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How Can Radical Acceptance Help Improve Your Life?
By: Rick Fannin
Are you addicted to pain? That may sound like a crazy addiction. However, you would be surprised at how many of us are addicted to pain and suffering. You might even be addicted to pain and suffering, and you are unaware of it.
In life, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Much of the suffering that we experience in life is due to our continued attachment to the painful event, situation, an outcome, or toxic relationship and our inability to accept the reality of life radically. Until we can radically accept the reality of what is, and what has happened, we are seemingly powerless over our negative emotions. We remain stuck.
However, once we radically accept the reality of life, we begin to take power back, and we can choose if we are willing to condone these things as they are. When we finally conclude that we wish to condone the suffering no longer, we can finally detach from the painful source and end the suffering we experience. This article will evaluate how can detachment and radical acceptance help improve your life, emotions, and your relationships?
The Difference Between Pain and Suffering
While it's impossible to go through life without experiencing pain, how we respond to the pain is within our control. Often, we react to the pain in a way that creates suffering in our lives. We tend to react to the pain in a manner that causes suffering when the reality of life does not match our expectations of life. We remain attached to a fantasy life and are angry that life has not gone exactly as we would like it to be.
Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor recognized the power and freedom that lies in accepting the reality of our situations and being able to choose our response. What's the difference between reacting and responding? Reactions are automatic and unconscious. They happen on autopilot. Responses flow from awareness and are more measured and intentional, and goal-directed.
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." — Viktor Frankl
It's not the painful life situations you experience that create suffering in life. Our expectations, our attachment to the desired outcome, our inability to accept others as they are, and our reactions and thoughts about these things create the suffering in our lives.
We become victims of life versus taking control of our lives and making the best of whatever life throws our way. When you become aware of your role in creating suffering for yourself, you are free to respond differently.
Suffering is a function of imbalances in physical, mental, emotional, relational and/or spiritual functioning. Because whatever affects the mind or the body will inevitably affect the other, regardless of which side of the fence an issue originates, imbalances in thinking can create imbalances in physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual functioning. Recovery from any significant condition or life challenge is a gradual, progressive, and ongoing process of restoring balance in these areas. For meaningful change to occur, we must have awareness and acceptance and take the necessary steps of action to change the things we can.
Suffering is both a cause and an effect of the negative thinking patterns and distressing emotions associated with pain, anxiety, irritability, anger, fear, depression, frustration, guilt, shame, loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness. Negative thinking only makes situations we believe to be "bad" even worse. Many people can ruminate on something by continuously and unproductively replaying it in their minds or magnifying its negative aspects. Our thoughts can make us miserable, and negative thinking can be especially insidious, feeding on itself, potentially becoming a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy.
Pain leads to negative thoughts, self-talk, and beliefs, leading to feelings of frustration, anger, resentments, anxiety, fear, sadness, depression, hopelessness, and leading to suffering, and muscle tension. This physical response to stress leads to more pain which leads to increased negative thoughts, self-talk, and beliefs which lead to feelings of frustration, anger, resentments, anxiety, fear, sadness, depression, hopelessness leads to greater suffering, and so on. This cycle may extend into our relationships with others by becoming critical or lashing out at the ones we care about the most. The longer such a cycle continues, the more out of balance a person becomes.
Suffering can be modified when we become consciously aware of this chain reaction and learn how to stop reacting and respond differently to their pain. Breaking the cycle of suffering includes dramatically changing the negative progression starting with regaining negative thinking and emotional balance through acceptance strategies and mindfulness-based practices.
What is Radical Acceptance
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. Radical acceptance is seeing things as they are and not trying to fight them; moving forward with the knowledge that this is reality. The concept is slightly different than saying, "it is what it is," which implies that it's just that. Instead, radical acceptance is a conscious effort to move forward and accept life on life's terms and not resist what you cannot or choose not to change.
It takes precious energy to fight against reality. You don't have to like something to accept its existence, but how you perceive it has the power to control where your energy goes.
Some of the characteristics or components of radical acceptance include:
- Understanding that there are a few things that you cannot control in life
- You know that you need to acknowledge the situation before accepting it
- Being kind towards yourself
- Being non-judgmental about your situation
- Knowing that things will pass soon
- Being mindful of the situation and trying to live in the present moment
- Motivating yourself to get past the situation
- Accepting things as they are
How Does Radical Acceptance and Detachment Work Together?
Most people's primary motivation in life is to chase after pleasant and rewarding experiences whilst trying to avoid unpleasant ones as much as possible. We have a strong attachment to things being a certain way and suffer when our experiences in life don't match our wishes, desires and preferences.
The law of detachment is a universal spiritual principle, and you will see it in many faiths such as Christianity, Jainism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The law of detachment represents an element of spiritual mastery that can be achieved by separating yourself and your emotions from the outcome.
Detachment means doing the right thing for its own sake because it needs to be done without worrying about success or failure, without being attached to the outcome. Detachment is experiencing our feelings without allowing them to control us. With detachment, we can step back and look at things objectively. We can let go and accept that we cannot change the things that happened in the past, and we cannot change others.
We radically accept that "things" in the past have happened, and these have hurt us deeply. We accept that we cannot change these things. We accept that our anger and resentment about the source of these past painful events continue to hurt us and no one else. This allows us to finally detach from this pain source and stop reexperiencing the pain. We forgive those that have hurt us and finally let go of the deep resentments we have held on to so tightly.
Detachment isn't selfish. It's caring for yourself and letting others care for themselves. It is living in the moment and no longer a prisoner of the past or fearful of the future.
We radically accept that we are the only ones that we have any ability to control or change. We radically accept others exactly as they are and drop our attachment to who we would like them to be. We radically accept that a serial cheating significant other is a serial cheater. We gain the courage to detach from our fairytale relationship with a version of a partner that simply does not exist. We radically accept that a liar will lie, and we detach from the delusion of this person being someone that we should trust. We radically accept that we can love someone AND that this person may not be the best fit for our life. We detach ourselves from others' choices, knowing that their spiritual work is not ours to do.
How Can Radical Acceptance Help in Your Recovery from Addiction?
One of my favorite lessons on acceptance and addiction can be found on page 417 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which reads:
"Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - Some fact of my life is unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much On what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."
Acceptance is a necessary foundational cornerstone of recovery from addiction. Many of us have lived for years in denial of our addiction and our inability to self-will our way into sobriety. We struggled to accept that our problem with drugs or alcohol was out of control, and we could not accept that our relationship with these substances had to end.
We struggled to accept that we could not recover on our own and that we needed the left of others, needed a sponsor, needed a counselor, and needed to develop a robust sober support. We may also struggle to accept that there was more than just our substance use that needed to change in our life. We could not accept that we needed to change our self-centered behaviors, many of our friendships and that our toxic romantic relationship was likely to drag us back into addiction.
Meaningful change requires a combination of awareness, acceptance, and action. Once we have these three components included in our recovery, we can begin to make significant strides at achieving a combination of sobriety and serenity.
How Can Radical Acceptance Help Your Mental Health?
Individuals with mental health issues, concerns, and disorders very often all suffer from one common thing: a skewed sense of their own identity. Having a clear idea of who you are, what you want, and what you are about is invaluable in navigating the world in safety, confidence, and strength. Losing this pivotal aspect of being human can lead to a cascade of other issues. Fortunately, there is a way to combat this type of loss of yourself, and it starts with radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance is used in situations that are beyond our control. Radical acceptance should not be engaged in situations that require a change, such as an abusive relationship or a dangerous work situation. Instead, radical acceptance is applied to things that occur without us being able to have a hand in them. Radical acceptance can be applied to a devastating breakup, a sudden, sharp turn in your life plans, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job. Each of these scenarios could prompt an unending response of fury, denial, pain, and fighting – or each of them can be accepted as a new reality and moved on from. Ultimately, the goal of radical acceptance is progression and growth in the place of stagnation and clinging to the past.
Rather than being a thought or idea, radical acceptance actually contains within it several components that must be put into practice; it is all well and good to say to yourself "I accept myself just as I am," but unless you live in a way that espouses that belief, the belief is useless to you and everyone else. To practice radical acceptance, you must:
- Accept yourself and your life for what they are – not for what you want them to be
- Realize and acknowledge what you can and cannot control
- Survey yourself and your life without judgment or condemnation
- Acknowledge the facts of yourself and your situation
- Accept reality
- Practice mindfulness and live in the present moment
Anxiety is the fear of something possibly in the future. Depression is sadness over things that have occurred in the past. Part of refusing to accept reality is living in the future or the past rather than living in the present moment. Radical acceptance is a subset of living mindfully. It requires you to leave behind any fantasies about your past or your future and to firmly root yourself in your life as it actually is, without any judgment, anger, or denial.
This type of practice is not easy to adopt, and it often requires some help. You can read books, consult with a specialist, or see a therapist to effectively develop the tools necessary to use radical acceptance in your life. However, each option will largely depend on you; ultimately, you must be willing to practice and adopt the tenets of radical acceptance consistently, or the treatment will not be effective or useful.
How Can Radical Acceptance Help You Forgive Yourself?
Have you ever beaten yourself up mercilessly for a mistake that you made? Some people have extreme difficulty letting go of their mistakes. They are their own worst critic. They ruminate on their shortcomings as if they could somehow undo what happened. They may wallow in their self-criticism and self-deprecate as a twisted strategy that will keep them from making the same mistake in the future.
But criticism never changes anything. Instead, try practicing "radical acceptance" to let go of the past and grow into the self you want. The term 'radical' means 'all the way', and radical acceptance is literally accepting your mind, body, and soul for the way they are.
You did the deed, and nothing can change that. If you accept this, it will be easier for you to make needed changes and correct your future behavior…and it will hurt less. Essentially, it is self-love in its purest form. Radical acceptance is when you let go of how life should be and accept how it is. It is allowing yourself to be non-judgmental about yourself and your life.
You let it flow when you stop rebelling against your reality or pushing it away. Instead of complaining or getting bitter about it, you start accepting things. Radical acceptance sets in, and the next best steps for your life start to become clearer.
How Can Radical Acceptance Help Your Relationships?
They often say that love is blind. The early stages of falling in love can be a euphoric experience that can blind you from seeing your lover's flaws. For some, falling in love is an experience of complete radical acceptance of the other, accepting and adoring even the little quirky personality and behavioral differences. Dirty clothes which were tossed all over the floor or day-old toothpaste smudges on the sink are easily overlooked or may even seem twistedly charming. Our new love can do no wrong. We may feel like our lover is perfect because this new love completes us and saves us for a moment our aloneness.
Eventually, that blinding euphoric fog of love starts to wear off, and your lovers' faults and defects become clearer. Painfully clear. Somehow those clothes on the floor and toothpaste smudges become more bothersome.
Emerging from the "honeymoon" phase and seeing the reality of their partner can initiate a period of emotional distancing and non-acceptance. Ironically, the qualities that were once accepted and even seen as attractive can become the very qualities that now irritate you the most. The laid-back qualities that you found so attractive when you first met may now feel negative and more like a lack of ambition or laziness. Or maybe that highly ambitious and organized lover who so energized your spirit in the beginning now becomes an overwhelmingly stressful person to be around.
The beauty of romantic relationships is that they are typically made up of two individuals who are not the same, with differing values and personalities. How couples identify and frame their lack of sameness in terms of acceptance can be the undoing or gluing of their relationship. Working on accepting the many differences in your partner can be an emotionally beneficial exercise for both you and your partner. The practice of acceptance emancipates you from the stress and unhappiness of your futile efforts to change your partner. Once you relinquish trying to change or control your partner and accept your differences, you will feel relief, but your relationship will feel more peaceful and harmonious.
Of course, it is important to note that not every behavior or difference should be unequivocally accepted in coupledom. Behaviors such as emotional and physical abuse or having significant core value differences are predictors for unhealthy, unsatisfying, and unsafe relationships. In such a case, radically accept the person as they are and choose that these behaviors are ones you cannot condone in a healthy relationship with you.
Naturally, the concept of acceptance can be hard to come to terms with. For some people, it means giving up, complete inaction and/or enabling your partner's differing choices, characteristics and behaviors. Yet, acceptance doesn't have to be characterized that way. You can choose to define acceptance as a willingness to tolerate and even see the good in those behaviors you cannot change.
Here are 5 ways to heal your relationship through acceptance:
- Accept that your partner is not within your control.
- Accept that you and your partner are not perfect.
- Accept that your partner doesn't need to be just like you.
- Accept that you and your partner will not always agree.
- Accept that you need to be mindful of always working on acceptance.
The root of relationship conflict is never really about the clothes on the floor or the toothpaste smudges; it is more often about control, lack of awareness, and the ability to accept one another's differences. So if you are looking for a healthy change in your relationship, work on relinquishing your emotional resistance to your partner's natural dissimilarities and allow things to be what they are.
9 Ways to Practice Radial Acceptance in Daily Life
- Acknowledging Reality: The first step in radical acceptance is to acknowledge that you are not accepting reality as it is. Let go of your "should-have," "would-have," and "could-have." These are not realistic or helpful; they are hypothetical. Each of these statements denies the reality of what is. Instead, fully embrace the truth of what is.
- The Past is The Past: Acknowledge that you cannot change the past nor can you predict the future. All you have is the current moment. We cannot know what will happen in the future, and we must let go of past events; these are each beyond our control.
- Mantras for coping: Recite a mantra to help you radically accept things. Repeating saying such as "it is what it is," "so it is," "all things work together for Good, ""everything happens for a reason", or the use of the serenity prayer can help you to fully embrace and accept the things that are beyond your control.
- We Are Only Human: Recognize that you are not all-powerful or perfect. No one is other than God. You cannot control all events, situations, or people. Many things are simply out of your control, and any effort to try to control these things or allow your emotions to be out of control over them is a complete waste of time and energy. Simply accept them as they are. No human is perfect. We all make mistakes. Recognizing our human imperfections does not mean we should feel guilt or shame. The goal is to alleviate the burden of the need to feel perfect and have a perfect life. And, there is no such thing as a perfect life. When you fully accept that you cannot control or change the actions of others, you are able to then focus on the only thing you can change or control, which is yourself.
- Let Go of Judgements: Try to practice looking at events from a non-judgmental viewpoint. When you practice non-judgment, you can look at things objectively rather than skewed subjectively. By doing so, you can remove emotions from the equation. When you begin to do this, you see the world as less polarized and people as humans, rather than seeing things as all good or bad, right or wrong. When you practice letting go of judgments, you stop judging others as well as yourself.
- Forgive Yourself: Self-compassion is a powerful way to practice non-judgment. After all, you are only human, and you will never be perfect. It is normal and expected that you, and everyone else, will make mistakes from time to time. Learn to forgive yourself and others when mistakes are made and use them as learning opportunities instead of beating yourself or others up over the mistake.
- Accept Responsibility: Learn to accept responsibility for your part in the situation. It is not black or white. It is not the fault of one person or the other. Assuming responsibility should be done without judgment and with self-compassion. Look at your behavior objectively to see the consequences in order to make real behavioral changes.
- Learn and Move On: Reflect on your response to the situation and evaluate if your response made you feel better or worse. What could you do differently in the future? You cannot change the past or predict the future. However, you can learn from past mistakes and apply it today to avoid repeating past mistakes.
- See The Gray Areas: Start practicing seeing the "gray areas" in life. People and situations are rarely all good or bad, completely right or wrong. Start practicing seeing how a situation or a person can have aspects that you both like and dislike simultaneously. For example, "I am really upset that I lost my job AND I am excited to see what new doors may open up for me." Seeing the gray areas is a part of radically accepting people and situations as they are, not as you wish they were.