accepting change

“Check Engine”: A Journey in Radical Acceptance

I often talk to my clients about this concept called “radical acceptance.” It’s initially confusing and people sometimes have some complaints about the whole idea of it. Acceptance has a connotation of liking something or agreeing with it or not doing anything about it. “It is what it is” is both invalidating and not what I mean by “radical acceptance”. It’s a passive stance and leaves people feeling disempowered or angry in an “if I accept it, the terrorists win” kind of way.

In DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) we look at having two opposites coexist. With radical acceptance, we notice that once something/someone is accepted, it frees up the possibility of change (change the situation, change our thoughts, change our behaviors, etc.). But this paragraph is just theoretical happy horse shit, so here’s a lame but effective example of using radical acceptance.

When my “check engine” light comes on, I practice radical acceptance. I acknowledge that it’s on, I even acknowledge that I’m frustrated or annoyed or inconvenienced, and then I take my car to the mechanic to get it fixed. Acknowledging the problem frees me up to effectively fix the situation.

It would not be effective for me to…

1.    See that the “check engine” light is on, pull over, kick my car, slash the tires, find the nearest cliff and push my car off of it. After all, my car is obviously a piece of shit, it thought this was the perfect car but it’s just like all the rest, I’m over it, I hate it.

But now I don’t have a car and have a real pickle on my hands when I have to tell the insurance company what happened.


2.    See that the “check engine” light is on, and ignore it. Light? What light!?! I don’t see a light. It’s fine. My car’s fine. Runs fine now. Everything is fine.

But then my engine melts after a while from not having enough oil, which is a much bigger (and more expensive) pain in the ass than an oil change.

These examples are a big dramatic, but we do these ineffective strategies all the time. Catastrophizing, black and white thinking, judgement, and lack of acceptance leads to emotion fueled behavior that causes more suffering.  Maybe I run from a relationship after the first disagreement or I berate myself when I feel sad, or I binge after I eat an extra cookie. Ignoring it doesn’t make the problem go away either, and actually makes the problem worse. Maybe I ignore my sore throat and it turns into walking pneumonia, or I brush aside my anger at my spouse for texting while we were in the middle of a conversation, or I don’t say anything even though I notice my best friend has been drinking a lot more lately.

Life’s obviously a lot more complicated that car maintenance. And at the same time, practice is practice. Start practicing acknowledging how you think or feel and what’s going on around you. Try to do this without judgment, without pushing situations away and without clinging to them. Then look for the space that creates to make effective change. It’s all a practice and you’re worth practicing.

If you are struggling with practicing radical acceptance or struggling with what you find, we’re here to help. Get in touch via email, or by phone 818.919.2253