Radical acceptance

Today I had an amazing DBT session discussing radical acceptance (page 342)

This will be the third time I have gone over this skill in DBT and today I realised what a difference it had made to my everyday life and recovery.

When I first learnt about this concept, I hated it. I am a strong minded, liberal feminist, and if something is wrong in the world I usually never back down and ‘just accept it’. I would be ignoring everything I believe in. But no I know you don’t have to ignore your core beliefs to practice radical acceptance.

I have been in the group for over a year now and it was both reassuring and distressing to see the newer girls obviously struggling with this concept the way I did. I felt the need to reassure the girls who were struggling, and to promise that once you get your head around it, it’s one of the most important weapons in the DBT skills arsenal.

So here is what radical acceptance is, according to the book.

  1. Radical means all the way, complete and total
  2. It is accepting in your mind, your heart, and your body
  3. It’s when you stop fighting reality, stop throwing tantrums because reality is not the way you want it, and let go of bitterness.

If I have recurring thoughts that are making me anxious and distressed, and this goes on for a while, it’s usually a sign I need to start working towards radical acceptance. The more these thoughts go on the more I realise that none of the skills from other areas of the book have worked and I am still left with some residual unwanted emotion.

I have found that radical acceptance needs to be backed up by some other skills in order for it to work. I like problem solving (page 241) if I can’t quite pinpoint what is bothering me exactly. There is a really handy section on the 7 emotions from page 214 to 223 if you need help categorizing the emotion you are having.

Once you have your core issue/emotion you could maybe do check the facts (handout page 228, worksheet page 285) if you are unsure if your emotion is justified or not. I think that this would offer some clarity, but it almost doesn’t matter if your emotional response IS unjustified because you are still left with the unwanted emotion which you will need to tackle, or accept.

I also find problem solving on page 241 very helpful if I don’t quite know why I am so upset but can’t let go of it.

Radical acceptance should be used when you are finding it hard to come to terms with something that has happened to you and is causing you pain and distress. It allows you to accept the things you cannot change in order for you to be able to move forward and heal. If you fight against reality as it is you are rejecting reality and causing pain to become suffering.

Radical acceptance is NOT forgiveness. It is not agreeing or bending to a situation or viewpoint you don’t share. It is a way to deal with a destructive thought cycle. I need radical acceptance the most when I am in distress but NOT crisis. (I use STOP and TIP for that)

It’s important to remember that pain is natural, its nature’s way of telling us something is wrong. Radically accepting that you will go through pain in life is opening the way to faster healing and better outcomes. To recovery.



  1. Thank you for explaining radical acceptance so well. I first heard of it in rehab, and then Matt in survivingmypast.com reminded me of this tool last month. I have found it very helpful. I’m so glad you mentioned that radical acceptance is not the same as forgiveness. That is an important distinction. I subscribed to your blog. I look forward to reading future posts from you. We follow each other on twitter. @joypaulinesmith


    • Thanks for your response Joy, the distinction is everything when learning about this skill. Thanks for subscribing, iv’e got some ideas for posts in the pipeline, but i’m pretty busy at the moment. TC X


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