Distress Tolerance 7: Radical Acceptance

This blog post is Bill and Ted Approved!

Here comes the serious stuff; something many people struggle with but in my opinion, one of the most important lessons to take to heart when you are really serious about recovery. Radical Acceptance.

Also Wayne Campbell Approved!

To radically accept something in your life, (for our purposes, mental and emotional pain) first you have to accept it. You have to stop fighting reality.

Not easy. But freedom from suffering requires an acceptance of reality from deep within yourself. It’s the only way out of the hell of suffering in your mind.

PROTIP: To accept something DOES NOT mean you approve of it.

Or to put it another way;


Acceptance is simply acknowledging something for what it is and making the decision to endure it instead of denying it. If you continue to deny or ignore the pain, it will only continue. And just because something is accepted, doesn’t mean you have to like it, just be aware of it.

Pain + Non-acceptance = Suffering

Remember the 4 choices to consider when facing a crisis?

  1. Solve the problem !
  2. Change how you feel ;
  3. Accept it .
  4. Stay miserable 😦

Ideally we can go with option 1 but that option is not always available to us. Option 2 would be nice if our emotions were as easily changed when we’re in pain. So option 3 offers the chance for a freedom from suffering by instructing us to let go of fighting reality. We acknowledge what is real, we accept it, and turn the suffering into pain that can be endured.

It’s called Radical Acceptance because it is intense and revolutionary. Because you have to make the acceptance ALL THE WAY, complete and total. There is no grey area here. What is real is real and you can’t un-real reality.

There is no spoon

Here’s popular platitude: Everything happens for a reason. Maybe this means a lot to you. It’ll depend on whether or not you believe in a complete and connected universe, pre-destination and/or a higher all mighty power that predicts and/or controls our actions. Maybe this is profound to you and you find comfort in it. Good. Use it.

It doesn’t work for me, and I’m not going to get into why because that’s not important now. The fact is it doesn’t work for everyone.

In DBT, instead we say EVERYTHING HAS A CAUSE. Everything is as it should be. Everything is as it it.

All events in history follow cause and effect. Things happen, that lead to other things that lead to other things, etc., and the reality of our present is a perfect culmination of all of the cause and effect events that have led us to this moment. If you lined up all of the events, one by one, all the way back through to unrecorded time they would fall into place exactly as they did again. You can’t go back and change anything, all we have is now, so all we have the power to change is now.