Learning to face challenging situations without turning to drugs and alcohol for comfort is a crucial part of building the foundation for lasting sobriety. Radical acceptance, a concept associated with dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), can help.
About Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is a practice developed by Marsha Linehan. An Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle and Director of the Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics, Linehan’s research focuses on borderline personality disorder, suicidal behaviors, and substance abuse.
Radical acceptance encourages you to:
- Accept your life and what it is
- Acknowledge that some aspects of your life—such as how others treat you—are beyond your control
- Look at your situation without judgment
- Avoid placing blame on yourself or others for what has happened in the past
- Practice mindfulness by living in the present moment
The key point to remember is that you don’t have to like reality to accept it. Many situations in life are unfair, but fixating on “what might have been” only adds to your suffering. We all experience pain, sadness, and loss at one point or another, but people who are emotionally resilient know that ruminating on situations you can’t change only prolongs your anguish.
Many people have pointed out that radical acceptance shares many similarities to the Buddhist lifestyle. In Buddhism, attachment is the root of suffering. When you live your life from moment to moment instead of trying to create a specific outcome, you are free from suffering. Your pain doesn’t necessarily disappear entirely, but your focus is directed in a way that makes it bearable.
Applications and Limitations
Radical acceptance can be helpful in dealing with a wide range of situations that can potentially have negative effects on your mental health, including the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or promotion opportunity, and the end of a romantic relationship. The process is often ongoing and accompanied by a great deal of journaling and self-reflection.
However, despite its versatility, it’s important to note that radical acceptance does have its limitations. For example, if you are in a toxic relationship with someone who continues to mistreat you despite your efforts to express how you feel, you shouldn’t simply resign yourself to being unhappy. In this situation, radical acceptance doesn’t mean passively accepting the situation—it means you need to accept that this person isn’t interested in changing their behavior and that ending the relationship is the only way you can protect yourself. You are accepting that while you may have enjoyed your time together in the past, your future needs and goals are no longer compatible.
Radical acceptance helps you distance yourself from a situation that’s causing distress. When you’re not focused on your emotional reaction and your attachment to a preferred outcome, you can direct your attention to problem-solving. Or, if there truly is nothing you can do to change the situation, you can develop a plan to move forward with your life.
Using Radical Acceptance to Cope with COVID-19
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of daily life. Social gatherings are canceled, 12-Step groups are meeting virtually, children haven’t been in school for several months, and many employers are laying off their workers. Since the virus is new, scientists are still developing an understanding of how it spreads. Most experts agree we won’t get back to normal until there is an effective vaccine, but nobody knows when that will be.
This uncertainty is understandably upsetting. However, much of the situation is outside of your control. Instead of focusing on your anger over how your routine has been disrupted, radical acceptance encourages you to direct your attention to things you can control. For example:
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to protect yourself from germs.
- Wear a mask and stay at least six feet apart from strangers when you’re out running errands.
- Exercise, eat right, and get sufficient rest to make your immune system as strong as possible.
- Connect virtually with friends and family instead of hosting large gatherings that could make vulnerable loved ones ill.
- If you’re laid off, use your free time to learn new skills so you’ll be better equipped to find a new job when the economy recovers.
We’re Always Here to Help
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we’re committed to your success and believe there’s no need to put off rehab due to coronavirus fears. Our Pennsylvania residential substance abuse treatment center continues to accept patients during COVID-19, subject to enhanced screening procedures. As an essential business, we are following all CDC recommended practices for infection control so we can continue to provide the evidence-based care you need to move forward in your recovery journey.