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Radical Acceptance - The key to choice

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Originally Posted on October 12, 2018

- Captured in a bottle of suffering

Its hard sometimes this LIFE business and even harder when things happen which cause us suffering and pain.A family member dying, workplace reshuffling/redundancy, your landlord selling your home even the kids never putting their clothes away! If only this hadn’t happened, if only I had said my goodbyes, if only I had saved some more money…if only they would listen then I wouldn’t feel so ” insert feeling here“. We rally our resources to gain control over something we in fact have no control at all and feel trapped in the bottle of our suffering.

When we try to grasp for “a false sense of control” or fight against situations/emotions that we cannot change, this often leads to suffering. While there are certainly situations or circumstances in life that are within our control, often there are times when we simply are unable to change the reality of a situation.

It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true, we get caught in the never ending argument of “if only…but if this changed then I/they would be happy” . We get angry, frustrated, overbearing and controlling when we try to control / fix events or people that are outside of our control.

The hamster wheel of our brain whirs in overtime …

We become joyless and lost..

So what is radical acceptance?

  • Accepting that life is worth living even with suffering in it

  • Continual choice to turn towards what we can change/choices

  • Accepting reality as it is…even when it sucks!

What radical acceptance isn’t.

  • Judging situations or emotions as “good” or “bad.

  • Condoning behaviours

  • Giving up your needs.

  • Ignoring or denying a situation.

  • Never asserting your thoughts/feelings

  • Acceptance does not equal agreement.


Imagine that you find out your long term partner has been having affairs for years and you are so angry, hurt, confused and wanting to know WHY and HOW bad was it.

You believe that in having some magical answer or resolution you will stop feeling the devastation. If they apologized, explained, were miserable or came clean then the pain of the betrayal would be tolerable. You spend endless conversations ( rehashing the same pain)trying to work it out, you stop enjoying normal activities, refuse to ever love again because people are untrustworthy, devalue the person, drink more, eat more/less ,begin to have sleep issues . You get the idea. This doesn’t stop the pain we keep recycling the hurt and doubts. Our brain goes into over drive obsessing and replaying scenarios again and again.

- Radical Acceptance is Freedom

So how does radical acceptance help?

When we can come to terms with accepting ( remember it's not excusing or condoning or agreeing,)its happened. That it sucks, we don't want it to be true AND we can still live a life worth having.

  • We can focus on the other things in our life that are positive and we have control over

  • We can feel the pain AND learn so we grow

  • It doesn’t require the other person or our forgiveness

  • We learn to look at solutions and possibility

In the example above radical acceptance can result in addressing self esteem issues and relationship patterns, exploring goals and aspirations you’ve never contemplated. Deciding to travel, study or take up hiking! Yes the pain hurts, and yes you can still live a life worth living and loving!

Caroline Williams MNZAC, counsellor, clinical manager and proactive

blogger against the stigma of mental illness. Contact her today via her website

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