What Is Radical Acceptance? Learn How To Use Radical Acceptance To Your Advantage

By Corrina Horne |Updated April 5, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Chante’ Gamby, LCSW

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.

What Is Radical Acceptance?

Radical Acceptance Can Help In Situations Beyond Our Control

Radical Acceptance is a practice developed by Marsha Linehan. Used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), this particular practice was created based on the notion that reality must be accepted, rather than fought against, and that fighting and railing against a situation is a greater cause of suffering than the situation itself. Radical acceptance, as its name suggests, means exactly that: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback. Far from condoning or embracing what you are and what you are going through, radical acceptance advocates simply accepting yourself and your circumstances in order to better move through and past them.

Radical acceptance is hnelpful for all manner of ailments, including various mental health maladies and concerns. This is because fighting against something often makes it worse; in one study, people were told to think of white bears, then expressly forbidden from doing 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 actually went away. Accepting yourself, your situation, and your mental health status can actually help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with each of these things.

What Causes Suffering?

This question is not one that is readily answered; the exact cause of suffering is not widely agreed-upon nor is it determined by any single governing party. What has become an increasingly common thread, though, is the notion that attachment (or fixation) is a significant cause of suffering, separate from any specific religious ideology or philosophical leaning. Suffering is a result of an attachment to an idea, a previous situation, or a determination of what should happen, what you should be, or what your life should be. To acknowledge and accept the entirety of your life and yourself is to remove yourself from the possibility of experiencing this type of suffering.

When Radical Acceptance Is Used

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.

Radical Acceptance Components   

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

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 and requires you to leave behind any fantasies you might have about your past or your future and to root yourself firmly in your life as it actually is, without any judgment, anger, or denial.

This type of practice is not an easy one to adopt, and often it requires some help. You can read books, consult with a specialist, or see a therapist in order to develop the tools required to effectively use radical acceptance in your life. Each of these options, though, will largely depend on you; ultimately, you must be willing to consistently practice and adopt the tenets of radical acceptance, or the treatment will not be effective or useful. Whether you read about radical acceptance and begin practicing at home, learn about it in group sessions, or work one-on-one with a mental health professional, what you get out of radical acceptance as a practice is wholly up to you and cannot be forced or influenced by anyone outside of yourself.

The Roots of Radical Acceptance

Despite functioning as a recognized mental health treatment, radical acceptance does have some roots in Buddhism and the Buddhist lifestyle. One of the basic notions of this world religion is that attachment is the root of suffering and that the lack of attachment means, in many ways, the lack of suffering. After all, it can be argued, if you are not attached to loved ones, why would you suffer greatly when those loved ones are gone? If you are not attached to money and a certain standard of living, why suffer when that same money has gone? If you are not attached to your identity as a fixed, definitive thing, you need not suffer when aspects of your personality or identity are ripped away.

Radical Acceptance Can Help In Situations Beyond Our Control

This functions as the basis of radical acceptance; accepting yourself and your life is a form of practicing non-attachment, and it gives 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 (h2)

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

This work can be done on your own. Using journaling and self-reflection, you can identify the more problematic parts of your past and can begin applying the principles of radical acceptance. As you progress, you can continue writing and checking in with yourself, in order to make sure you are consistently applying the tenets of this treatment and actively working toward healing.

When BetterHelp Can Help

If you reach a place in your own journey of radical acceptance where you feel you have grown stagnant or stuck, you may reach out to a mental health professional for additional help and guidance in your journey. Someone who is trained in this type of therapy can help you identify any weak points in your radical acceptance practice and can provide insight into and training for a fully-fleshed-out radical acceptance practice that covers the vast majority of your current ills, ailments, and mental health concerns.

BetterHelp is an online therapy provider that offers a wide range of therapy backgrounds, specialties, and interests. Whether you are hoping to tackle a well of grief with radical acceptance, or you are hoping to grapple with an addiction you’ve struggled with for years, BetterHelp therapists are available to work with their clients in a more relaxed setting – that is, from the couch in your living room, or even from bed. Online therapy can be enormously useful for people who struggle to work with the standard scheduling habits of traditional therapy offices and can offer a more personable experience than the usual clinical settings. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“I appreciate the timely availability of behavioral professional, Shorena Alexander (LCSW). When I could not arrange to meet with a local professional in person, Shorena was able to support me electronically. She has maintained objectivity while sharing encouraging feedback, which has empowered me to better accept my own role in the healing process.”

“In just a few sessions, Erika has helped me to soften into myself and shift some perspectives that were causing suffering. She is compassionate, wise, open and supportive and the sessions are always enlightening on multiple levels.”

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.