Today we’re talking about two types of acceptance: radical and everyday.
What’s the difference?
Everyday acceptance is accepting the reality in front of us. We use everyday acceptance for the annoyances we encounter, such as dropping the half-gallon of milk in the grocery parking lot or getting beer spilled on your butt at a concert. (Both, unfortunately, have been realities for me.)
Radical acceptance is for the Real Hard stuff. The ongoing stuff. Grief, for example. Loss of a job, depression, a breakup.
So let’s talk about how we can use both types of acceptance as coping mechanisms or perhaps coping umbrellas.
We’ll start with the heavy stuff.
When you are in a prolonged state of crisis or suffering – stuck in complete overwhelm and unable to do the things you usually do – you need to accept some things.
In crisis mode, you find yourself thinking nothing is right in your life. Nothing. Nothing ever goes right. This is SO like my life. Everything sucks. I need to change everything, nothing is right. Etc, etc.
Practicing (yes, it’s a practice!) radical acceptance will help you remove the unrealistic burden of changing your whole life in a day. It also puts your situation in perspective. I hate to say minimize, but… minimize your situation. For example, you accept that “People are messy” instead of “Everybody sucks.” “I biffed that interview” instead of “I ruin everything.” “I’m not handling things as well as I have in the past” instead of “I’m a fuck up.” “Someone I love is no longer here with me” instead of “Everybody leaves me.”
Notice how we removed the everything-and-nothing language? The right/wrong?
Say you lost your job. You could sit (okay, seethe) and think of all the ways you could’ve done something differently, done more, not done this or that. You could replay weeks in your mind, rehashing conversations and behaviors and deadlines, trying to pinpoint the moment of your professional destruction.
That would not be accepting reality. That’s would be living in the past.
Accepting reality sounds more like: I lost my job. My job is not my whole life. There are plenty of jobs available. I will find another job.
Why is this acceptance considered radical? It’s radical because using reality is not how our crisis mind wants us to think. Our crisis mind wants us to spiral out of control. To blow things out of proportion. You know the voice/urge! It’s radical because we want to say nonononononoononoonononoono but instead we say the opposite. We say yes, I lost my job. Yes, this sucks. Yes, I will find a different job.
To clarify, when I say radically accept, I do not mean that you must convince yourself to approve of the situation. You do not need to be excited about losing your job. There’s no need to be gleeful.
I also do not mean that you are forever committed to radically accepting that thing. In the future you may be in a space where you can make a change or where you have an entirely new reality to accept.
Let’s move into the tools for radical acceptance:
Tool #1 for radical acceptance: Boil Things Down to the Essentials
Radical acceptance is what we need when in prolonged crisis or suffering. An exercise from my DBT group workbook inspired this tool. The workbook lists the following questions:
- Describe a situation that causes suffering. (What are my main stressors? What seems to be making me feel so overwhelmed?)
- Describe what you can realistically change through problem-solving and/or shifting your thoughts.
- Describe what you may need to radically accept.
- Describe other skills you may need to use to help you practice Radical Acceptance of this situation.
- Describe how your life will be different when you have radically accepted this situation.
Perhaps a… different example than job-losing will help.
Pandemic things had me suffering professionally and personally a few months ago. Using the questions above:
#1. working in a pandemic stressed me out.
#2. Pandemic-wise I couldn’t realistically change anything besides wearing a mask around others, monitoring symptoms and reducing COVID risk.
#3. I needed to radically accept that we are entering the third year of the pandemic. People are real stressed. Cases were real high. People react differently to situations when they are in crisis.
#4. In addition to radical acceptance, I can focus on reducing cognitive distortions, such as mind reading, to help me cope.
#5. My life will be different once I’ve accepted reality because I will understand that I can only make decisions for me in the current moment. I only have so much control but that control includes doing my work, shifting my thoughts and attitude and problem solving.
The answer to #5 is the Boiled Down Essential for that stressor. Stay with that. Next time that stressor comes up, skip down to #5, your Boiled Down Essential, which allows you to imagine an improved reality.
And no, unfortunately we cannot use an acronym for Boiled Down Essential.
Tool #2 for radical acceptance: Choose a Mantra
Similar to determining your Boiled Down Essential, choosing a mantra or coping statement can help you radically accept the situation. Here are some mantras I like:
“This is the way it is.”
“I can’t change the past.”
“This doesn’t define me.”
“I can only change my behaviors today.”
And Go Forward
Now you’ll go forward knowing what you’re radically accepting, starting with the stressor and ending with the Boiled Down Essential and/or mantra of choice. You are spectacular.
Different than radical acceptance, everyday acceptance is what we use for those annoyances. It’s the stuff you won’t remember a week from now and the stuff that’s over in a relatively quick amount of time. However, we know that that doesn’t necessarily make them less painful.
Some examples of circumstances that prompt everyday acceptance include: You have to wait in a long line. You stepped in gum. Someone cut you off in traffic.
Tool #1 for everyday acceptance: Go for the Facts
Name the fact of the situation in its most objective terms. No adjectives are allowed, unless it’s like “It’s cold outside.” Name only what a camera would see and hear. There can be absolutely no interpretation, no storytelling. The objectivity should feel robotic.
For example: You’re super anxious about work and really want to call in sick. To think in the most objective terms, I have a job (so true) and I have to go to work (pretty much). I have work to do at my job (very true). Nowhere in these sentences did I describe my feelings (bad, sad, stressed, anxious), my job in general, OR the work I have to do (easy, hard, dumb).
For a second example: Someone cut you off in traffic. In the most objective terms, you were driving on the highway and a red Jeep put their car in front of yours quickly. You braked. You each carried along.
That’s not so bad, is it? It’s the interpretation of the behaviors that get us in The Big Trouble(s).
Tool #2 for everyday acceptance: Because You’re In a Sitcom
A pretty fun and adventurous coping strategy is to, when in a less-than-ideal situation, pretend you’re in a sitcom or rom com or some form of fictionalized entertainment for the mass consumer. All of a sudden your distress turns into a quirky plot point OR such a small plot point that it only makes it in the montage rather than an actual scene. I’m thinking Carrie Bradshaw, Mindy Lahiri, Leslie Knope. (If you try this, PLEASE let me know.) Let’s try it out:
You’re anxious about going to work. It’s okay. Because you’re in a sitcom (Jess in New Girl).
Someone cuts you off in traffic. It’s okay. Because you’re in a sitcom (Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project – “Hey man, not cool!”)
As a popular culture lover I love this tool a lot. Now I just need to practice it.
Similarly maybe you’re not in a sitcom but you’re a badass assassin, a modern day Robinhood. Yet you still gotta do those day-to-day chores. You’re on your way to go kill someone but were passing by the grocery store and remembered you need milk so you stopped in. The line’s super long and frustrating and other nonsense ensues. We’re talking X, Y AND Z. The time is, you’re a badass assassin on the way to do a job. No extra energy can possibly be given to the nonsense. Your eye is on the prize. Let’s try it out some more:
You’re anxious about going to work. It’s okay. Because you’re a badass assassin.
Someone cuts you off in traffic. It’s okay. Because you’re a badass assassin.
You step in gum. It’s…not great. But you’re a badass assassin.
Radical acceptance and everyday acceptance are critical parts of managing our stress levels both day-to-day and in our lives overall.
In fact – and I hate to say it – some of us have to learn to radically accept that we have to radically accept stuff.
So, where are you in your acceptance journey? I’ll accept that you’re thinking about it right now or journaling about it later.
P.S. in case we haven’t met…
you seem normal is a mental health medium run by 24-year-old communication professional (hello!) who… well, seems normal. Turns out, my roommate is mental illness. Actually more like my unborn, and non-conceived baby. Because it’s like, inside of me. This is getting weird already. Topics of focus: self-awareness (we love it), mood, anger management, perfectionism, relationships & boundaries.