Cultivating Radical Acceptance
Listen as you are guided through a meditation for cultivating radical acceptance.
Anyone reading this has likely had the experience of thinking, “I feel bad,” followed by the thought, “I shouldn’t feel bad,” and then, of course, the experience of feeling worse. This can be described as resistance, or the opposite of radical acceptance.
What is resistance?
According to Germer and Neff (2018; p 50), “resistance refers to the struggle that occurs when we believe our moment-to-moment experience should be other than it is.” Resistance is a natural human response to unpleasant experiences and pain.
Some common signs of resistance arising include physical tension or tightness, criticism and judgment, rumination and worry, fear, distraction and daydreaming, avoidance, overworking, overeating, or using drugs and alcohol.
Resistance can be helpful in the short term and even a form of self-compassion. Think of a time when you’ve heard some unpleasant news, but you had an important work deadline to meet, and you said to yourself, “let me put this unpleasant news to the side for now so that I can concentrate on work.” Or a time when you were emotionally and physically exhausted and said to yourself, “I have no more energy to feel or think about this pain right now.” Intentionally closing our awareness to unpleasant experiences or pain is often necessary when we feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, many unpleasant experiences don’t simply go away by ignoring them or wishing they didn’t exist.
What is radical acceptance?
Radical acceptance is opening to unpleasant experiences, acknowledging what we are feeling, and allowing ourselves to feel it. Marsha Linehan (2015; p 451) defines radical acceptance as “complete and total openness to the facts of reality as they are, without throwing a tantrum or responding with willful ineffectiveness.”
Radical acceptance (allowing yourself to open to and directly connect with your experiences) does not mean that you approve of the experiences, and it is not giving up your agency to act with purpose. In accepting what is, we create space to connect directly with our experiences and allow our experiences to change. For example, when we connect directly with an emotional loss or pain in our bodies, the emotional or physical pain usually shifts and changes in intensity and texture. We are less likely to become stuck in the emotional or physical pain, which is more likely to occur when we try to ignore it, deny it, fight it, or wish it away. Radical acceptance can help facilitate the release of both emotional and physical pain. Accepting what is also provides an opportunity to consciously respond to our pain with acts of kindness and self-compassion.
Tara Brach (2019) describes radical acceptance as surrendering to our experiences and no longer being at war with ourselves. Practicing radical acceptance with small sources of pain and discomfort in our lives, such as accepting reality and how we feel when we are stuck in traffic or when a friend cancels dinner plans, can increase our capacity for holding difficult emotions and facing challenging situations without feeling overwhelmed during more challenging life events. This is called affect regulation, and it’s a skill that enhances our distress tolerance and overall well-being.
As human beings, we move back and forth between acceptance and resistance, opening and closing to our experiences. Meditation is a practice that facilitates an attitude and state of radical acceptance by opening to our experiences, acknowledging them, and allowing them to be.
- "Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive" by Kristin Neff, PhD and Chris Germer, PhD
- "DBT Skills Training Manual" by Marsha Linehan, PhD
- "Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN" by Tara Brach, PhD