Reality is tough to face right now.
It feels like our lives have been flipped upside down and torn apart from the inside.
Most of us are still adjusting to a new normal. This new homestay situation that we’re facing has disrupted our routines, our lifestyles, and our finances. Our children have had to adjust en masse to online education, and many of us have had to figure out a way of living that includes intense isolation from our support system.
Daily, I see people who are standing too close to others, kids playing together in close proximity, and large gatherings of people at parks. All while the numbers of people who are contracting COVID-19 are growing steadily. From what I can tell, there are a lot of people who are having a difficult time with a sheltering-in-place reality. These people may be experiencing denial of our current situation.
There are also people who are staying in their homes, limiting contact with everyone, including close friends and family, and wearing masks out in public.
In all these people, there may be a variety of levels of acceptance of reality. When we fail to accept the current moment as being exactly what it is without adding to or subtracting from it, we find ourselves experiencing unending suffering. Now, life has suffering from time to time. That’s a harsh reality. And, we’re currently in a situation that can cause suffering. However, we don’t have to experience unending suffering right now.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) says that we have four choices when we’re experiencing suffering:
- Change the situation
- Change how we perceive the situation
- Accept the situation
- Stay stuck in our suffering
As I said earlier, when we attempt to avoid reality, we can increase our suffering, or cause unending suffering. When we practice Radical Acceptance, we reduce the suffering to pain that is more manageable. In addition, when we practice Radical Acceptance, we can make choices about how we respond and make changes to our thoughts and emotions regarding our situation. This allows us to move forward more effectively.
When we practice Radical Acceptance, we are saying that we understand these three concepts:
- Reality is exactly what it is
- Everything has a cause (even if we don’t know exactly what that is)
- Life can be worth living, even when there is pain
How Do We Practice Radical Acceptance?
Before we answer this question, let’s look at what Radical Acceptance is not, and what it is. Radical Acceptance is not resignation. When we choose to radically accept our situation, we are not suddenly saying that we like the situation, nor are we showing any form of approval– that would be invalidating. Instead, we are choosing to accept reality in the moment with our entire being—with our minds, and our hearts, and our bodies. That’s why we call it “radical”– it takes our entire being, and not only a part of us.
And we do this by following these steps:
- Observe that you are not accepting reality
- Gently remind yourself that the reality is exactly as it is and no different
- Describe what you are having a difficult time accepting
- Identify changes that you can realistically make to the situation or to your perception of the situation
- Describe how your life will be different after you Radically Accept this situation
- Describe how you will celebrate your freedom from suffering
- Turn your mind toward Radical Acceptance over and over again
Some Things to Remember
This list sounds easy, right? Well, if acceptance of uncomfortable realities was easy, then we wouldn’t have to talk about this skill at all. We would simply accept all situations that come our way, without avoidance and without suffering. This is not what we usually do, and we have good reasons.
It’s important to note that while we are in the process of accepting reality, we will find ourselves experiencing difficult emotions—sadness, anger, fear, regret, disappointment, frustration. We will find ourselves, most likely, somewhere in Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, or depression. There may be parts of the situation that are easier to accept than others. That’s why it’s important to sit down and create awareness around what we are having a difficult time accepting.
In short, Radical Acceptance requires mindfulness of painful emotions that we have been attempting to avoid experiencing. When we begin the process of Radical Acceptance, we will need to feel these negative emotions in order to reach acceptance. When we do this, we find that these emotions don’t last in a single moment for as long as we expect them to, nor for as long as they do when we attempt to avoid them.
Lastly, Radical Acceptance is not a one-time deal. It’s necessary to practice over and over. We do not wake up each morning and face each moment with Radical Acceptance. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves to turn our minds toward acceptance of a painful situation over and over again.
When we do this, we find that the situation that was once intolerable is now tolerable, and we may even be able to find some meaning in it.
This is a difficult skill to use, and it is worth the work. I promise.