Radical Acceptance…

Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past could have been different” – Oprah

The above quote comes from a youtube video that inspired my last post on forgiveness.   Forgiveness is a process that takes time and conscious effort.  In addition to giving up hope that the past could be different, we must accept certain truths about our present-day reality.   Essentially forgiveness produces change as we letting go of a past in order accept a new future.  One resource I found states: “Forgiveness is a dialectical process through which people synthesize their prior assumptions of a transgression into a new understanding of….this reframing process [is] the construction of a ‘new narrative’ (Thompson, et al, 2005, p. 318).” When I read this quote, I was reminded of the concept of “Radical Acceptance” which I’d like to discuss briefly in this post…

A Quick & Dirty Overview of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy…

imageAbout 7 years ago, I entered therapy because I felt stuck.  While in individual therapy, I also participated in a DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) Skills Group.  In my ongoing efforts to heal & forgive, the concept of radical acceptance has been essential.  DBT was initially designed by Marsha Linehan for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). While treating chronically suicidal patients with BPD, she noted a critical shortcoming in traditional behavioral and cognitive approaches (Lynch, et al, 2006). These approaches failed to address a dialectical dilemma apparent in the treatment of these clients. The validation and acceptance these clients require must be provided in balance with approaches that enable change (Lynch, et al, 2006).   As a result of this clinical observation, Marsha Linehan developed this strategy based on the Hegelian idea that reality is comprised of interrelated parts.  Dialectical philosophy defines transformation as a byproduct of two opposing viewpoints that are combined into a holistic perspective. DBT applies this philosophy to its treatment of emotional dysregulation with the use of change strategies, acceptance strategies, and dialectical techniques (Koerner, 2012).   Change strategies include the utilization of techniques to encourage change and behavioral modification (Koerner, 2012). DBT skills such as distress tolerance, chain analysis, and opposite action are useful in addressing pervasive emotional dysregulation (McKay, et al, 2010). Validation strategies exist as a useful counterpoint to these techniques and emphasize acceptance and empathy (Koerner, 2012). These strategies are based on the fact that deep emotional wounds can’t be healed with logic (Lynch, et al, 2006). Validation reduces physiological responses to dysregulated emotion and allows a therapeutic alliance to develop (Linehan, et al, 1999). Dialectical techniques address a “tension between the need to accept a client’s…vulnerabilities [while encouraging] them to make necessary change[s]” (Koerner, 2012, p15). DBT skills such as wise-mindedness and radical acceptance provide clients with the insight that underlies this dialectical balance. (McKay, et al, 2010).

Of all the concepts from this therapy group, “radical acceptance”, really stuck the most.  It provided a serene backdrop against which clarity could develop, yielding lasting change.

So What is Radical Acceptance?

imageMarsha Linehan (2005) defines radical acceptance as a complete and total acceptance of reality from the depths of your soul, in your mind heart and body.  In this respect, radical acceptance allows us to focus on the current moment, seeing reality as it is, without judgment.  Rather than fighting with reality or asking why, you choose to go with what is so you can function.  In this respect, acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, it means you choose to not fight reality. Suffering, in an instant, transforms into a tolerable pain…

Pain + Nonacceptance = Suffering:  Pain creates suffering only when you refuse to accept reality.   Acceptance helps to end suffering by turning something you can’t cope with into something you can.
Acceptance ≠ Approval:  Accepting reality doesn’t necessarily equate to a positive endorsement of what is happening. To accept something is not the same as judging it as good. Instead, think of acceptance as an acknowledgment of reality.

Turning the Mind….

In my own life, Oprah’s definition of forgiveness has been essential.  In order to move forward and become unstuck, life required me to let go of my wishes for a different life history.  By choosing to stop asking “why”, I ended much of the personal suffering I created.  Radical Acceptance is a choice Linehan (2003) describes as “turning of the mind”….

  1. STEP ONE: COMMITMENT.  The first step toward radical acceptance is simply making an active choice in the present moment to deal with reality as it is…
  2. STEP TWO: LOOK OUT FOR RESISTANCE.  As a desire to resist reality and deny its very factual nature, it is important to keep a look out for resistance.  Rumination  & resistance are forms of sadomasochistic mental torture.
  3. STEP THREE: BE AWARE OF REALITY ESCAPES & BLOCKERS.  Are you blocking certain aspects of reality out of your awareness as a form of self-deception?  What are you doing to escape reality and self-medicate (food, drink, etc)???
  4. STEP FOUR: UNDERSTAND THE CAUSE.  This step simply involves recognizing that all things have a cause.  Seeing things as they are is empowering and allows you to attain the clarity necessary to produce lasting change.   This means not asking why it happened and instead how it occurred.

Willingness vs.  Willfulness…

I’d like to conclude this post by comparing the mindset of willingness with willfulness.  These two perspectives provide a useful illustration of how accepting reality compares with a rejection of it.  In the table below, I provide a comparison of these two mental states….



Accepting Reality
  Rejecting Reality
Participate in life
  Not Tolerating “Now” 
Acknowledging what Is 
Fixing the Unfixable
Doing What is Needed
 Sitting on Your Hands
Choosing Healing 
 Playing Victim  


Lynch, T.R., Chapman, A.L, Rosenthal, M.Z., Kuo, J.R., & Linehan, M.M. (2006). Mechanism of change in dialectical behavior therapy: Theoretical and empirical observations. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 62(4), 459-480
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2010). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Marsha Linehan (2005), From Suffering to Freedom: Practicing Realty Acceptance. New York, NY: Guilford Press
Thompson, L.Y., Snyder, C.R., Hoffman, L., Michael, S.T., Rasmussen, H.N., Billings, L.S. & Roberts, D.E. (2005). Dispositional forgiveness of self, others and situations. Journal of Personality, 73(2). pp. 313-354.

Share This: