Understanding and practicing radical acceptanceagencia2b
We often experience situations that are difficult to take on. Radical acceptance proposes to reduce pain through its practice and its way of understanding life.
reflects much more than just therapeutic strategies within Contextual Behavioral Therapies. This is a central philosophical position of these approaches. In this way, you may come into contact with it when you hear or read about Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP), or any other Contextual Behavioral Therapies approaches (Hayes, Linehan, Follette, 2011). In our case, the understanding of
Radical acceptance – a complete openness to reality.
For DBT, radical acceptance can be understood as complete openness to reality as it presents itself, without fighting it or using ineffective strategies to avoid facing or dealing with it (Linehan, 2015a). Working internally on radical acceptance is not at all easy, since it requires us to make an effort to be able to accept reality as it is. Usually when this idea is put to people who are being introduced to DBT (therapists beginning their training or patients), it starts by posing that radical acceptance involves accepting your life as it is in the present moment (Linehan, 2015a; Linehan, 2015b).
A question that must be raised and is very common is the confusion between
radically accepting something
conforming to something
. The proper understanding that involves not accepting reality is fundamental, because conformation is a passive strategy for dealing with life events. In contrast, radical acceptance involves to expose oneself to reality As it is, it is an active strategy that requires intentionality in its application (Linehan, 2015b). Radical acceptance should not be confused with approving or regretting because these are also passive ways of dealing with life events (Linehan, 2015b).
However, one may wonder: why practice radical acceptance at all? There are a number of reasons why this practice is justified, the first of which involves the fact that not accepting reality, does not change reality. Therefore, for it to be possible to make any changes in our lives, it is fundamental that we recognize exactly what our current moment is, and thus we can elaborate actions directed to modify what we want to change.
Acceptance as a basis for change
We are faced with one of the greatest paradoxes within DBT which is
acceptance as the basis for change
. It is important not to confuse the idea that radical acceptance is a practice with the intention of change, because it is not. The change that follows from this practice is of a possible effect but not a direct intention. Illustrating the situation in question is as if to see some detail in a pen, for example, we put it closer and closer to our eyes, and the effect of this is simply a totally blurred image, and from there we can’t see anything in detail. The moment we accept that bringing the pen closer will not make it possible to see the details, it is possible to interrupt the act of bringing the object closer to the face and start moving it away from the vision, so that the focus of the image can be established and it will be possible to see the details previously intended. This metaphor explains well the paradox between radical acceptance and change that DBT poses so much. Moreover, it is evident why not accepting reality does not change it, according to the proposed example, trying incessantly to put the pen closer to the face to be able to see the desired detail will only have two effects: 1) frustration and 2) headache (Linehan, 2015a; Linehan, 2015b; McKay & Wood, 2011).
Another key point of why to perform the exercise of radical acceptance involves the fact that pain (physical or emotional) is part of life, and fighting against it only increases the suffering from the painful experience. A very specific example of this involves the physical pain of a muscle injury. Suppose a person decided to play extreme sports and suffered a minor muscle contusion on his back. The pain from the injury is very uncomfortable, but if this person does not accept the pain and becomes involved in thoughts of regret, the effect of this will be that in addition to feeling pain in the back, the person will begin to feel anger as a result of the non-acceptance, and may even worsen the discomfort of the injury. All of these thoughts naturally involve a stance of non-acceptance of physical pain, that is, the stance of non-acceptance of the painful experience will invariably lead to more and more suffering (Linehan, 2015a; Linehan, 2015b; McKay & Wood, 2011).
Despite all that has already been written highlighting what radical acceptance is and why to practice it, it is still necessary to become aware of the practice. This being the best definition on the use of radical acceptance within DBT (Linehan, 2015b). The work of radical acceptance is suitable for when you are living a life that is not the one you want at the moment. Fighting against the reality of how things are does not change them. The idea of radical acceptance is that we can learn to play with the cards we have (Linehan, 2015a; Linehan, 2015b; McKay & Wood, 2011).
“Learning to accept reality, without resisting, without much whining is an important step”
Appreciate the vital importance of the concept on our topic today, not only for the psychotherapeutic process but also for everyday life. Learning to accept reality, without resisting, without much regret, is an important step that we can take in order to get closer to building a fuller life within our values and limits. Through radical acceptance we become
of the “cards” that we have at our disposal to deeply experience our life.