Radical Acceptance is a distress tolerance skill in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It teaches us to accept things as they are, completely and fully. It means not resisting, or not attempting to change. Rather it means seeing things as they are.
This can be a challenging skill in DBT! It can be hard to look at our problems and say “I accept it for exactly what it is.” We want to change things that are unfair, painful, or problematic. But radical acceptance forces us to look at something and say, “it is what it is.”
It’s important to clarify with this skill that it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are approving of something. Acceptance does not mean approval. It does not mean we have to like something. It simply means we recognize the facts of the situations.
Acceptance also doesn’t mean agreeing. I can accept that something is happening without agreeing with it. For example, let’s say you’ve asked your boss for a raise, and your boss says no. Despite the fact that you’ve worked late, taken on extra projects, and have definitely earned your raise. You might completely disagree with this decision, and you can still radically accept that this is the final decision.
Radical Acceptance does not mean that we tolerate abusive behavior. Radical Acceptance does allow us to recognize abusive behavior, however, and help us decide how to respond to it. Once I recognize that something is happening, once I radically accept it, I can then decide how to respond to it. Moreover, by accepting our pain, we reduce our suffering. As the famous saying goes, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Radical Acceptance helps us reduce suffering.
As with all of our DBT skills, Radical Acceptance takes a lot of practice. It is not easy to accept things as they are. To practice, start first by practicing small things. If it’s raining out and you were hoping to go on a hike, radically accept the weather. If you wanted to pick up a bottle of olive oil and the grocery store is already closed, radically accept that you’ll go to the store the next day. As you feel comfortable practicing these smaller instances, you’ll be able to start practicing radical acceptance with bigger issues that come up for you.