What is radical acceptance in DBT?

Radical acceptance is a behavioral tool commonly used in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to help patients understand the reality of the present moment and see it from an objective point of view, instead of an emotional point of view.

It’s proven to be an effective element of treatment because many people suffering from symptoms that can be improved by DBT rely heavily on denial in times of crisis. The benefit of a specialized DBT clinic is that they know exactly how DBT works.

Refusing responsibility or passing the blame onto others to take the guilt away from yourself might feel good at the moment. But over time, using denial or other defense mechanisms often leads to feeling worse and suffering more distress than you would have if you were honest and took the blame.

This is because you’re not accepting the reality of the current situation.

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What is radical acceptance?

Radical acceptance is the ability to acknowledge that some situations are outside of your control without judging them. Through this acceptance, the suffering that is caused by the situation is reduced.

It works because suffering often doesn’t come from pain, but from your attachment to the pain. Accepting that some things are beyond your control is the first step towards positive change.

Instead of being consumed by your past, you can use radical acceptance to unattach yourself from painful memories and, as a result, overcome your suffering. Unattaching yourself from your past doesn’t mean that you stop feeling things. Instead, it means that you don’t let your past pain turn into present suffering.

This is achieved by keeping track of your feelings and thoughts to determine when you’re letting yourself feel worse than you should. By accepting the present reality for what it is, you can avoid getting swept away in an emotional reaction.

Radical acceptance might sound like something that’s easy to achieve — but it isn’t. It can take years to get a real handle on it and implement it into your day-to-day life.

It’s important to understand that radical acceptance and forgiveness are two completely different things. Forgiveness is extending kindness to another person and accepting their faults. Radical acceptance is extending kindness to yourself and understanding that you can’t control everything. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy you will learn 5 most effective DBT skills.

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Radical acceptance in the real world

Radical acceptance is most useful when confronting situations you’re not in control of — ones which you can’t fix or change the outcome of. It’s also an effective strategy when something happens to you which you feel is unfair, like a loved one becoming sick or losing your job.

In the two examples above, it’s absolutely normal to feel disappointment or grief. Problems only start to arise when the initial pain you felt has been followed by ongoing suffering because you’re unable to accept your new reality.

You don’t have to agree with the situation that caused you pain to benefit from radical acceptance. Instead, this way of thinking offers you a helping hand as you learn to accept things as they are, instead of fighting against a reality you cannot change.

Embracing radical acceptance can be tough, especially when things are going badly for you. But it’s important you understand that no matter how tempting it may be, letting your emotions get the better of you will only result in more suffering and pain than you’re already experiencing in the long run. 

Radical acceptance in DBT

Radical acceptance is a part of distress tolerance which is taught during dialectical behavioral therapy sessions. It’s used to help patients avoid turning immediately painful situations into long-term suffering. 

While it’s impossible to evade pain throughout your life or change the facts of reality, you can choose how you react to every situation presented to you. Instead of being bitter about a situation and letting your emotions get out of control, radical acceptance and distress tolerance encourage you to focus on what you can control.

The freedom of not being a slave to your emotions empowers you to find solutions and make plans to change the present for a better future, when possible.

Take the first step today

If you’ve got a tendency to hold onto painful memories of the past for longer than you think is healthy, you could get some real benefit from DBT.

Through one-to-one sessions with a DBT therapist near you, group workshops with other people going through the same thing you are and unscheduled phone calls when you need immediate guidance, DBT can help you overcome your problems and craft a happier, healthier life.

Schedule your first online DBT session with one of our therapists today. In six months, when you’re enjoying better relationships with those around you and you’re feeling more confident about yourself, you’ll be happy you didn’t put it off.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741