Life circumstances can sometimes lead to suffering. This may be triggered by traumatic experiences, loss of loved ones, and through experiencing challenging and unforeseen events. When we can learn to accept a painful situation, rather than fight against it, we can free ourselves to move forward with our lives and end our suffering.
How many times do we cave in to our experiences of suffering? Or spend precious reserves of energy resisting and fighting against it? An individual may even contemplate “giving up” just to end their chronic suffering. So, what do we do with this overwhelming, heavy, and burdening feeling?
In DBT, we practice Radical Acceptance. The basic concept is that through acceptance, we decrease suffering (Linehan, The Expanded DBT Skills Training Manual). . This does not mean that we need to agree with, condone, or approve of what is happening. It means that we allow ourselves to experience a situation without trying to change it, resist, or escape. It sounds fairly simple in theory, though it is often difficult to put in practice.
Challenge yourself by asking…
Is there a small change you can make to a situation that is causing pain and suffering? Perhaps there is something that can be done to alter the experience. Maybe you are in a toxic relationship or feeling trapped in your job. Maybe you need to consult with a doctor or other professional about an issue? The first step may be to do what you can, within your power, to influence the situation.
Sometimes we cannot change a circumstance that is keeping us stuck, either because it is something that has already happened (a past event), or it is something currently happening that is outside of our control. Ask yourself, if you cannot change the circumstances that are causing you pain, can you change your relationship to the situation?
For example, an individual may have experienced a traumatic event (or multiple traumatic events) in their past. While they cannot change the circumstances surrounding the incident(s) that occurred, they may be able to come to a place of acceptance for the event that transpired. It may help us to move through painful experiences from the past by acknowledging our own strength and inner resources. Through honoring and recognizing that we have managed to survive, and in some ways to overcome these difficult experiences? Remember the old adage, “that which does not kill us lends us strength.”
What if the incident causing us pain is currently happening? What if a situation is chronic or ongoing? What if circumstances are not within our control? It may prove even more difficult to accept a painful circumstance that is actively happening. When we have the freedom or ability to alter a situation, we may believe that we can influence the outcome. In a free society, we are constantly presented with choices in our lives, and when choices are removed, it can be a scary feeling. We may feel helpless, victimized, or “out of control.” If we can learn to practice acceptance for those instances in which we don’t have influence, we can free ourselves to release our own strengths and inner resources to move through the situation, and eventually, beyond it.
Remember that acceptance is a process, similar to stages of grief that occur when we are faced with traumatic experiences or loss. According to Kubler Ross (2005), the stages are: 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, and 5. Acceptance. It is important to note that these stages do not happen in sequence, and we can often experience ourselves “ping-ponging” back and forth between the various stages, or sometimes getting “stuck” in one stage.
It takes time and effort to work toward acceptance. We need to allow ourselves the time it takes to arrive. In the meantime, breathe through it, practice the art of calming the mind, and come to a place of openness to embrace a more freeing and satisfying future.