Radical Acceptance | How to Move on From Disappointment or Pain
Has anyone ever told you, whether grounded in good intentions or not, to "just move on"? It feels impossible sometimes doesn't it? You are probably thinking to yourself, "if it was that easy, I would have done it by now!". However, the person who told you to "move on" isn't all that incorrect in their advice giving. Perhaps a bit insensitive to the timing or difficulty of it, but it is very true that moving on allows for the longevity of healing to take place and to do so fully and completely.
I am here to tell you, however, it is not that easy
BUT...it is that SIMPLE.
We have talked before about the difference between ease and simplicity. They are not the same. Just because something is simple does not mean it is easy. Jumping off the cliff's edge into water 100 ft below you is simple, but it may not be easy. It is filled with anxiety, doubt, fear and so much more. In fact those feelings may be so paralyzing that something so simple begins to feel impossible.
There is a clinical term for what others call "moving on" and it is called Radical Acceptance.
This is a cognitive restructuring of how we process our fears of what could happen and our perseveration on what has happened. Often times, we allow fear to keep us from what we want because those fears are rooted somewhere in time in which we have zero control.
Many people think the past controls them; what they do and don't do; how they think, feel and act. While this may be an accurate feeling, it isn't true. You see, these things have no more control over us than that which we give freely. We often think circumstances have more control over us than they actually do. Furthermore, we think what happens now or even later, will somehow erase what has happened. When we realize that it in fact does not we become stuck in it like quick sand. Overtime, we may even embrace it despite our hatred for it because it is familiar, but also because growing accustomed to it feels less difficult than overcoming it.
Sometimes, it's not always the past; its the fear of the unknown. This "unknown factor", where fear is rooted, often ties to an experience in the past that caused pain or discomfort. The brain only fears what it has experienced before, whether actual or perceived/vicarious pain. Our brain seeks to avoid pain for the most part and so we are essentially wired to seek alternative actions that numb, alleviate, prevent or stop the pain.
We are going to speak strictly about emotional pain in this post
...this can be anything from paranoia to anxiety; from depression or PTSD, etc.
What is Radical Acceptance ?
Radical acceptance is a way for us to help calm our thought patterns and associations to begin thinking more rationally. It moves our thought processes from the mid brain (mammal brain) to our prefrontal cortex (human brain)-- for those familiar with the theory of the Triune Brain.
This shifts our thinking from being predominantly emotional to more rational. Most of us tend to make decisions based primarily in the mammal brain, which is dominated by intense emotions. We are often overcome with emotion and make decisions without much rational thought. Our brain is also seeking an immediate escape route because it does not like pain. This behavior pattern may yield immediate results but is less effective in the long term. This could be why these thoughts, fears or anxieties continue creeping back in--as if they're haunting you.
Do you hold grudges?
Are you riddled with anxieties rooted in post traumatic events?
Do you often blame others or circumstances for your lot in life?
Does fear/anxiety help you in avoiding challenges, new experiences or relationships?
Do you think others changing would make your ability to change easier?
If you answered "yes" to any of these (there are so many more circumstances, but these are just a few common ones) then Radical Acceptance may be a new intervention for you to implement regularly for overall improved mental well being.
Why Radical Acceptance ?
Radical Acceptance is a means of managing the past so it does not control the future OR a means of identifying that fear of what has yet to happen cannot control what happens now.
Have you ever heard of the serenity prayer that many people in AA (alcoholics Anonymous) recite?
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".
This is deeply rooted in the theory of Radical Acceptance. Additionally, it is incredibly useful for people who struggle with anxiety of any kind. Even if you are a person who would not consider yourself "anxious", you may find yourself in circumstances overcome with emotion and you need something to center and ground your thought process.
Radical acceptance is when we accept that which we cannot change-- what has happened and what has yet to come into existence.
Why is it called "Radical Acceptance"? Because it is not conditional . You are accepting it even though you have had no resolution; even if it still hurts and causes pain, even if it is something you still struggle with.
A lot of people also have difficulty with the word "acceptance". They fear that acceptance means condoning or even forgetting when in fact it does not mean that at all. What it does mean is that you accept your lack of ability to impact, control or change what has already happened and that you accept responsibility for everything moving forward. This is the part that scares people: accepting responsibility. Many people have been let down and so they avoid taking responsibility for fear that they will fail and be a disappointment to themselves or others.
People often get stuck here. Truth be told, they are spinning their tires because they are stuck in indignation. They feel as if they're owed something--an explanation, an apology, an answer. They feel that if they somehow know "why" they'd feel better. But often, knowing why leaves people with more questions. When you do this, you are putting your ability to move on in the hands of another person or circumstance--something you have no control over.
But... you know what you DO have control over? YOU--your thoughts, your feelings, your actions. This is why the practice of Radical Acceptance helps free people from burdens holding them back from life's blessings and living a life with more peace.
How Does Radial Acceptance Work?
Radical acceptance aims to help you process certain information so you can accept situations you can not control and focus on ones you can. You see, understanding your ability to control certain things is essential in harnessing your full capacity for improving your overall mental well-being. We often underestimate our ability to control things we CAN and overestimate our ability to control things we CANNOT. We think worrying about the future will somehow change what could happen and we think dwelling on the past will change what has been.
Maybe we think our actions will dictate what others will do or don't do. Perhaps you think your future is left up to fate or chance... All of this is centered in your locus of control. Those with a high sense of control think they can control almost anything: circumstances, people, choices, their environment, etc. These people are not necessarily arrogant, they just think that we have a power of influence over most things. They think with hard-work, the right attitude, etc., we have the ability to control almost anything to favor a desired outcome. On the other end of the spectrum, those with a lower sense of control feel most things are out of their hands no matter how hard they try. They believe most things are left up to a cosmic or higher power whether a spiritual being, the universe, fate, etc. They feel they are essentially powerless in controlling most things.
As we spoke about above, this is spectrum and we all fall somewhere along that. The practice of Radical Acceptance seeks to help you understand how this spectrum works and also that it is fluid, not fixed. We need to accept things we cannot control and take control of that which we can.
The first part of Radical Acceptance is identifying what you are needing to accept. Is it a thought, a mindset, an occurrence, a circumstance, etc. Start by identifying your emotions and then trace it backwards to "why am I feeling this way"? The following steps will walk you through how to guide yourself through Radical Acceptance. Bear in mind the first few times you do this, you will probably backslide into allowing it to bother you again and you may have to repeat this like a mantra until you finally move into true Radical Acceptance.
How to: Radical Acceptance
1) Identify the issue. Trace it back from your emotions to the root cause.
Thought: "I will never get over this. What they did to me cannot be forgiven".
Feeling(s): Indignant, hurt, betrayed, guarded, etc.
2). Begin to accept what has happened
Radical Acceptance: " I cannot change what they did to me. No amount of dwelling or holding onto the issue will change or erase what occurred nor the pain it caused. It is ok to have these feelings, what they did was unacceptable. However, I accept that I cannot change this, take it away or make it so it never happened. It did happened".
3). Now accept that you have the power to change it
"However, it is over now and not happening anymore. I will no longer allow what has happened to control how I feel, how I live and what happens from this moment forward. I am in control of my happiness, not these feelings or what occurred. It is in the past and I am leaving it there. I choose to be happy. I am in control of how I live from this moment on".
The absolute purpose of Radical Acceptance is learning to live in the now and understanding your ability to control that moment and nothing else. This goes for circumstances or instances in the past or anxiety about the future. Here is an example of how you can use this to minimize the control anxiety has over you and how it may limit your potential for fulfillment.
Thought: " I cannot go to that BBQ. There will be so many people and they will all be judging me. I know I will have a panic attack and be embarrassed. I better not go".
Feeling(s): Anxious, Nervous, insecure, overwhelmed, disappointed, etc.
Radical Acceptance: "I cannot control what people think. I cannot control what people do. I can only control myself, thoughts and actions. I am not a fortune teller. I do not know the future. I cannot allow what I do not know yet to control what could happen, what I feel now and what I do in this moment. I am safe. I am in control and I can handle whatever happens, when it happens."
In instances like this it is helpful to have a game plan. What do I mean by a game plan? I mean that you have thought of scenarios that could happen and to limit your uneasiness about reacting on the fly, you will tell yourself the worst possible scenario and then problem solve before it happens.
What if: "What if my child cries and I get embarrassed because they're making a scene?"
Game Plan: " I will bring them to the car and quiet them down with a hug, a book, their favorite toy, or snacks".
Radicle Acceptance: "If people are judging me for a crying child despite my best efforts to soothe them, that is ok. It holds no power of me and my choices or happiness. A crying child is a 'little deal' and I will treat it as such".
You see, when you predict what could happen and feel prepared, you're less likely to feel anxious about all the what ifs. However you also need to have a bit of radical acceptance about all of the things you cannot control and the infinite "what ifs" that could occur.
You have to accept what you can control and what you cannot.
You cannot control what others think, feel or say.
You cannot control what could happen, but you can plan for what is within your control if it does and how to help yourself through it
Acceptance does not mean you condone what happened or that it is "ok"
Acceptance is not relinquishing all control or responsibility to the unknown and letting what could be, be. You have control over certain things-- harness that control
Identify your feelings, call them out and accept them. Feelings are yours and you're entitled to feel them. However, do not dwell in those feelings.
You may have to go through this cycle a few times before you fully walk in the freedom of radical acceptance. Repeat this like a mantra if need be to maintain this freedom as time goes on.