Radical acceptance does not mean resignation

Life is funny. Sometimes it seems as though everything is going your way and then, sometimes, it seems as though every time we turn around, we face a challenge. What matters in life is how we view those challenges and recognizing what is within our control and what is not.

What happens when we acknowledge that some things, many things, really, are outside of our control? Some things just are. We can control our reaction to challenges or we can lament those challenges and view them as road blocks rather than speed bumps. We can accept things as they are or fight tooth and nail against reality. Accepting things as they are can release us from angst. Doing so, however, does not mean that we give up. We do not have to resign ourselves to our fate in the face of certain challenges. We have to know when to let go and when to fight.

The idea of radical acceptance, a tool in dialectical behavior therapy often used in counseling, does not mean we simply give up. Radical acceptance means accepting something fully, both mentally and emotionally, without judgement. It does not require us to like or approve of something. Radical acceptance only means that we accept facts as reality. Radical acceptance does not equate to resignation.

The fact of the matter is that some things simply are outside of our control. What other people say, do, think or believe is outside of our control. We may not always understand they way others think, the way they behave or what they believe but we can accept that those things are outside of our control. We can choose how we want to respond when someone says something we do not agree with, but we cannot control what they say. We can be confused, hurt or feel dismayed when someone wrongs us, but accepting that another person’s behavior is outside of our control can offer us some freedom from staying in a space of hurt, disappointment or betrayal. We can both accept the way things are and work toward making things better in the future.

Radical acceptance means letting go of the idea of how you might like any given situation to be and accepting the reality of the actual situation. Fighting reality, questioning reality, likely will make what is perceived as a bad situation feel much worse. In order to move past a bad situation, we have to recognize what is within our control and what is not. For example, you get demoted at work after what your boss perceives as you breaking a rule. You can both accept that you got demoted AND fight to regain your previous position through proper channels. You do not have to suffer an injustice without a fight. You can give yourself permission to recognize that the action against you was outside of your control while at the same time fighting for what is right. Asking yourself over and over again, “Why me?” will not make the situation any better. Taking steps through proper channels to regain your previous position may help, though.

The idea of dialectics is to give yourself permission to hold or accept what may be two opposing ideas or feelings at the same time. We can both accept the reality of any given situation by accepting what is outside of our control AND we can fight for justice or take steps to improve a situation. Practicing radical acceptance allows you to put your energy into coping with a situation rather than trying to avoid it or deny it or deny your feelings and thoughts about it.

Is there a situation in your life that you could face with radical acceptance? Is there something going on in your life that has left you wondering time and again, “Why me?” Can you give yourself permission to recognize that some things are simply outside of your control? What steps might you be able to take to recognize what is within your control? Fighting the reality of what is perceived as a bad situation will only serve to make things feel worse. Give yourself permission to cope with the situation as best you can to move forward.

~ Karri Christiansen, MSW, LSW, CADC, CCTP

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