DBT Self Help - Radical Acceptance


Distress Tolerance skills are a set of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills that are strategies to help you get though difficult feelings and situations, and tolerate (deal with, sit with, accept) the things that you can’t immediately change. Emotions can be extreme and lead to behaviors that are ineffective. You may not be able to change the stressful situation you’re in, but you can change the way you feel. Distress Tolerance skills are aimed to make your response to distress more effective.

Radical Acceptance is one of the most effective and most difficult DBT skills there is. To use the skill successfully, you must accept your entire situation as it is, with no judgment. You must stop fighting reality. Given the severity of the situation, this can be quite challenging.

If asked to radically accept something, you might offer resistance thinking there has to be an easier option. Let’s examine the other choices. When faced with a painful problem, you always have a choice from four paths to take:

  1. If possible, you can try to solve the problem.
  2. You can potentially change how you feel about the problem.
  3. You can accept your situation.
  4. Or you can do nothing and stay miserable.

For each situation you find yourself in, you can run down this list and consider each option. The first three are all viable action items that can help you feel better. The fourth, though it offers no room for improvement, is more common than you’d think. How many times have you complained about something only to do nothing to change that something? There’s no need for judgment; it’s quite prevalent. It definitely requires the least amount of work. Though, of course, it offers no reward either.

Aspects of Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is the third choice on the list above. It is accepting whatever situation you find yourself in. Radical Acceptance must be just that: radical. That means complete and total. For it to be effective, you must accept all facets of the situation. You can’t, for example, accept that your package was sent to the wrong address without also accepting that your package will be late in arriving to you.

You must also accept your circumstances without judgment of yourself, the situation, or others. Accepting that your package was delivered to the wrong address while also raging at the postman for being stupid or careless is not radical acceptance.

It is what it is.

“It is what it is” is the mantra of Radical Acceptance. By repeating and believing this statement, you are releasing your expectations and your judgment of what happened. You are turning to your higher power or the universe itself and saying ‘okay, this is what you’ve given me and that’s okay. I accept it.”

Hold this mantra close to your heart. Repeat it whenever anything happens that makes you want to run away from acceptance. Write it down and place it somewhere you’ll see it in the morning or throughout the day. Embracing the mantra will help you embrace the skill.

Radically Accepting Trauma

Radical Acceptance is most often applied to large life-changing events such as trauma. These circumstances are the most challenging to accept. They are also some of the most important because they affect your life in such a profound way.

It’s important to accept that what happened to you happened. There is no benefit to living in denial. What happened was likely not your fault, but it is unfortunately your responsibility to live with it. When you feel safe, open your mind to accept that the event happened to you.

Another part of radically accepting trauma is accepting that you can still have a life worth living not despite, but including what happened to you. It is part of your story. Just a part, though it affects much more than that. You can still build and live a life that you value even though that thing happened to you. It did not ruin your life.

Radically accepting trauma is the hardest level of radical acceptance. It may take years to get to this point. The effects of trauma can be debilitating so make sure you feel safe before attempting this kind of radical acceptance practice.

DBT Self Help - Radical Acceptance

Radically Accepting The Little Things

Radical acceptance doesn’t just have to apply to big traumas. It’s also important to accept the little inconveniences or injustices that happen on a daily basis. When you don’t, your mood can suffer.

Consider all the little things that get you down during the day. Maybe you spilled coffee grounds all over your kitchen or the line at the grocery store was impossibly long. Both of these things made you angry and you thought about them for hours after they happened. What could you have spent that energy on instead?

If you had radically accepted those blips as they are, you might have freed up your soul to consider more pleasant or effective things. Perhaps you could’ve been more present with your kids or been more focused at work.

Next time, try taking a step back, breathing, and thinking ‘it is what it is.’ Accept that this inconvenience happened to you. Don’t judge the emotions it created. Just go ‘oh well’ and move on. This perspective can prevent so much daily suffering.

Radical Acceptance Is Not Approval

When you choose to radically accept a situation, that does not mean you approve of it. To say something is good or bad is a judgment. Radical acceptance must be free from judgment. The situation can still be unjust, you are just choosing to do what is most effective for you.

Radically accepting a past trauma does not mean you are glad it happened. It is not agreement or approval of what happened. It is simply letting go so you can move on with your life.

Many times you must radically accept something in order to change. If the situation can or should be rectified, by all means work to change it. You can radically accept that something affects you but also work to change it. That’s a dialectic, what DBT is all about.

Turning The Mind

Turning the mind is a skill you can use to facilitate radical acceptance. You must choose to radically accept your situation and you must make that choice over and over again. Turning the mind is what you do when you start to stray from that choice.

Imagine you are riding a horse. The reins are in your hands but sometimes the horse wanders off the path you’ve chosen. Do not judge the horse for straying. Perhaps the path is new to the horse and it’s just doing what is most natural. Accept that it strayed and use the reins to guide it back onto the chosen path.

In this metaphor, the horse is your mind and the path is that of acceptance. When you notice your mind resisting or straying from the openness of acceptance, gently guide it back. You will have to do this again and again.



  • Consider a relatively minor situation. Try to accept it as is without judgment. Use your mantra. Open your hands and turn them upward. Turn the mind when you find yourself straying from the path of acceptance.
DBT Self Help - Radical Acceptance

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