Radical Acceptance: How To Move Beyond Life's Challenges And Disappointments "It's not about ignoring what's happening, but understanding that some things just are."
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When it comes to personal development, I always like to maintain a focal point. I have always valued my problem-solving skills and ability to identify lessons. Though, I have also come to realize that accepting things for what they are, especially when they go against my wishes or desires, can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow.
I recall the first time I came across the notion of radical acceptance as a solution to this. Initially, I rejected the wisdom or idea of merely accepting situations. It always felt like giving in too soon, rolling over, or settling for second best. However, upon revisiting the ideology of radical acceptance, I have practiced embracing it each time something has not gone my way. This approach has led me to discover new healing, new energy, and an ability to move past difficulties much more quickly.
As an example, I applied this new way of thinking when my beloved football team, Coventry City, lost at Wembley to Luton Town in the English Championship Football Play-Off Finals. I passionately wanted my team to win and play in the Premier League with the best players in the world, but it didn't happen. During the two-hour drive home, I chose to embrace radical acceptance. I could do nothing about the loss, but I could control the way I related to it. While this didn't eliminate my disappointment, it certainly helped shift my focus in order to move past it.
On another more personal front, I have been working on a family relationship with someone for quite some time. I have an idea of what I want, how often I would like to see and talk to them, and how I would like the relationship to evolve. However, the reality is that they are just not yet ready or able in the same way that I am. Normally, this would very much consume and upset me. So, I have chosen radical acceptance, even though the situation is not what I personally desire. By accepting things as they are and practicing patience, it no longer drains my energy trying to make it something beyond my control.
Babita Spinelli, founder and CEO, Babita Spinelli Group. Source: Babita Spinelli Group
I always appreciate understanding others' perspectives on the topic, and so, it brought me great joy to tap into the mind and experience of someone like Babita Spinelli. Babita is the founder and CEO of the Babita Spinelli Group, as well as a psychotherapist, executive coach, mental health advisor, and consultant. Here are excerpts from my conversation with her on radical acceptance:
How do we embrace radical acceptance?
For me, embracing it involves a mix of mindfulness, and a little pep talk using radical acceptance phrases like, "This feeling will pass, and I'll be okay." It's not about ignoring what's happening, but understanding that some things just are. Accepting that reality, feeling those emotions, and letting go of the need to control everything- it's a gamechanger in handling life's curveballs. Embracing radical acceptance also involves steps outlined by Marsha Linehan, and incorporates additional practices. Recognizing moments where we resist reality and reminding ourselves that some aspects cannot be changed are crucial. Practicing mindfulness, breathing exercises, and intentional acceptance helps in grounding ourselves in the present moment. Radical acceptance isn't about avoidance, but about feeling emotions fully, and releasing the burden of controlling what cannot be changed. With practice, it becomes an intuitive tool for navigating life's challenges.
Can you recall a time recently where you had to radically accept an undesired outcome that resulted into something positive?
Absolutely! Just recently, I poured my heart into a project that didn't quite unfold as expected. At first, I was really disappointed and wrestled with the whole situation. But then, I reminded myself of radical acceptance, saying, "I can't change what's already happened." It wasn't about giving up, but understanding the reality. That mindset switch allowed me to explore new angles, and, surprisingly, this led the project to take a turn for the better! This acceptance wasn't about resignation but about recognizing the reality and its causes. It allowed me to explore alternate approaches, leading to valuable insights and ultimately redirecting the project toward an unexpectedly positive outcome.
When things don't go as planned, how do you tend to deal with setbacks?
Setbacks are part of life, although it's hard to keep that in mind when some experiences are more challenging emotionally than others. When I am faced with a "setback," I use the tools radical acceptance offers. Instead of fighting it, I acknowledge what is taking place, and how I feel about it. It helps me switch gears from feeling down and out to implementing new strategies and solutions. In other words, acknowledging the reality of the situation without resisting or denying it helps me shift focus from the disappointment to constructive responses. Integrating steps from radical acceptance, such as acknowledging emotions and practicing mindfulness, allows me to adapt, learn, and redirect my energy toward alternative paths or solutions.
What are the ramifications of not accepting situations for what they are?
Ah, resisting reality– that's a tough cycle to get stuck in. When we don't embrace radical acceptance, we can get stuck in a loop alternating between stress and anxiety. That resistance? It just keeps us hanging onto things that are out of our control, resulting in the pain sticking around for much longer than need be. Failing to embrace radical acceptance often leads to prolonged emotional distress and hinders healing. Denying reality and resisting acceptance consumes mental energy, fostering stress and anxiety. It perpetuates a cycle of rumination, preventing us from moving forward and impeding our ability to experience emotions fully. This resistance can amplify suffering, turning manageable pain into prolonged distress.
How do we find the sweet spot between radical acceptance and when we need to set boundaries?
It's a matter of balance. Radical acceptance helps us see what we can't change, while setting boundaries keeps us grounded. I think it starts with understanding where our influence ends, and embracing that with radical acceptance. And when it comes to our well-being, setting boundaries becomes key– it's like saying, "I won't stress over what I can't control." Finding balance between radical acceptance and setting boundaries helps us acknowledge what we cannot change while still prioritizing our well-being. It begins with recognizing the fine line between accepting the uncontrollable, and asserting control over what's within our influence. Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness aids in discerning situations where radical acceptance is necessary, while setting boundaries safeguards our emotional and mental health.
How does radical acceptance help us with setting new boundaries?
Radical acceptance lays the groundwork for setting boundaries by letting us understand what we're truly okay with. It's like realizing, "I've got to accept this reality, but I also respect my own limits." When we're okay with what is and isn't in our control, setting boundaries becomes more about self-respect, and less about resistance. By accepting reality without judgment, we gain a clearer understanding of what aligns with our values and comfort levels. This acceptance empowers us to set boundaries based on self-respect and understanding. It's about recognizing our limits and respecting them, while also acknowledging external circumstances that are beyond our control.