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November 20, 2013
by Lisa Baker, M.A., R.C.C.

Radical Acceptance

November 20, 2013 02:55 by Lisa Baker, M.A., R.C.C.

 Cutting Loose

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason

you sing. For no reason you accept

the way of being lost, cutting loose

from all else and electing a world

where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder

that a steady center is holding

all else. If you listen, that sound

will tell you where it is and you

can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters

bar the path - but that's when

you get going best, glad to be lost,

learning how real it is

here on earth, again and again.

(William Stafford)

While trying to establish life after a divorce and relocation I walked a trail in the woods almost daily the first few months. My feet repetitively passed under ancient deep-rooted trees, climbed steep stairs up sloped stretches of the path, and lingered on a tiny bridge at a spot where the trail curved out of the shadowed woods into the sun. Every time I crossed over I reminded myself out loud that I was living in the place Melody Beattie describes as the "in-between," the place where we embrace the concept of letting go of what is old and familiar, but what we don't want, and become willing to stand with our hands empty while we wait for them to be filled. It's incredible to me that by accepting the “way of being lost” I could experience such a strong undercurrent of something holding it all together, the miracle of peace in a time of blinding brokenness. By accepting reality as it was, implausibly I was able to survive each painful day by putting one foot in front of the other and slowly crossing over into a place that was different from where I had been. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) calls this idea the skill of Radical Acceptance and teaches it among other skills that help clients learn to tolerate distressful emotions. When used effectively, this difficult concept actually brings the level of suffering we tend to experience when railing against reality, down to a level of pain that we can endure. It is difficult to function, change, move beyond a loss, or find some semblance of peace, without somehow accepting what is and where we are.  Resistance to a painful reality often only increases our discomfort and can frequently lead to ways of coping that ultimately bring further suffering and pain. Accepting reality does not mean we have to like it or approve of it, but it somehow turns what is into something we can tolerate and allows us to ride the emotional wave of a present circumstance.

“Resistance will not move us forward, nor will it eliminate the undesirable. But even our resistance may need to be accepted. Even resistance yields to and is changed by acceptance.”   Melody Beattie

I believe this concept of acceptance can be practiced when confronted with anything from the mildly unpleasant to the unpredictably stressful to the heart-breakingly painful. It is a skill I teach often to clients, having experienced the benefit of it in my own daily routine. The following points are important to remember about radical acceptance and are highlighted in the manual I use (based on the work of Marsha Linehan, the originator of DBT).

·        Pain creates suffering only when you refuse to accept the pain

·        Freedom from suffering requires acceptance of what is

·        Deciding to tolerate the moment is acceptance

·        Acceptance is acknowledging what is

·        To accept something does not mean approving of it

·        Acceptance is turning your suffering back into pain that you can endure 

Sometimes it is helpful to ask clients the following questions and have them write down their experiences and ideas: What are some realities in your life that might be difficult to accept as reality?  How do you fight that reality?  What would it look like to accept the reality? Self-encouraging statements such as those listed below also sometimes help us to accept what is and tolerate the discomfort of a moment.

“This will pass.”

“My feelings make me feel uncomfortable, but I can accept that.”

“I can take all the time I need right now to let go and relax.”

“I’ve survived other situations like this before, and I’ll survive this one too.”

“My fear/sadness won’t kill me; it just doesn’t feel good right now”

“I’m strong and I can deal with this.”

“These are just my feelings and eventually they will go away.”

I think it’s safe to say that we are all more relieved to be finally living beyond the “in-between” places than we are “glad to be lost,” but the bridge in the woods, the path that brought us to today, is often one we would walk all over again for the lessons learned and the destination discovered.

“Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason you sing…” 

Lisa Baker, M.A., R.C.C.

w: 604-853-7477 c: 604-845-0213

twitter: @ShamrockLisa 

About the Author

Shamrock Counselling Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC, CBEIP, NAEFW

We believe the counselling should be an essential service and are committed to helping people find ways to access resources. We take the time to walk you through the process to find the best fit and suit your needs.

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