October 21, 2020

Radical Acceptance and the Invitation to Mourn: Part II

Mental Health & Wellbeing

“Radical acceptance rests on letting go of the illusion of control and a willingness to notice and accept things as they are right now, without judging.”

– Marsha Linehan

In part one of this series, we reflected on different varieties of loss any one person might experience throughout life, whether it be a loss of health, identity, security, hopes and dreams, or the death of a loved one. We considered how the concept of radical acceptance, a distress tolerance skill developed by Marsha Linehan, might provide a helpful framework for better understanding the process of grieving such losses. We also looked at what radical acceptance is, and what it is not.

In essence, radical acceptance is a way of thoroughly, holistically, and actively engaging in the process of embracing reality as it is. Reality can include the facts about the past and the present, any limitations on the future, and the fact that events that cause us pain were caused by certain realities in your life. Discovering why it is important to accept the reality of your circumstance is the first step in answering the infamous question of how do you come to a place of radical acceptance.

Why Accept Reality?

In an ever growing world of distractions, it is so easy to avoid facing the difficult realities that surround any significant life change, grief, or loss that causes pain. While practicing time-limited distraction skills when facing immense distress can help in the moment, it is a short-term solution to the pain. How often do you try to convince yourself that if you could avoid or escape reality, you could also avoid the pain?

As mentioned before in a quote by Marsha Linehan, consider this, “Pain can’t be avoided; it is nature’s way of signaling that something is wrong.” Furthermore, rejecting reality does not change reality. If change is necessary, it can only happen once you take an honest look at the situation you are facing.

Another reason why accepting reality is so essential is that when you refuse to do so, you stay stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, sadness, shame, or other painful emotions. Indeed, the purpose of painful emotions is that they signal that something is wrong, but then they are meant to activate you toward confronting reality, processing your response to reality, and coming to a place of radical acceptance. And as Marsha Linehan says, “Acceptance may lead to sadness, but deep calmness usually follows.”

How do we practice Radical Acceptance?

Slow down. Pause. Engage in Healthy Disengagement.

What an insightful quote by Tara Brach who wrote, “Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement.” When faced with incredible loss, feelings of emptiness and sadness are commonly experienced, coupled with the urge to withdraw, to slow down, or to pause. Taking time to slow down the normal rhythm of life creates space to grieve. It is an invitation to mourn.

Often the urge to disengage from the hustle of life’s activities gets confused with the urge to isolate from social support. Yet, we are not meant to mourn alone. Finding a trusted other to walk with you through the grieving process is a fundamental part of the work.

Recruit the support of others.

There are common factors that often interfere with being able to practice radical acceptance; and these factors can be processed in dialog with another person. For example, emotions can get in the way such as unbearable sadness, anger at the person or group that caused the painful event, rage at the injustice of the world, or overwhelming shame or guilt. Another factor that commonly interferes with radical acceptance is the belief that if you accept the painful event or loss, you are making light of it. You may also fear that if you accept the reality of the loss, you might forget about it. Anything that gets in the way of radical acceptance offers the opportunity to be explored and processed in relationship with another person.

Cultivate a willingness to let go.

Marsha Linehan points out two essential parts of radical acceptance: “letting go of the illusion of control” and the “willingness to accept things as they are.” Willingness is an openness and readiness to do just what is needed in any situation, or in essence to “go with the flow.” The opposite of willingness is willfulness. To be willful means refusing to tolerate reality and demanding that your needs and wants be met in the way you want them to be met, regardless of how impossible they are. Letting go of things outside your control requires taking on a willing, open posture. There is risk in being willing to let go and accept difficult reality, however. Willingness often feels vulnerable. It often involves surrendering the willful part of you that tries to avoid or escape the pain, and instead allowing space to grieve.

“There is nowhere to run to; there is nothing else to do except be in this moment and allow what is to be. From that place of radical acceptance, major change can happen. The first step in any transformational experience is acceptance and surrender to the present moment.”
– Mastin Kipp

If you find yourself overwhelmed or stuck in the whirlwind of grief and in need of encouragement, reach out to Optimum Joy Clinical Counseling today. We’re here to offer support as you walk through this challenging season and toward a life of renewed hope.

Written by therapist Dr. Anna Quistad

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