How To Practice Radical Acceptance

Updated May 28, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

Accepting reality can be hard. Whether your issues revolve around past trauma, current struggles, or fear of the future, accepting reality may seem too difficult. For those who struggle with acceptance in these situations, learning radical acceptance may be important.

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Radical acceptance is accepting things exactly as they come. Many believe that this way of living is beneficial to overall happiness and stress reduction because you don’t waste your time wish for what things could be or hopelessly trying to change things that cannot be changed.

Learning to practice acceptance is a part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and is often referred to as one of the most life-changing skills someone can learn.

What is “Practicing Radical Acceptance?”

‘Radical acceptance’ means choosing to accept the present and past exactly as it comes, no matter how difficult or unfair it may be. The term “unacceptable” has no place in the ideology of radical acceptance.  However, radical acceptance doesn’t mean you have to approve of what happened in your past.

Instead, it focuses on radically accepting your past for what it is and knowing that it cannot be changed. Once you have accepted the situation, you may find there is power in the finality of knowing the past is permanent but over.

What Should You Radically Accept?

Refusing to accept reality is a coping mechanism that typically stems from denial. Temporary denial (right after an incident) is a normal part of grieving and acceptance. Still, if you never make it past denial into acceptance, you may cause yourself a lot of pain.

Here are some areas in which you can try to practice radical acceptance:

The Past

“To practice acceptance” means understanding that everything that has happened is gone from your control.

No matter how big a moment of your past was, it cannot be changed. Acceptance is about accepting the good and the bad.

Radical acceptance helps you to accept the things that have happened to you without having to forgive, forget, or agree with any of them.

The Present

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The present is an interesting area of radical acceptance because it is important to accept things as they are, whether it is the unfair reality of something that happened that may have impacted your life drastically or the store's minor inconvenience being out of milk.

When you think about the practice of refusing to accept reality, you may think it refers to the past and future, but this mentality can be most stunting in the present. There are things in everyone’s life that cannot be changed or can only be changed at a great loss to yourself – refusing to accept that these things cannot be changed can cause damage to your mental and physical health.

While it is okay to try and change things that you can – like exercising to lose weight or drinking more water keep yourself hydrated– it can greatly improve your mental health to be able to accept the things in your life as they are to reduce trauma and disappointment if they cannot be changed.

The Future

Acceptance is about accepting things that already affect your life, but also about accepting the things that will inevitably affect your life. So, to practice radical acceptance regarding the future, you must recognize and accept reality and its limitations.

Limitations vary from person to person and can be seen when viewed realistically. Coming to terms with your future's reality and accepting your limits can help motivate you to excel in all possible areas.

How to Learn Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is taught as a part of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Finding a therapist specializing in this therapy field is a great way to learn radical acceptance and help you in life.

If you prefer to learn about radical acceptance in your own home, you can try finding a talk therapist online. ReGain offers a large selection of therapists who can teach you about radical acceptance. 

Radically accepting the past, present, and future is a learned skill that can be achieved with patience, an openness to learn, and the help of a talented, educated counselor.

Other DBT Strategies

Remember that radical acceptance is only one part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Though learning to practice acceptance is a large step in this therapy, a few techniques involve self-love that can also be crucial to healing.

Some other DBT strategies that help those learning radical acceptance are “Willing Hands” and “Half Smile.”

Willing hands teach you to relax while sitting so that all your muscles in your arms are at ease. You then turn up your palms while on your lap and focus on your body's micromovements to recognize where you are harboring stress.

With Half-smile, you relax the muscles in your face completely, then slightly upturn the corners of your lips. Like the Willing Hand movement, you can pinpoint areas of stress and accumulated tension.

Learning to read your body and stress levels in such a way is a key part of learning self-care and appreciation, which is the basis of radical acceptance and self-love.

Finding a therapist who can help you learn these DBT strategies is an important step in learning radical acceptance and overcoming your past pain and the limitations and difficulties of your present and future.

Research on Radical Acceptance

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One piece of research on radical acceptance found that in studies of people living with PTSD, improvements followed the implementation of radical acceptance during therapy in the patients.

In fact, as the patients improved at the skill of radical acceptance, their complicated feelings these individuals held of shame, guilt, disgust, distress, and fear decreased in direct correlation. It seems that accepting what happened to them and learning that they can accept without necessarily forgiving was heavily therapeutic.

Other research looked at radical acceptance and how learning this technique helped other aspects of life. It found that those who practice radical acceptance were able to more easily grasp other conceptual strategies such as “validation, reciprocal communication style, and environmental intervention, which are used in balance with the change strategies of problem-solving, irreverent communication style, and consultation.”

Most research into radical acceptance, no matter which angle they take, tends to come back with impressive results on the practice's positive effects on the studies' patients.

The Basics of Practicing Radical Acceptance

Practicing acceptance is a skill that comes with time and needs to be implemented slowly. However, that doesn’t mean the idea of radical acceptance is complicated. Here are some of the basic skills and steps that help with accepting life.

Accepting What Is

Accepting things as they already are and making the conscious choice not to fight a situation's reality is the first step of learning radical acceptance. Practicing acceptance doesn’t mean being okay with everything in your life but understanding that denying the reality of these things will not change it.

Identifying Things Beyond Your Control

Stop and think about what is happening in your life. Can you realistically make a change to the things you don’t like? If you can’t, you may conclude that there is no logical reason to exhausting your energy and emotions toward that situation anymore. Instead, put your energy into the things you can change and building relationships with those you love.

Appreciating the Feeling of Fear

Understanding the biology of fear is important for recognizing how fear benefits us. When you become aware and curious of fear, you may be able to recognize specifically where the fear stems and find a way to make it stop. Are you feeling fearful while standing on the top floor of a tall building?

Analyzing fear may help you to realize the source of your fear is the idea of falling. Then you can assess the situation – you are safe, there are windows in place, the area is peaceful and under control – and you may find that the fear dissipates.

Loving Yourself

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One of the best things you can do for yourself offers love and compassion. It is often said that “nobody is harder on you than you.” People can indeed be hard on themselves, but the reality is that we should be kind to ourselves.

We will be with us for the rest of our lives, so we should treat ourselves like a loved one or close friend. Forgive yourself for mistakes and choose to learn from them. Allow yourself time for grieving and compassion to help move toward acceptance.

If you find love and compassion for yourself, you can rest easy knowing that you will always be loved.

Final Notes

Loving yourself and using that compassion to fuel the learning of radical acceptance isn’t always easy. Radical acceptance requires an open mind and patience as you take small steps towards accepting things as they come.

One of the best ways to ensure your journey is fruitful is by using the advice and wisdom of a licensed, educated therapist.

Many therapists focus on DBT and radical acceptance. ReGain offers the ability to find and chat with a therapist and discover more about radical acceptance and how you can implement these techniques into your own life. 

It might seem impossible in moments of duress to get to a place where you can accept life but learning to accept the pain of reality is possible.

With the help of a professional, you may find light in the darkness.


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