What is radical acceptance?
“Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance skill that is designed to keep pain from turning into suffering. … Radical acceptance is NOT approval, but rather completely and totally accepting with our mind, body and spirit that we cannot currently change the present facts, even if we do not like them.”
I enjoy working with couples as the dynamics and interplay allow me to step into a world of multidimensional personalities. The love they share ultimately still lingers, but in their own way, both are feeling victims of their current circumstance, and both are struggling to cope with the changes that they now have to face.
So how do I play my part when the familiarity subsides, reality kicks in and I need to hold a safe space for both of them? How can I bring stability into a world of chaos and still maintain an element of neutrality, consoling each one separately but not being attached to any verbal onslaught that they feel comfortable to bounce off me? Often, we are here to serve one of the partners and give the other space to breath again…
What conversations can I have that may provide the framework for practising radical acceptance without giving up hope? How can one experience that precious freedom and stop the cycle of pain that prolongs the suffering? How do you face life openly without judgement or aversion?
More than often in our line of work, and with little guidance, we step into the realm of supporting and dealing with things beyond our control. Encouraging our clients to rediscover happiness through acceptance is not an easy task but with gentle persuasion, we can help them to find the good in what IS and in what CAN be done, instead of focusing on the frustration of what seems impossible.
It can be emotionally draining to be in the presence of painful or intense experiences but as carers, we learn to hold a safe space with kindness and compassion. I always find the ‘Serenity Prayer’ to be a sobering reminder of how we can apply current situations to both ourselves, and to those whom we encounter on our life path…
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference”
Reinhold Niebuhr (American theologian)
Let us ‘unpack’ this beautiful prayer, and rediscover the meaning of these powerful words in the hope that they may be of value to us all, and especially our clients, as we …
Help them acknowledge their circumstances with serenity – to stop panicking and to let go of the urgency to have situations return to how they were previously. It is hugely beneficial to create a calm environment in the midst of despair and to celebrate the small wins (like balancing unaided and walking with apparatus after a month of wheelchair confinement!)
Help them accept their situation non-judgmentally – when the feeling or issue has been brought to the surface it’s time to accept that it is part of their reality. We are all guilty of chastising ourselves or obsessing over matters that we are not in any way capable or likely to influence. Emotional support is invaluable here (structural handicaps are irreversible – so learning how to work around them is paramount to taking ownership of one’s condition)
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”
Help them to find the courage to change what can be changed – the transformation of oneself is definitely something that is within the realms of possibility. Personal change is possible, and although it may require a significant amount of sacrifice, it can only be lasting with a substantial amount of self-determination (a shift in mental attitude and the capacity to remain in a high vibrational holding pattern as much as possible)
Help them make the best of things – to move forward with wisdom despite knowing the difference between what we can change, and what we cannot is, in practical terms, never that straightforward. This may be because many of our decisions are driven by emotion and the old adage is true – people are generally afraid of change.
For all of us, the path of befriending our experience requires great gentleness and patience. We stop living and loving fully when we persistently think that something is wrong with us rather than believing in our true essence. Accepting where we are and receiving the best possible help around our physical and emotional challenges is the only way to rise up and face the world with an open heart and love ourselves fully as our outer conditions change but our inner conditions remain eternally powerful as always.