DBT Skills: Embracing Radical Acceptance

Resistance to change is a problem most people deal with. Embracing radical acceptance is a helpful practice for those with a borderline personality disorder.
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Feeling anxious as you head into the new year is normal and expected. It’s been a year of unexpected turmoil and chaos. It has required ongoing adaptation to seemingly never-ending change. Embracing change can be a huge challenge for some people. Those who live with borderline personality disorder have a notably difficult time adjusting.

Learning new coping skills can help you learn to tolerate the situations taking place, whether or not you agree with them. Embracing radical acceptance when stressors are coming at you quickly is one way to cope with challenging circumstances. Radical acceptance is a tool learned in dialectical behavior therapy. It’s used to decrease distress and keep pain from progressing into suffering.

Practicing radical acceptance is a great way for you to head into the new year. Although you might not have control over the bigger circumstances in your life, you do have control over the actions you take that can reduce your daily suffering.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Consider the things in your life you have control over. You determine what time you get up, what you eat for breakfast, how you spend your day, and general things like that. Unfortunately, you have little control over many of the bigger events in your life. This lack of control causes you to feel distressed and overwhelmed.

When you have a borderline personality disorder, you experience intense reactions to difficult situations. You might notice that you push back against reality and shut down when the circumstances don’t change. The resulting anxiety and anguish create urges to engage in harmful behaviors.

Radical acceptance is a DBT skill that teaches you to accept reality to relieve suffering.

Accepting the facts without getting overwhelmed or shutting down is a crucial tool to have. It keeps you from falling into the trap of thoughts like, “Why me?”, “Why now?”, and “This is unfair.”

You don’t need to approve of or agree with a situation to accept it, though. It doesn’t mean you become a helpless observer. It does not mean you never feel sadness or pain. It does free up energy you once used fighting reality, though. And now you can use that energy to effectively cope with the situation and take care of yourself.

The Steps for Embracing Radical Acceptance

People with borderline personality disorder who learn to use radical acceptance will find it easier to live life on life’s terms. The steps for embracing radical acceptance are simple but not easy. Using this tool effectively takes practice. You won’t suddenly start accepting every situation in your life right away, but you will notice less distress over time.

How can you start embracing radical acceptance?

1. Notice that you are questioning or pushing back against reality

Acceptance starts with observation. You must first notice when you are questioning or pushing back against reality. You’ll notice thoughts like, “Why is this happening?” or “Things shouldn’t be this way.” You probably feel uncomfortable, irritated, anxious, or even angry. As you try and fail to change the situation, these unpleasant feelings get more intense.

2. Remind yourself that you can’t change reality, no matter how unpleasant it is

Oftentimes there isn’t much you can do to change reality. Difficult things are going to happen in life, and you can’t always stop them. Loved ones will pass away, friends will come and go, many relationships will come to an end. Most times the only thing you can control in a situation is yourself and your response to the situation.

3. Identify the causes of the present situation

Identify the causes of the present situation. How did it come about? What led up to it? Were you at fault in any way? This may require some outside help from an objective third party. When you’re learning radical acceptance, it’s easy to blame yourself for the situation. You may have false beliefs about things you could do to change it. Usually, the causes for the present situation have nothing to do with you, though.

4. Practice acceptance with your whole self

Think about how you feel when you’re pushing against reality. Sure, you feel anxious, agitated, or angry. But you probably feel that tension in your body and spirit, too. You not only want to relieve the mental stress but the physical and spiritual strain as well. Radical acceptance involves accepting a situation with your whole self, including your mind, body, and spirit. Use tools like relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and accepting self-talk.

5. Write out the behaviors you would carry out if you decided to accept reality and engage in them as if you already accepted it

What would it look like if you chose to accept reality as it is? How would you behave? What would you do? Write out these behaviors in detail. Maybe you would stop obsessively checking social media for updates. Perhaps you would spend more time engaged with activities you actually enjoy. After writing out these behaviors, engage with them whether you’ve accepted the situation or not.

6. Imagine believing the things you don’t want to accept and consider what would happen if you accept what feels unacceptable

Practice a thought experiment for a moment. You don’t have to accept reality as it is yet but imagine what would happen if you did. How would things change if you choose to accept the situation as it is? Would anything be different if you decided to respect reality as it is?

7. Notice any sensations you feel when you think about what you need to accept

Notice how you feel during your thought experiment. What arises when you consider accepting what feels unacceptable? Do you feel the tension in your neck and shoulders? Is there an incredible urge to fight back against the idea? Recognize these sensations as they come up.

8. Allow negative feelings to arise, including sadness, disappointment, or grief

While noticing these sensations, do not suppress them. Allow any negative feelings to come to the surface as you practice acceptance. You may feel sadness, frustration, disappointment, anger, grief. Any number of emotions may arise and it’s important to allow yourself to feel each one.

9. Recognize that life is still worth living despite the existence of pain

The feelings that come up are not always easy to navigate but they also are not the end of the world. Pain is inevitable in life. Things that you might not agree with are going to happen at one point or another. But there is still incredible purpose and meaning to life despite the existence of pain.

10. Create an acceptance pros and cons list if you find yourself resisting the practice

If you notice you’re pushing back against the practice of radical acceptance, write a pros and cons list. What are the best things that could happen if you accept reality? What are the worst things that may happen? You’ll probably find the list of pros is much longer than the list of cons; radical acceptance is not easy but it’s worthwhile.

Reaching Out For Additional Help

Are you struggling to embrace the practice of radical acceptance? Have you found that your symptoms of BPD have worsened over the past few months? You might need additional help and that’s okay. Seeking treatment for your mental health is one of the best things you can do.

Clearview Women’s Center is a mental health treatment facility specializing in helping women with borderline personality disorder. If you’re heading into the new year feeling hopeless and exhausted, we’re here to help. Reach out today to learn more about our programs and what we can do to reconnect you with the life you love!

If you’re ready to start your recovery, we’re here to help.

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