Embracing the ‘Radical’ in Radical Acceptance

Engaging in assertive communication can help us inject a sense of strength into our relationships.

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Feb.28, 2022

There are several moments in life where we can sense a loss of control: of people, of events, of circumstances. We often tend to prolong our anguish in moments like these by attempting to “fix” or “solve” the puzzle before us.

True to our nature as human beings, we are bound to take what we see and try to make it better, as long as we believe we can. Additionally, we have historical evidence that encourages this behavioural choice. Years of evolution and invention have convinced us (and rightly so, more often) that when we put our minds to something, no matter how challenging it may be, we can produce novel, often sustainable solutions.

This inherent tendency is also supported by the demands of the corporate lifestyle we’ve adopted. We’ve grown up believing that the more we endeavour to change or improve our circumstances, the more likely we are to be rewarded. So deeply caught are we in this spiral that effort itself, has come to equal reward.

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While this is a driven and gratifying approach to making the most of our circumstances, there are certain situations that simply cannot be fixed or manipulated, no matter how motivated we may be to improve them.


What we can improve, however, is our relationship with them. Sometimes, the first step in that direction is to accept them as they are.


Sounds radical, doesn’t it? Rightly so.

Karyn Hall, a clinical practitioner defines Radical Acceptance as “the ability to accept situations that are outside of your control without judging them, which in turn reduces the suffering that is caused by them.”
This can be partially explained by the hypothesis that it is not the painful event that prolongs our suffering, but our attachment to it. Our lack of acceptance of our reality results in a lack of acceptance or even avoidance of our emotions.


While it is extremely hard to accept something we wish was not true, in the long term it is even harder not to accept it.


The resistance and repression of our truths, no matter how tempting, is a deeply exhausting practice. Moreover, repressed emotions can resurface without notice and express themselves in unpleasant ways, often uncharacteristic of our core selves.


Radical Acceptance, on the other hand, helps us initiate the seemingly daunting task of processing our emotions. It makes room for other, more positive feelings. With acceptance, we remove the distress attached to a situation and begin to focus on its objective offerings.


Let’s take a look at some tools to cultivate the practice of radical acceptance in our lives!
Reflect on the Causes of the Event

Going to the root of the event and tracing how it unfolded will help you identify elements that you contributed to, and more importantly, bring to light the elements that were entirely beyond your power. The clearer these elements become to you, the further your acceptance of the event will be accelerated. Remember, radical acceptance is an active task. Letting go of rumination demands your effort too!

Use Your Five Senses to Remind Yourself of the Present

When the rumination does get out of hand, remember to bring yourself back to your immediate surroundings. Use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique that requires you to identify five things you can see, acknowledge four things you can touch, recognize three things you can hear, detect two things you can smell, and find one thing you can taste, at that very moment. This helps you ground yourself in the present, and contributes to untangling your thoughts.

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Make a Proactive Plan

You can launch your plan to cope with the event by writing down some affirmations that will aid your acceptance of it. Practice those affirmations aloud when you feel yourself slipping into the spiral of guilt or shame associated with the triggering event. These statements could look something like the following:
“I can only control the present moment.”
“It serves no purpose for me to fight against what happened in the past.”
“Even though I don’t know why this happened, I can still accept that it did.”
While you can bring these tools into your life, do give yourself the space and time to master them. Don’t weigh yourself down when you see yourself slipping back into old patterns of trying to fix the circumstance.
Reward yourself for taking the first step towards radical acceptance!

Author: Samreen Chhabra works as a Senior Research Fellow at Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences