“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” –Carl Rogers
In my work with clients, I often talk about Radical Acceptance. Frequently there is a misunderstanding about what it means so, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little bit about it here. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it’s a nice little foray into what it’s like to Radically Accept.
First, let’s talk about what Radical Acceptance is not. Radical Acceptance is not passively accepting that we are in a challenging situation. It is not avoidance. It is not giving up or resigning to fate. It’s not taking on a victim role. Radical Acceptance is not saying to ourselves, “You know what? I have Attention Deficit Disorder, so I can’t do well in school or perform well at work. It’s just the way my brain works.” Radical Acceptance is not a cop out. It doesn’t mean that we accept abuse or disrespect. Radical Acceptance does not mean that we think, “Yep, climate change is happening. Might as well accept that this is just how things are now.” It does not have the harsh tone of “no one ever said life was easy.”
Radical Acceptance is an empowered way of approaching life. It is a deep, honest, loving, and mindful acknowledgement. Tara Brach, PhD. is a wonderful resource for Radical Acceptance. She refers to Radical Acceptance as “seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion.” (Check out her website.)
When we employ Radical Acceptance, we turn toward ourselves and our experiences with honesty and love. We acknowledge our pain, discomfort, symptoms, struggle, and experience. It looks something like this: “I know I struggle with escapism. Instead of getting work done, I watch TV and go online. This is causing my work to suffer. I feel guilty and embarrassed. I want to change this, but I’m afraid of committing more fully to my work.” Sitting presently and authentically with our experience is powerful. It creates a safe place for us to face our fear and discomfort and that’s a critical first step.
As we engage in Radical Acceptance, we accept that we are struggling. We accept that it will take work to get through the struggle. We accept the uncertainty of what that will look and feel like. We accept that our changes and newfound knowledge of ourselves might make other people uncomfortable. We accept that relationships might change or dissolve. We accept that there are no guarantees.
In Radically Accepting something, we embrace all of this. We embrace the risk and the fear and the discomfort and the wish for protection from all of this and the impulse to avoid and the change and the work and the struggle. We own it all. We own our experience and our journey through it. The feelings and the circumstances stop dominating us.
Try this exercise. Sit quietly for a minute and just be. See what you notice. If there is anxiety, acknowledge it. If your nose itches, acknowledge it. If there is a loud siren wailing down the street, acknowledge it. If there is a judgment about sitting quietly followed by an impulse to meet a need, acknowledge it. It’s that simple. As you practice Radical Acceptance it will grow and strengthen and shape your life; you will notice that you feel more grounded, present, and empowered. It’s a long, nonlinear, unending, powerful journey.
Love and Be Loved,