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What is radical acceptance?

Radical acceptance is a term that means to “accept completely or fully.” Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy: it means to accept reality. While this may seem simple enough, the truth is that this may be one of the most difficult skills to master. Radical acceptance requires us to accept stressors, unfavorable outcomes. Examples of radical acceptance include understanding that we cannot change the weather that made us late or change a company’s decision after being turned down for a job offer. Radical acceptance is not the same as toxic positivity or “finding silver linings.” It is the act of embracing things outside of our control and ending needless suffering. 

How does radical acceptance affect me?

Radical acceptance may be one of the more difficult distress tolerance skills to master, but it is also one of the most useful. Many people with both anxiety and/or depression may find comfort in control. It can be refreshing to feel as though we have control over the outcome of the situation. Many times, however, control gives us a false sense of security because We believe that we can control things that we absolutely cannot. For example, if we are running late to work due to weather-induced traffic, we may become very frustrated with ourselves and try to speed or run to try and make it on time. We may also be angry with the weather (or universe) for making us late. The truth is we cannot control the weather any more than we control time. We can only control things like getting to work safely and communicating to our supervisor what occurred and planning better next time (e.g.,checking the weather ahead of time and budgeting time accordingly). So, rather than dwelling on things we cannot control or things we wish we did, it can be much more beneficial and freeing to embrace reality and focus on what is within our control currently. When we are able to consistently accept reality, no matter how unfavorable, we are better able to manage our distress. 

How can I practice radical acceptance?

Practicing distress tolerance can start small. The next time you are feeling overwhelmed or emotionally dysregulated by a situation, take a moment to take a step back. Ask yourself, “am I questioning reality?” (e.g., what is happening? What am I feeling? Why am I feeling this?) or, “am I fighting reality?” (e.g., This is not fair! Why is this happening to me?). Next, take a moment to practice some grounding or mindfulness excerpted or some other relaxation techniques. In DBT, there are many relaxation techniques that involve the five senses (i.e, sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch). When you feel a little more regulated, try to ask yourself whether there is anything you need to accept and what is within your control currently and moving forward. For example, this might mean accepting the fact that you will be late to work and may be penalized. It may also mean focusing on getting to work safely and planning better in the future. There are also many journaling exercises that may be helpful. Focus on variables that are within your control, sit with uncomfortable emotions such as disappointment, sadness, or fear, and let go of outcomes in which you have no control. Finally, you can ask your therapist if they are able to work with you on radical acceptance and loss of control. 

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.