My therapist always tells me that pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. At first, I did not understand this. How is it my choice to suffer? I didn’t choose to be bipolar or have a borderline personality disorder, neither did I choose to have anxiety. However, I took some time to process this and read about a related concept she introduced me to: radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance is a concept designed to keep the pain you feel and prevent it from turning into suffering. It teaches you to accept life as it is without resisting. Through this, you learn to accept the things that you cannot or choose not to change. While it’s difficult to accept things that you cannot change, lack of acceptance makes the situation much harder. This requires mental energy and practice, but the results are worth it.
Many people try to avoid feeling pain by trying to resist the situation they are in. While it may work in the moment, avoidance only makes things worse in the long run. With time, feelings accumulate and only grow bigger inside of you. If you avoid feeling pain, you won’t be able to feel joy and happiness eventually. It could also lead to severe conditions such as depression and anxiety.
In its essence, radical acceptance doesn’t mean approval — it simply means accepting the situation. This means that you choose not to be stuck in feelings of sadness, despair, and bitterness. You cannot wake up one day and decide to apply radical acceptance; you learn and practice it. How do we practice radical acceptance? Here are four tips I found helpful through my research and journey:
1. Take note when you find yourself resisting reality.
The first step you have to take is to become aware that you are either denying or resisting the facts of the situation you are in. Without being aware that you are fighting reality, you can’t move on to the next steps. Do you wish that your situation was different? Are you constantly trying to change people around you to fit your needs? Do you feel that life, as it is, is unfair? Tune into your feelings. If the answer to these questions is yes, note that and write it down in your journal.
2. Accept reality in your mind.
Accepting reality doesn’t mean you will automatically jump from resisting to accepting. It does mean, though, that you are consciously trying to stop fighting and avoiding the feelings that come with each situation. Talk to yourself and say, “It is what it is. I do not like it, but I cannot change it.” This step is preparing you for radical acceptance.
3. Let your body be part of the process.
Many people don’t know that the body reacts as much as the mind does. In challenging situations, notice the changes that are happening to your body. Is your heart beating faster? Are your muscles tensed up? These reactions are a reflection of your thoughts. Listen to what your body is telling you and try to change it. Meditate and do yoga and progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Progressive muscle relaxation relies on deliberately tensing up some muscles while breathing in and relaxing them as you breathe out. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that will guide you through it.
4. Fake it till you make it.
As cliche as it sounds, it actually works. If you act as if you accept the situation you are in, you’re training your mind and body to accept the circumstances truly.
Radical acceptance in no way means that you are passive. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t trying to change your situation or make things better. It means that you consciously choose not to be emotionally drained by the things you can’t change. You may find yourself in a situation that is going to take time to deal with. Here is where radical acceptance comes in — you protect yourself from the suffering you may otherwise endure.