How are you feeling? No, how are you feeling right now?
Happy? Sad? Hungry, looking at the clock counting down until lunch? Tired, because you stayed up too late watching “just one more episode”? We’re asked this question all the time, but it seems like we almost never take the time to actually stop and consider our answer. And it seems like we never take the time to truly ask ourselves how we’re doing, what we’re feeling. If you stop and think about it and recognize that you’re not feeling ok, where do you go from there? What do you do with that feeling?
That’s where Radical Acceptance comes in. Radical Acceptance is a practice that’s about adopting a new state of mind regarding the thoughts and emotions you feel every day. It incorporates aspects of mindfulness and meditation in a way that allows you to really observe how you are feeling, and learn how to be ok with that.
Every day we are faced with situations that upset us or cause us pain. Whether intentional or accidental, whether through our own actions or those of others, there is no way to live a life where you will never encounter pain. Just because we’re hurt, though, doesn’t mean that we have to suffer that pain forever. There’s an old Buddhist phrase that says as much, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” The key is in accepting that the pain you feel is real instead of fighting it. It’s hard to accept things that you don’t want to be true. But once you accept the reality and the pain, you can begin to heal.
There are two central questions in the practice of radical acceptance:
A handy way to answer these two questions is by using the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nourish. The first step is to recognize what it is that you’re actually feeling. Think about how it feels in your body. Maybe your shoulders are tense because you’re holding resentment or anger Or maybe your arms and legs are heavy because depression is weighing you down. It could be that your chest feels tight and your breathing is difficult because anxiety is wrapped around you. Whatever it is, learn to recognize it. Learn how it feels in your body and in your mind.
Once you have recognized the feeling that you are experiencing, your next task is learning to allow yourself to feel that way. How often we say “I shouldn’t be mad about this. I shouldn’t let this get to me” or “I refuse to accept that they did this to me”. No matter how much we fight, though, the truth remains, we feel what we feel and whatever might have been done to make you feel that way was done. You can’t change reality. Fighting it only leads to suffering. Allow your experience to be there, just as it is.
The next step is to investigate this feeling. Take the time to look inward. Notice the connections between your emotions and the feeling in your body. Notice how it affects your breathing. Take an interest in the way that your mind and body experience pain and emotion and treat that with care. There is no right or wrong here, there only is what is. Give yourself a little compassion for what you’re going through.
That leads us to the final step: nourish yourself with self-compassion. It is hard to admit that you’re hurt because that means that you’re vulnerable. Being vulnerable is scary, so often we “armor up” with anger or resentment. As long as we hold that anger, we don’t have to focus on the deeper hurt that may lay underneath. Tell yourself that it’s ok to be angry, but it’s also ok to accept that you have been hurt. It doesn’t mean that you are weaker or less than or that you deserved to be hurt. Hurt happens to everyone at some point or another, and there is nothing wrong with feeling hurt. Accept that you have been hurt. Fighting that would be like someone breaking their leg and then insisting that they were fine. Give yourself the same compassion that you would want them to receive.
A common misconception about radical acceptance is that it means acting like nothing is wrong, or that it means you agree with whoever or whatever hurt you. That is not the case. Radical acceptance means that you acknowledge that you are hurt and that you accept the feeling that exists inside you. You are not embracing the person or the situation that hurt you, rather you are moving forward, with new knowledge and new experience that you did not have before. While holding onto anger and resentment may make you feel like you’re protecting yourself or like you’re teaching someone a lesson for what they did to you, all it truly does is ensure that you continue to suffer. As another old saying goes, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Radical acceptance allows you to stop putting your energy towards fighting what you cannot change and instead use it to cultivate growth and healing inside yourself.
For more on radical acceptance, see the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Ph.D.
Brach, T. (2004). Radical acceptance: embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha. New York: Bantam Books
Mac Taylor is a Montana native who found his way to Dallas. He is currently finishing his master’s degree at the University of North Texas at Dallas. His research interests include men’s issues, family issues, relationships, cultural issues, LGBTQ & gender, nonmonogamy, alternative lifestyles, sex & sexuality, self-discovery, depression, and anxiety.