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Radical Acceptance

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

is not helplessness, hopelessness, or lack of change.

Denial: "I can do 99 things just the way my wife says she wants them, and if the 100th thing isn't just right, she shuns me for days. The harder I try, the worse it gets. This drives me nuts."

After practicing radical acceptance: My wife often wanted me to do things exactly when and how she liked them done. I tried very hard to please, but she was often critical if something was not done as she expected. I really started to see that we have a long history of this kind of interaction. The more I try to please, the more critical she is. The more critical she is, the more I try to please.

I made a commitment to myself to stop trying to please her and start doing things my way. I got even more scared of her angry criticism and stonewalling, but I stuck to my response like a broken record, repeating calmly."I am doing this task when I feel like it and how it makes sense to me. That is the best I can do."

Her criticism went up for a few months. Now, almost 6 months later, she rarely attacks me or stonewalls me for not doing things her way. A few times she has even done some tasks all by herself, something that she has not done since we were first married.

Family members are often frustrated, confused, and worn out. They are tired of it but they don't know how to stop. They feel desperate to "fix" their loved ones and they're terrified of what might happen if they don't.

They've tried everything. They're angry and exhausted. Their stress is taking an increasing toll on their own health and well-being.

What else can they do? Maybe it's time to not "do." Maybe, just for a little while, it's time to try "Radical Acceptance."

Radical Acceptance doesn't mean you can't ever hope for change or try to make things better. However, right now, just for a little while, you're going to allow everything to be as it is. Radical acceptance is not only acceptance of others and the world around you. It is also acknowledging your thoughts as thoughts, not as reality. Your opinions as opinions, not as facts. And any self-criticism might just be a moment in which you forgot self-kindness. Radical acceptance is likely to give you insight into what is really happening and what you might do differently, instead of expecting your loved one to change.


Resistance:"I'm the person my sister calls when she's in crisis. But if I say the wrong thing (which I always seem to) she hangs up on me and then refuses to pick up the phone. Then I start to panic that she is going to injure herself (which she does sometimes)."

After practicing radical acceptance: Now I accept the fact that I cannot control my sister's behavior or fix her problem, even though I want to help. If my sister is in an emotional crisis, I just listen and validate her. If I do say something wrong and she hangs up, I find ways to manage my anxiety as best I can without calling her back. Twice this happened. Each time she scolded me a week later for being cold and self-centered. I just listened, without defending myself.

On one hand, she has not cut herself after speaking to me. On the other hand I am getting more frustrated than scared because these are one-way conversations. Now, if I pay attention to my frustration with radical acceptance... I think I need to learn how to end a conversation honestly with grace and kindness when my frustration arises.


Resistance: "Our son says he wants everyone to just leave him alone. But then he tells his therapist that no one cares about him. How am I supposed to know where the line is?"

How would radical acceptance of reality change your feelings and behavior? Maybe you would feel less anxious and more patient? Maybe you would try to be less invasive and more accepting of his conflicting feelings and seemingly incompatible assertions? Perhaps ask more, reflect back your understanding of his response, and try to allow him to experience the consequences of his request?


Practice radical acceptance of the emotional dysregulation that frequently arises. Acceptance of the problem behaviors of your loved one as deeply ingrained unconscious bad habits that are not going to change anytime soon. Let go of trying to fix, cheer up, or make any changes today in your loved one's behavior. Imagine what you would do and how you would feel if you radically accepted your loved one.

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