There is a lot of talk about acceptance in recovery. Most of the time, we use the terms “acceptance” and “approval” as synonyms. For example, we think that in order to accept ourselves, we must also approve of the mistakes we have made. Are acceptance and approval the same? And what is radical acceptance?
Defining Radical Acceptance
We know what acceptance means, but what is radical acceptance? The term radical acceptance was coined by psychologist Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha. Radical acceptance is also a skill that is taught in dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT.
Radical acceptance means that we can accept situations and events that are outside of our control without judgment, which takes away the suffering around them. Acceptance is different than approval or agreement. In those instances, we have placed our judgment. Rather, radical acceptance is about acknowledging what is real, and not tying unnecessary emotions to reality, thus not increasing the suffering around that reality.
A simple example would be that if it started raining while we were outdoors, we could get mad, be upset, and assign only negative reactions to the rain. By fighting against something out of our control, we are not only soaking wet, but we are creating more suffering for ourselves. However, with radical acceptance, we would simply notice the rain, not make any judgments about it. In this scenario, we might be wet, but we are not suffering.
The Importance of Radical Acceptance
Much of the suffering we endure in life is based on the emotional responses and judgments that we make about people or events, even ourselves. We live in fear of something because we tell ourselves that it is frightening. We struggle and fight against things we cannot change because we judge them as wrong or unfair. We punish ourselves and demean ourselves because we tell ourselves that we are bad or wrong.
The importance of radical acceptance is realizing that our judgments create more suffering and pain for ourselves than the situations or people themselves. We realize that living in fear, fighting, and judging, we take something uncomfortable or difficult and make it into something truly painful. Through acceptance, we learn peace.
Being willing to look at something and remove the judgments and emotions surrounding it is difficult. Life can be difficult. Things happen to us that are difficult. For example, losing a loved one due to an accident is very difficult. It can seem unfair, bad, wrong, and we might want to lash out at the person responsible, or even a higher power for allowing it to happen.
However, none of those judgments bring the loved one back. All of those judgments create more emotion and suffering for us. Often, those emotions and suffering lead us to harmful behaviors such as substance use. Rather than acknowledge the judgments we have made and the emotions created around it that have intensified our own pain, we attempt to hide from the pain. In doing so, we create all new problems for ourselves.
Using nonjudgmental acceptance of an event like this allows us to see the actual event: we lost someone we love. In accepting without judgment, we can access the true emotions surrounding this occurrence: sorrow and grief. It hurts. That is the bottom line.
Why Acceptance Heals
By practicing nonjudgmental acceptance, not only do we circumvent all of the unnecessary suffering and emotions surrounding events, but we also are able to get straight to the core issue. In this example, it would be sorrow and grief. By addressing our grief head-on, we are able to experience the core emotions tied to this event and allow ourselves to heal.
Healing comes when we are able to practice radical acceptance. We lost a loved one. That hurts. Nothing can change it. We don’t have to approve of the loss or the circumstances surrounding it. We don’t have to like it or agree with it. We also do not have to fight it, blame people for it, or create any other emotions or judgments surrounding it. It is a painful experience, a loss that grieves us. Accepting the loss is where healing begins.
Acceptance Heals Substance Use
By using radical acceptance with ourselves, we take away all of those harmful judgments we place upon ourselves. We may have told ourselves that we are bad, wrong, selfish, dumb, inadequate, immoral, and so many other things. Others may have even reinforced some of those judgments. When we allow those judgments to define us, we want to escape the guilt and shame associated with them.
On the other hand, when we are able to truly look at ourselves without all of those judgments, we can see ourselves as we actually are. Even if that person is not perfect, we can accept ourselves as is. Looking at that person in the mirror is okay. We do not need to escape or hide from that person with substances. We can accept ourselves and heal.
What is radical acceptance? Radical acceptance is the lens through which we can see ourselves, others, and events as they are, without judgment. At AToN Center, we believe in radical acceptance as a way to heal ourselves. Call us at (888) 535-1516 to let us teach you how to avoid unnecessary suffering by learning to accept without judgment.