How many times have you said to yourself “I’ll be happy when I… (insert here – lose weight, find a partner, get a new job, get what I want from my Mum etc)”?
For many of us its all-too familiar to find ourselves waiting on something within or around us to change so we can find greater self acceptance and life satisfaction. Too often we find ourselves waiting on a future event to pick us up and launch us to where we want to be, a kind of magical thinking which takes us out of the present moment and tells us in a whisper (or a shout) that “I’m not ok just as I am”. Ouch. That kind of attitude can really hurt.
Radical Acceptance is the practice of seeing things clearly as they really are, and doing so in a way that’s self-compassionate and non-judging. The influential Humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” In my own experience and in my work with people who are having difficulty with self-acceptance, I’ve found that embracing an attitude of Radical Acceptance can be extremely powerful.
Imagine if, rather than berating ourselves for our perceived shortcomings we find ways to embrace them? To find space for all of these qualities and experiences and to accept ourselves just as we are. From this baseline of self-acceptance then we may still embark on a process of change or growth – not to rectify some inherent personal flaw but to build upon that baseline. Imagine if right now, in this moment we could all believe that we are all already enough, that we are ok, just as we are. “I am already enough”.
Yep, this can be a very radical concept. For some of us, self-acceptance or acceptance of others can be particularly challenging if we’ve had experiences in our lives where people have not responded to our personal characteristics, our difficulties and distressing emotions in a nurturing and comforting way. If we’ve come from a background of being repeatedly criticised and put down then this may have become our automatic, internalised view of ourselves – as someone to be judged, rejected, devalued. We might feel angry, at ourselves and at those who have treated us in this way – how very human of us! Thankfully though, this (like so many other psychological patterns) can be changed.
Of course, all of this doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when change or action may be needed, especially if what we’re doing is causing harm to ourselves or to others. Much of the time though, we may be better served working on being content in the here and now – letting go of our need to change ourselves or others, and to accept ourselves and our lives, as they are. Sounds radical right? Well that’s exactly what it is!
Radical Acceptance is a psychological skill that we can develop. Sure, it takes time and practice to override our automatic drives, but it’s important to know that it’s possible – in fact, it’s one of the key tasks of psychological therapy. The therapists at Mid Body Well can help you work on your Radical Acceptance, and you might also be interested in the work of Tara Brach, an authority on Radical Acceptance.