Here’s a strategy I’ve been trying to practice regularly in my recovery journey – “radical acceptance”.
Plot twist: It’s really not as radical as it sounds. It might be hard to incorporate this into your daily routine, especially if you’re a “worrier” like me, but the concept itself is fairly straightforward, and the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Pain + non acceptance = suffering
The general consequence is that when a particular situation, feeling, or thought is out of our control, fighting against it can cause unnecessary suffering. In this way, pain is unavoidable but suffering is a choice.
Believe me, I know that when reality is painful or uncomfortable, it’s natural to try to push it aside (cue the use of unhealthy coping mechanisms to distract, numb, or fight against the discomfort). Whatever your survival strategies might be, they’re usually born from a desire to be safe but without the specific tools to do so. Consequently, they tend to become reinforced over time and develop into regular habits that become increasingly hard to break. So, what does this have to do with radical acceptance? Well, in conjunction with learning new coping strategies and cognitive and emotional skills, learning to recognize the pain we are trying to avoid in a more constructive way (re: radical acceptance) can alleviate tension and determinants of our harmful behaviours.
Striving for a false sense of control takes us farther away from radical acceptance and down the road to suffering.
Radical acceptance is:
First you must try to be present & aware. This in itself takes practice (as I have been working on it alone for almost a year now!).
Noticing how you’re feeling requires you to check in with yourself regularly. To start getting in to the habit I set a reminder on my phone every couple hours to ensure time for deliberate self-reflection. I know life can feel like it’s constantly go-go-go but building a habit of regularly turning inwards, even for a few minutes, can do wonders for our health.
I found it helpful initially (and still occasionally) to use a cheat sheet with emotion words to help me put thoughts to my feelings. Writing it down can help too!
Acknowledging your situation and recognizing a feeling necessarily allows us to recognize that they are transient – They are not permanent but will come and go like ocean waves with varying degrees of intensity.
After having recognized your situation and emotions, it’s important, and quite hard to try not to judge them. Don’t prescribe a “good” or “bad” label to them, just reflect on what they are. No emotion is inherently good or bad – they don’t need labels.
Why does it make sense that things are the way they are? It’s natural to feel emotions of all kinds, you don’t have to repress them or will them away. It’s also natural that all kinds of different situations can trigger emotions in different people. Shaming yourself or guilting yourself for your reality won’t make a difficult situation any easier.
Noticing the facts and trying to accept them.
Radical acceptance is not:
⁃ Ignoring or denying a situation or responsibility
⁃ Agreement with whatever situation you find yourself in
Here’s a very simple example I tried the other day: I’m sitting on the bus on my way to class. I’m aware of the pressure to be on time. I am an anxious person and I like to be punctual – it makes sense that I feel tense. I can continue to check my phone and become increasingly anxious about it or I can accept that I will get there when I get there and it is largely beyond my control, regardless of how much I choose to worry on the way.