that.

What I cannot do is Radically Accept events in my life that actually mean something to me. I'm supposed to approach these events that royally f*cked me up until I die without emotion. Somehow, magically, immediately and always.

I understand it's related to the Buddhist concept of equanimity. But the Buddha acknowledged equanimity was horribly difficult to achieve. Marsha Linehan appears to think that we should all do this magically, automatically about whatever bothers us. No one talking about Radical Acceptance seems to say that it's difficult in any way.

Also, from what I understand, Radical Acceptance means cutting off our emotions about the worst things that have happened to us. But I thought we were supposed to try to feel our emotions? I certainly seem to have accidentally practiced Radical Acceptance during the 15 years I stuffed down all of the things I felt about being abused. Radical Acceptance tells me I should stuff my feelings back down again?

Supposedly there's a difference between resignation and acceptance. Seems like a lot of bullshit. If you can't change something, you're resigned to the fact that it happened. Radical Acceptance tells me, no, that's the wrong way to feel about it. I should Accept, not Be Resigned. If there's a difference, I'm not understanding it.

Explain to me how Radical Acceptance isn't bullshit, please. Explain to me how it's even possible.
 
I'm afraid I haven't read all the posts above as I'm having trouble concentrating but hopefully this makes sense.

For me the thing I most took away from radical acceptance was "acceptance does not mean approval". I tend to deny my own experience and listen to my inner critic because they dont approve of my feelings . Not practicing radical acceptance was always framed as a barrier to recovery especially in hospital. I needed to accept something awful had happened, that I had very strong feelings and that they were causing me difficulty in the present. I was doing everything to avoid acknowledging all of that and hurting myself in running away from it all. It was phrased mostly as removing barriers to healing, not that radical acceptance was healing itself. I did DBT and it was also tied into concepts like fixed and fatalistic mind and challenging thoughts and behaviour. What can't I change, what can I change and am I open to the possibility?

I think like most things radical acceptance can answer some questions but not all and it can be picked up and dropped to meet your needs as they change and sometimes will feel a thousand miles away and then other times makes more sense.
 

enough

MyPTSD Pro
I am also not a fan of radical acceptance but I get what it is and where it is useful.

If I find myself in an uncontrollable, unalterable situation, radical acceptance is THE tool to use to get along with life. Things like a cancer diagnosis, a house on fire, being incarcerated, things that are going to have an affect on you no matter how you react, so it is best to control the only thing you can control and that is your reaction.

When it comes to transitory things, it falls apart and fast.

I know my truck will end up on a scrap heap someday but that fact doesn't require me to just accept it and drive the crap out of it with no maintenance. I can choose to drive it carefully and maintain it when it is needed and the scrap heap can be kept at bay for years. Does that mean I radically accepted the nature of my truck and did the right thing instead of just getting angry about how fast it was showing age and needed care? No, I bought it knowing it would require maintenance and it wouldn't be my last truck. I radically accept the nature of trucks just the same as I radically accept the nature of gas in it's tank, money in my wallet, the road under the wheels. Life itself is transitory.

Same with people. I know an interpersonal relationship has an end, I know there will be times when I will want that end to come right then, that day. I know the end might be thrust upon me when I am not ready for it. that s the nature of people and relationships. So be it. But accepting that is all I feel I need to accept. Anything else I can and will affect. If someone does something I like I show and share the happiness it brings. If someone does something that I don't like, I show that too. Maybe once, maybe two or three times. After that I am ready for the relationship to come the pre-ordained end, most cases.

For me, the very word acceptance has a negative connotation; who has to accept happiness when it is thrust upon them? If you use the word acceptance in a situation like that it has to be modified as in: "happily accept" or "accepted eagerly". Just the word alone implies that you are not doing it eagerly. The word radical implies total and complete, it is the full measure of the word "accept". It is beyond the normal "accept" and implies "maximum measure of acceptance"

I think it should be called Unavoidable Acceptance. It makes sense to me when you state up front that it isn't a solution for everything that needs to be met with an accepting and controlled reaction, it is the tool you rely on when there is no other reaction that works besides acceptance.

You say radical acceptance, I hear "unavoidable situation tool that allows me to best handle what comes next". I do not hear "turn the other cheek", I do not hear "you can't change their behaviour, so learn to live with it". I hear "You can and will accept this, do it wisely", it is unavoidable but you can choose to react any way you want, accept it and make good decisions about it and you will be better of for it.
 

Justmehere

Moderator
Radical acceptance is an idea I struggle with. My fear of helplessness bleeds out into a struggle with radical acceptance. Plus, the word "acceptance" is usually used for agreement... so this is to say, I can relate to your pushback.

I agree with what others have explained. It's not healthy radical acceptance to be resigned or divorce ones self from emotions and feelings. Feelings are not facts but they are information. Radical acceptance isn't done in a healthy way if it's about resignation and not feeling the pain. That's just numbing out by another name.

I also think there are limits to benefits of the practice. Radical acceptance, mindfulness, etc, all these initially spiritual practice inspired therapeutic techniques don't work for everyone. That's true of all coping skills. (Example: Dark side of mindfulness: Growing evidence the therapy can be harmful.)

If it doesn't work for you, then that's ok - there may be better tools for your specific situation.

I have found it helpful to build up a version of radical acceptance in my life. For me, it's more like the saying of "accept the things I can not change and the courage to change the things I can."

There are situations for which radical acceptance should not be applied. Easy example: l am not supposed to just radically accept it will hurt every time a boyfriend hits me. Nope nopers. Instead, the mix of acceptance for what I can't change (other people) and that it hurts (instead of claiming it does not) and taking responsibility for what I can change (my actions and how I respond) is what is going to help me respond most effectively to an abusive situation.

I don't know what types of situations you are struggling with radical acceptance. It might be possible that some of what you may be feeling resigned about may be things your feelings are trying to prompt you towards action.

To use a more mixed example: I have an alcoholic family tree. When I first went on a dare from a friend I did not want to accept my father is an alcoholic I can't change. Nope, too much pain. I was also allergic to the idea of resigning myself to the situation as is. Big nope there too.

But I learned to let go of changing him - what I could never change anyhow. It wildly hurts. I don't know if that will ever change. But now... when I can get myself to do it, "Accept what I can not change" feels like a path to freedom. It's very tenuous, and yet I'm finding I want more of this ability to do just that. I have accepted I can't change him and I'm starting to look at what I can change. How I can effectively respond. What support I will need to handle the volumes of endless pain. It's not about resignation, there is grief involved, but acceptance is also about action. It's not so much "it is what it is" as it's "f*ck. This hurts. I want to fix this and I can't" and then figuring out an effective response to the situation and to the very real pain I feel. (Which I'm still sorting out.)

One therapist told me it's about "accepting the unacceptable" - which I still haven't sorted out... lol.
 

whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
I think one of the things people get mixed up with about radical acceptance (and also mindfulness) is that they assume they have to just ignore or not acknowledge how they feel. In fact, you MUST acknowledge feelings; what you don't do is grab onto them, hold onto them until someone tries to wrestle them from you, make them bigger than they are by adding to their story, etc... It's more "yep, I am pissed off" - hard stop - than "damn, I am pissed off and if he hadn't done xyz, it wouldn't be so bad," and "what am I going to do now because everything is screwed up?"

Might take awhile to get past that feeling, but at least I'm not making it worse by adding to it.

For me, this made therapy much easier. And for me, it didn't come from my therapist; it came from very deep within myself.
 

whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
I know my truck will end up on a scrap heap someday but that fact doesn't require me to just accept it and drive the crap out of it with no maintenance.
It's not this at all, though. It's accepting that you are having an issue with your car and not getting crazy about it. Acceptance here doesn't negate the need to do maintenance - or therapy, or whatever - it just means you won't make it harder for yourself by adding a bunch of additional issues/feelings to it.
 

enough

MyPTSD Pro
It's not this at all, though. It's accepting that you are having an issue with your car and not getting crazy about it. Acceptance here doesn't negate the need to do maintenance - or therapy, or whatever - it just means you won't make it harder for yourself by adding a bunch of additional issues/feelings to it.
Aaaannd thats my point. It's a transitory thing, this relationship I have with machines. I know going in that there will be a beginning and an end and I can choose all the options at any time within the relationship. Radical acceptance is as useless here as it is in any transitory situation. Life itself is like this, most things in life are.

except when they are not. Diagnosis with a deadly disease, world pandemics, an LWOP conviction, lots of possibilities where fighting the inevitable is a poor choice compared to total acceptance and making adjustments to fit and survive. those situations and ONLY those situations are applicable to radical acceptance. All else is just giving up. giving in, knuckling under- not always the worst choice but not the only choice. If it was the only choice, then by all means accept it (radically) and get on with it.
 

whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
It's a transitory thing, this relationship I have with machines.
I'm not sure what you mean here. *Everything* - and you said - is transitory.
All else is just giving up. giving in, knuckling under
Hm...no. Radical acceptance is not giving up or giving in. "Radically accepting" doesn't mean "well, I can't do anything about it anyway, so I'll just accept it." It's about accepting how you are *inside* with things. With the car breaking down, with the state of the world, etc...
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
Radical acceptance is as useless here as it is in any transitory situation. Life itself is like this, most things in life are.
Isn't it a form of radical acceptance to accept that life is transitory? As much as I might want things not to change, they will. I can chose to pitch a fit about that. Or Not.
Plus, the word "acceptance" is usually used for agreement...
Personally, I don't use the word that way, but maybe other people do. I think, for the purpose of "radical acceptance" it's important to keep in mind that they are two very different words, with significantly different meanings.

The "radical" part, I've kind of associated with the idea of accepting the truth of things that you really object to. My mother didn't like me much. I could get hung up on "That's not the way it's supposed to be !!!!!" But what would be the point? No one asked my opinion and it turns out there's no cosmic rule that says mothers have to actually love their offspring. Seems better the accept the facts, however unpleasant or inconvenient, and take things where they go from there.
 
Hopefully I can keep my reply short, trying if you will for something metaphorical...

If only for myself (maybe this would constitute the 'radical' angle), my use of the concept could be likened to the production of a film. Imagine if you will having a very sophisticated and telling script in hand - something surely award-winning if treated with care throughout the entire production and marketing process. Now imagine further along that financing became tight, terrible choices were made with regards to casting, location, set design, mise-en-scene, camera angles, editing - the lot. It would appear that the story would never be told, that value would never be attached to the effort consistent with garnering the interest and positive critical analysis that the core story holds. Pitched then into the rubbish bin of history...

Ah - but there was nothing so fundamentally flawed about that script! For decades of engaged rewriting, refinement, for sharing of drafts with intelligent outsiders it's become something lean and compelling. A person can read it and latch onto sophisticate themes handled deftly and with a knowing eye rooted in exceedingly uncomfortable subject matter not your everyday. People some distance away from the awfulness of the poor original cast, the dreck-filled original score, the horrible lighting and costumes, etc., know something of importance happened here - even if most would overlook it or be caught up in structural shortcomings that prevented success and failed to yield popular acclaim in the day. A bit different this analogy is - yes, although it potentially translates into the 'acceptance' angle of radical acceptance.

In sum, the script in hand has ultimate value, while sighing before the limitations of the totality of the original production literally just is. Sometimes what validation we're going to get is rooted in found family and a slowly shifting and evolving base of engaged psych. professionals helping us turn up clues and teasing out bits of narrative to process and integrate into the whole. Apart and away from the original production (wretched as it was), no strict hope is maintained about conceptions of justice meted out or vengeance being had - it's now about altering our personal behavior and viewpoint looking forward to future years, relationships, and generations coming on so that we ourselves halt certain patterns personally if nothing more. This can include recognizing the power and roots of traumatic recall rage, psychological displacement, and acting out however such be manifest.

Nothing is strictly forgiven, nothing is forgotten here - rather far from it. You know the score, you know where the bodies are buried, while the denial and dodge evidenced by 'the original cast' is something you've studied and cataloged in all it's detail. What's different via some conception of radical acceptance is clutching to a belief that somehow they'll be an overall reckoning with the original cast, that somehow things will come around like an overblown Hallmark Hall of Fame weekend night production. The awfulness is part of our stories, an often dispiriting and enraging part that threatens to color and distort our conception of the possible looking forward, but acceptance involves the belief that we'll handle our script with far greater care from now on out. We chose to live, to evolve out, while screw those who've played a role in disfiguring themselves and us both. I wish you peace...

Resilient Bibliophile
 
Wondering what do you think of radical acceptance after everyone's replies @somerandomguy ?
I appreciate everyone's replies. I guess I just understand better that I'm just not in a place where I can put Radical Acceptance in my toolbox. I'm still too enraged, which is a huge disappointment after all of this time, and I guess I'm not ready to let go of this rage. I really wish I could - however, I now understand better, ironically enough, that "wishing" I could do anything can't be a part of Radical Acceptance.
 
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