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What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is a central concept of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, a therapeutic approach common in addiction treatment. The idea is simply that you completely accept whatever is happening and not resist reality. Resisting reality is what we usually call “denial.” It also leads to suffering. Most importantly, accepting reality is the necessary first step to improving reality.

Nobody wants bad things to happen, but bad things sometimes happen anyway. Sometimes bad things have already happened, but we just haven’t accepted it. This is often the case with addiction. At a superficial level, we might deny we have an addiction and refuse to do anything about it. At a deeper level, addiction might be a way to continue rejecting reality. Something bad happened, we can’t accept it and we can’t face it, so drugs or alcohol seem like a reasonable alternative. Then, when this behavior becomes a problem, we can’t face this new reality either.

This creates suffering in two ways. The first is that we judge what’s happening in a way that actually makes it worse. There’s an old saying that pain is inevitable but suffering is not. Or maybe you have heard the two arrows metaphor: the first arrow is the pain, and the second arrow is being angry about the pain. When something bad happens, we fight in all kinds of ways. We say, “This shouldn’t happen,” or “this isn’t fair,” as if either of those matters. That kind of thinking only adds suffering to pain.

The other way it creates suffering is by prolonging the pain we resist. If you don’t accept a problem, you can’t do anything about it. If you can’t fix the cause of the pain, it will persist. If you don’t accept you have an addiction, the addiction will continue to mess up your life. The addiction doesn’t care at all that you don’t accept it.

Of course, radical acceptance is easier said than done. It is often painful. The fear of pain is often what gets you into trouble. Ironically, confronting pain often reduces its severity. This is where practicing mindfulness is helpful. The idea of pain is usually worse than the pain itself. If you really experience it for what it is–a mix of beliefs, interpretations, and physical sensations–then you start to realize there isn’t anything there you can’t handle. This is the starting point for taking back control and making the future a little better than the present.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.