Friends! What a year this has been. Many started off with much excitement and anticipation to enter into a new decade. Honestly, these past 8 months have felt like a decade in and of itself. From a global pandemic and heightened racial tension, to political wars and once again profit being preferred over the livelihood of people - we are experiencing it all. I cannot forget the many lives lost and financial instability some have faced. It's been more grief and discomfort than we anticipated or may even have room to process. For some, this year can be seen as a collective traumatic experience.
As I have been journeying through this year, I have heard something a multiplicity of times that prompted me to share with you - “getting back to normal”. When people say this, I often wonder what they actually mean. The normal that we once knew we will not see again. Truth be told - we shouldn’t want to. These series of unfortunate (to say the least) and maybe even preventable events have sobered many up, have provided a great awareness of what's been happening to communities some have had the privilege of ignoring for years and it’s changing how we handle relationships, how we problem solve and what it means to invest in our health and well-being.
There is a term in the clinical world, stemming from Dialectical Behavior Therapy called radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is not an innate skill, but one we must choose to practice. Radical acceptance is used to regulate levels of distress by acknowledging and accepting our current reality. It’s reducing the desire to resist what we cannot change.
We are creatures of comfort, habit and have the desire to self preserve. When stimuli exist that challenge this our response may be to reject what is happening in the present moment. We blame. We deflect. We deny. We try to justify what’s happening in a way that does not always acknowledge what’s really taking place. We avoid. In our efforts to avoid this discomfort and pain what we sometimes forget is that what we are avoiding still exists.
Radical acceptance helps us gradually come to terms with what we cannot control and how we feel about what we cannot control. This can help us to process well and begin to develop a plan to work through what we can control.
Pain vs. Suffering
Think of a battery - one side of a battery is positive while the other is negative. It is the working together of the positive and negative ends that helps the battery function and exert its power and energy in whatever it's placed in. I know, this is an oversimplified description of how a battery functions, but the same concept applies to life itself. We take the negative with the positive and learn to develop ways of functioning and demonstrating our power as humans. Consequently, pain is inevitable.
While pain is inevitable, suffering can sometimes be avoided. We suffer due to not properly addressing and maneuvering through pain experienced - whether that is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Ignoring pain ignites further internal turmoil, which is when we get into suffering. Radical acceptance helps us to tolerate the stress at hand and to limit the suffering experienced by this pain.
I read a quote that I found fitting in describing suffering:
“It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true. And it’s more difficult to not accept. Not accepting pain brings suffering.”
At times it can be easy to admit when we're having difficulty accepting what's happened. Other times our actions tell on us before we say anything. Difficulty accepting can look like:
Over indulgence, and much more
Applying Radical Acceptance in 2020
This year has helped me to not only develop an understanding of radical acceptance, but to live this out. By no means am I suggesting this is easy, nor is practicing this skill an intent to diminish the difficulty of what we have experienced. Whether due to collective stress or personal life happenings, radical acceptance has helped me maintain and even increase my personal peace.
Here is what I have to offer when practicing radical acceptance in 2020...
Validate your experiences and feelings
Extend self compassion
Remember, there is not a time frame in which you “should” be over what is happening. Do not box yourself into this way of thinking and do not allow others to box you in. You will move along at your pace.
Acknowledge the difficulty with accepting but practice accepting nevertheless
Grieve, grieve and grieve some more
Develop ways of adjusting little by little and make the best of where you are
Accepting does not mean we agree or like what has happened. It does, however, mean we acknowledge not only what has happened, but our thoughts and feelings about our experience. In radical acceptance, we are not focused on labeling things as good or bad. We are focused on acknowledging the experience as something that was or is.
In radical acceptance, we assess our responses to this experience. What emotions are coming up? Are certain changes happening in our bodies as we accept? Do we feel tense in certain areas? We do not ignore or try to diminish the answers to these questions.
We are all having some sort of response to this year. Why? Because we are alive and having a human experience, collectively and personally. Remember, the goal is not to ignore or change what has already taken place but to accept this state. As you accept this state, you begin a journey of processing through this to move accordingly. May you continue throughout this year learning how to radically accept.
I whole heartedly believe this decade is special. All is not lost, friends.
Rooting for you, always.
Diamond James. LCSWA