(863) 937-3943 hello@cue-counseling.com

Is Radical Acceptance the Key to Mental Freedom?

by May 5, 2024

If you’re anxiety-prone, then you probably know what it’s like to get caught in a thought loop.

You ruminate on a problem for hours or days, wrestling with it. And just when you think you’ve arrived at a solution, the thought pops back up, so you fight and fight and fight some more.

Consider this: What if trying to solve the problem was creating a problem all its own?

Radical acceptance is a principle used in therapy and Eastern philosophical practices, and it may be the answer to your painful, anxious thought loops.

What Radical Acceptance Is and Is Not

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, I can change.“— Psychologist Carl Rogers.

One aspect of radical acceptance is letting go of what you cannot control, which is a universally recognized way to reduce stress and reorient your mind for well-being. Even the ancient Greek stoics knew this.

The other is accepting what is happening now without judgment.

Now, it could happen while you are stuck in traffic, there is a cool breeze, your back is hurting, you’re talking to a loved one, or all of those things at once.

You are not dreading the future or dwelling in the past. You are simply here. You are “out of your head” and focusing on the moment in front of you. It gets tricky when we have to deal with our thoughts and feelings.

We deliberately think and solve problems with our rational minds. We can plan, be creative, and be thoughtful of others. The problems arise when we resist the emotions and thoughts we experience.

If we experience unwanted thoughts or negative beliefs, we feel we need to exile them from our minds to be rid of them forever. We try to plug our feelings and thoughts like a dam, and in doing so, we’re actually bonding ourselves to them. 

The paradox Carl Rogers was referring to can be summed up as follows: Accepting and letting go are the same thing.

By accepting a problem, we are trusting that we’re ok and that we can handle it. When we fight a problem, we operate under the assumption that there is a problem to solve. If false negative beliefs are what plague us, then fighting false beliefs assumes them to be true.

Most importantly, we need to know that radical acceptance is NOT passivity. It is not the defeated resignation that “this is just the way things are.”

You radically accept when you know that fighting is only causing you more suffering and that the key to being free is letting go of the fight altogether.

How to Cultivate Radical Acceptance In Your Life

The best way to practice radical acceptance is to first cultivate awareness. That is, awareness of your common thought loops, feelings, and beliefs.

This is where introspection and therapy come in.

The more aware you become of your thoughts and feelings, the more you can break them down and see why you’re experiencing them. 

It is the work of understanding why your beliefs are valid or not valid. But once you understand, you don’t have to keep being attached.

The greater your awareness, the greater your power. Here’s how you can cultivate awareness:

  • Develop a meditation practice:

Mindfulness is simply learning to observe your thoughts instead of getting caught up in them. You don’t judge or reject any thoughts you experience. You don’t cling to or fight them. In meditation, you just let them float by like clouds. 

You learn to say ok to your thoughts and feelings, even the ones you wish weren’t flowing through your mind. 

  • Accept, then investigate:

If you’re experiencing unwanted thoughts or negative beliefs, accept their presence. Without judgment, consider if these negative beliefs are true, or if they are merely a result of a bad experience or a rotten influence you’ve had in your life.

You shake off limiting beliefs by seeing through them, not trying to cast them away.

Real Examples of Radical Acceptance

Let’s look at some ways in which radical acceptance can be applied:

  • You’re upset at the state of the world.

You can’t stop reading negative news headlines. You feel like the world is struggling, and the people you love are being affected, as is your own mental health.

You choose radical acceptance. You say to yourself, “This is the way things are right now, and there’s nothing I can do to change them.” Then you say, “So what CAN I do?”

You conclude that you can be an example for your friends and loved ones for what’s possible. You can be healthy, be a good friend, shut out the world when you need to, and pursue your goals and passions. You refuse to let things you can’t control ruin the one life you have.

  • You want to be more confident.

You want to grow into a more confident version of yourself, so you focus on all the beliefs you have about yourself that you don’t want and try not to think about them anymore. 

You get frustrated and chastise yourself when you keep feeling the same way. You’re still down on yourself, except now you’re down on yourself for being down on yourself.

Then, you decide to accept your thoughts and feelings. You see and accept your moments of low self-esteem and pair it with self-work to understand it.

Your acceptance helps you cultivate genuine self-compassion, and from there, you start to change your behaviors and develop your self-esteem.

Radical Acceptance and Awareness

Practicing acceptance is just that: a practice.

Radical acceptance will be a new way of living if you’re used to always trying to be vigilant and control everything in your life.

It is about cultivating trust in your mind, in your feelings, and in the process. It is about stepping out of your own way.

Recognize that when your thoughts lead you into a loop, you become free not by fighting but by accepting and letting go.