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Understanding Radical Acceptance

Hello, I’m Andrew Harris. I am one of the primary therapists here at HopeWay. One of the treatment modalities that I practice both in individual and group therapies is dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT. So, the dialectic in this case meaning that two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time. So, both “you're right” and “I'm right,” “you're doing the best you can” and “you could be doing better,” “you are anxious” and “you're okay at the same time.” It is not this either or, black or white which we tend to think of, so it really helps us find the gray, the middle path. So DBT is broken up into four different modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Among those four modules, distress tolerance, there's a particular skill that I find really helpful in my own life and I think a lot of people can find helpful in their lives as well. This skill is called radical acceptance. What this skill is designed to do is to help keep pain from turning into suffering. Pain as we all know in life is unavoidable, so this is a skill that's designed to not again eliminate that pain, but keep that pain from turning into suffering. When we ruminate, when we get stuck in “this is unfair,” “woe is me,” “why why why,” which is all completely understandable, it tends to keep us stuck and turns that pain into more prolonged pain or suffering. So the acceptance piece of this is not approval. When we tend to think of acceptance interpersonally we think “I accept this person,” “I approve of this person.” Acceptance is not approval in this case, it is recognizing however that the facts of reality are what they are and typically when we fight reality, fighting that reality does not change reality. Some examples include mistakes we've made in the past and then beating ourselves up for that over and over and over again. One of the things for myself and my own anxiety, I had a panic attack when I was about 25 and for years after that I really struggled with managing that anxiety and anytime I felt anxious I would get upset and angry and woe was me. It happened while I was driving. It used to be one of my favorite things to do and then all of a sudden I was terrified of it. So, getting stuck in the woe is me and so much of my energy went to that where, when I learned the skill radical acceptance, getting to a place of accepting my anxiety and again, seems really counterintuitive because when we think of acceptance we think of approval, but it is not saying like, “yay I love my anxiety” but it's recognizing that I have anxiety and fighting that was only making it worse. So getting to a place of acceptance and recognizing that “okay this is part of who I am” and not fighting it any longer really freed up so much energy for me to be able to manage it more effectively. Now when I get anxious, which I still do, I recognize it, I'm calm, I say “well makes sense I'm feeling anxious, I have anxiety, and I’m okay.” That’s kind of the dialectic that I can be both anxious and I'm okay at the same time, versus my mindset was, “if I'm anxious, I am not okay, this is intolerable I cannot handle this.” So, it's been a really effective skill for me to again free up that energy and get me unstuck from the anger and the bitterness of “all right why did this happen to me, this is so wildly unfair.” So, even though this is a difficult skill to practice, it is one that's really benefited me quite a bit and I hope that you find some benefit from it as well.

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