Radical Acceptance: Moving Forward

Medically reviewed by Aaron Dutil, LMHC, LPC
Updated April 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Practicing radical acceptance typically refers to the practice of accepting that which you cannot change or control. It may not mean that you love everything about yourself or the situation you’re experiencing, but understanding how to practice self acceptance can provide a foundation of acceptance from which to move forward and improve.

Working with a clinical psychologist can be the first step in the process of fully accepting things and painful situations, processing intense emotions, such as losing one's job or feeling bad about oneself. Through fierce self-compassion and compassion for others, one can learn to accept negative and painful emotions and avoid feeling worse.

What is radical acceptance? Acceptance is a skill

Radical acceptance may help you cope with difficult situations

Radical acceptance is a practice developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan. Often used in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), this practice was created based on the notion that reality must be accepted, rather than fought against, and that fighting and railing against a situation can be a greater cause of distress than the situation itself. 

Radical acceptance can be helpful for a variety of mental illness or mental health concerns. This is because fighting against something can makes it worse; in one study, people were told to think of white bears, then expressly forbidden to do so a few minutes later. The study’s participants found it virtually impossible to stop thinking of white bears. Once the directive changed to allow students to think of bears, the urge to do so went away. Accepting yourself, your situation, and your mental health status may alleviate some of the symptoms associated with each of these things.

When radical acceptance is used

Radical acceptance is typically 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, it can be applied to things that occur without us being able to have a hand in them. Each of these scenarios could prompt a response of fury, denial, pain, and fighting – or each of them could be accepted as a new reality and moved on from. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Radical acceptance components   


Rather than being a thought or idea, radical acceptance can contain several components to put into practice. It may be good to say to yourself, “I accept myself just as I am,” but unless you live in a way that reinforces that belief, the belief may be useless to you and everyone else. To practice radical acceptance, you might try to:

  • 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

Part of refusing to accept reality can be living in the future or the past rather than the present moment. Radical acceptance can be a subset of living mindfully and requires practice to help you to leave behind any fantasies you might have about your past or your future. It may ask that you root yourself firmly in your life as it truly is, without any judgment, anger, or denial. It can help you lead to being someone who deeply understands self compassion.

This type of practice is not always an easy one to adopt, and it may require guidance. You might read books, consult with a specialist, or see a therapist to develop the tools required to effectively use radical acceptance in your life. Each of these options may largely depend on you, however; ultimately, you may need to be willing to consistently practice and adopt the tenets of radical acceptance, or the approach may not be effective or useful. Whether you read about radical acceptance and begin practicing at home, learn about it in support group sessions, or work one-on-one with a mental health professional, what you get out of radical acceptance as a practice may be wholly up to you and may not be forced by anyone else.

The roots of radical acceptance

Despite functioning as a recognized mental health treatment, radical acceptance is often believed to have roots in Buddhism. One of the basic notions of this world religion is that attachment can be the root of suffering and that the lack of attachment can mean the absence of suffering. If you are not attached to money and a certain standard of living, why suffer when that money has gone? If you are not attached to your identity as a fixed, definitive thing, you may not need to suffer when aspects of your personality or identity inevitably change throughout life.

Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist, internationally known teacher, and author of "Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha," encourages her clients to approach life with self compassion for emotional healing and inner freedom. Tara Brach shines light on how acknowledging initial pain and accepting difficult situations can be a challenging process, but it can lead to a life with less suffering. By working to accept what feels wrong and acknowledging when you feel bad, you can cultivate healthy relationships and move forward more readily.

Getty/Luis Alvarez
Radical acceptance may help you cope with difficult situations

This can function as the basis of radical acceptance; accepting yourself and your life can be a form of practicing non-attachment, and it may give you the freedom to live your life from moment to moment, rather than perpetually scrambling to recreate a moment in time or forcing your life to fall into line with the plan you’d previously set forth.

Identifying sources of suffering and working on your own

Throughout the course of your life, radical acceptance practice can help you navigate unexpected events, For example, one of the first things you might do is think about what could be causing you the greatest amount of pain or distress. You might identify trauma, a breakup, or some other unpleasant event in your life as the root of your issues. You might find that your need to practice radical acceptance comes after your life not taking the turns you’d expected or hoped for. Whatever the case may be, determining the source or sources can be an important part of this work; once you can pinpoint the things that are troubling you, you may begin applying radical acceptance to them.

Online therapy may guide you in your journey

An alternative to traditional therapy could be an online therapy provider. Whether you are hoping to tackle death and grief with radical acceptance, or you’d like to overcome an addiction, online therapists may be available to work with you in a more relaxed setting – that is, from the couch in your living room or even from your bed. 

A 2022 meta-analysis of 41 studies on the efficacy and feasibility of online DBT (one of the primary therapy methods that utilize radical acceptance) found that it can be effective for a variety of people and could even be considered essential for those who cannot leave home or need help outside of traditional sessions.


To cultivate more meaningful lives, we must accept difficult situations and work to overcome them. Acknowledging that some aspects of our lives are outside our control helps us identify and accept situations that we can change. When working to overcome challenges and achieve personal growth, it's important to accept situations for what they are. Journaling and therapy can aid in this process by providing a space to reflect on thoughts and feelings, allowing for greater self-awareness and insight. You have the power to take control of your life and make positive changes.

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