What Radical Acceptance Is & How to Apply It in Your Life

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article is Dr. Karin Ryan, PsyD, LP, Clinic Director, and Outpatient Therapist.     It’s no secret that life is full of changes. And sometimes in our lives, we go through something hard, something unwanted. That might be a change (job loss), a loss (children moving away), a hurt (divorce), or not accomplishing a goal.   When these hard things happen, they are often out of our control, but we can find ourselves stuck on them. We are thinking about them, dwelling on them, staying angry, or staying hurt. That makes sense and is valid because the situation did hurt us but staying stuck on it does not serve us. However, “Radical acceptance helps us not to allow the pain to turn into suffering,” says Dr. Karin Ryan. Keep reading to learn about radical acceptance and how you can apply it to move forward in your life.  Related: Ways to Move Forward When You Feel Stuck 

Nystrom & Associates on Twin Cities Live 

Watch Dr. Karin Ryan on Twin Cities Live as she discusses radical acceptance and how you can implement it in your daily life.  

What is Radical Acceptance? 

Radical acceptance is accepting situations outside your control without judging them. “We call this radical because accepting what feels radical is a skill that takes time to develop. Radical acceptance is accepting what is not under your control and embracing what is happening in a non-judgmental way.”  Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, stated, "Radical acceptance rests on letting go of the illusion of control and a willingness to notice and accept things as they are, right now, without judging." It is a "Complete and total openness to the facts of the reality as they are, without throwing a tantrum or growing angry." When you truly radically accept emotional or physical pain, it can reduce the suffering. 
Radical acceptance is not approval. Applying radical acceptance does not mean what happened was okay. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. We can find ourselves in need or radical acceptance when we want something to be what it isn't.
Here are some examples of thought patterns that show how pain can turn into or maintain suffering and when radical acceptance might help: 
  • “This is not fair.” 
  • “I can't believe this is happening.” 
  • “Why is this happening to me?” 
  • “What did I do to deserve this?” 
  • “I am never going to get over this.” 

How to Practice Radical Acceptance 

While radical acceptance sounds difficult, there are certain steps you can practice. First, acknowledge the present, and ask yourself if you can control or change the situation. Then, let go of judgment or emotional reactivity, and remember you cannot change the past. Lastly, breathe, and find an intentional shift.   It is the practice of letting go of having to have what you want. To know you can be okay with not always having what you want. It is not pushing away what you want. First, you validate what you want. Then you must radically accept you do not have something you want.  Here are a few examples of when you can practice radical acceptance: 
  • When you are stuck in traffic 
  • If you lost your job 
  • The diagnosis of an illness 
Here are some examples of what it sounds like to shift your thinking from willful to willing: 
  • "I can't change this." Or "I can't change the past."
  • "There is no point fighting with the past or what-ifs."  
  • "I am not going to let these emotions run me."
  • "I can accept myself the way I am."
  • "I have no control over other people. I can only control myself."
To change something, you must first accept it for what it truly is.  Related: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life 

A Word From Nystrom & Associates 

Radical acceptance can be hard to practice on your own. If you're struggling to accept a life challenge, therapy can help. Talk with us at 1-844-NYSTROM or request an appointment online at any of our convenient locations.   Related: 10 Tips to Make Therapy More Effective  

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