How To Comfort Pain With Radical Acceptance
Say you’re struggling with a job, relationship or personal challenge. You’ve been stuck for a long time without relief. Part of you might start thinking:
“I’m not good enough for a better job.”
“I’m so messed up. I’m not worth loving.”
“I can’t resolve this situation; I’m a failure.”
Shame and self-rejection can block growth and problem solving. If nothing you’ve tried has worked, it may seem impossible to find the energy to make progress.
Radical acceptance is part of a healing response to suffering. It’s about opening yourself to see the full truth of your experience — no matter what it is — and pause to comfort the hurt.
Acceptance involves allowing life to be just as it is, says bestselling author and meditation teacher Tara Brach. The radical part is the total willingness to face all truths completely – even unwanted ones. Acceptance is saying yes to the reality of the situation — and your feelings about it.
Radical Acceptance: Mindfulness Needed for Growth
Radical acceptance is a mindfulness skill that can shift a heavy sense of hopelessness to enable growth. It is a learnable skill you can explore in therapy and in life.
Radical acceptance is a first step to changing what may seem like unchangeable reality.
But what exactly do we need to accept? Often the answer lies behind resistance to pain.
The Choice: Suffer With Pain, or Allow It and Seek the Source
Pain is a natural part of life. So is our desire to avoid pain. We all face losses — youth, health, opportunities, people we love. We may become unhappy in a job or with a sense of loneliness. We may worry about a loved one’s illness.
Pain happens. Suffering is different. Emotional suffering comes from resistance to pain. Anxiety or depression may also emerge with suffering.
We may look to ease pain by distraction. Binge-watching shows, drinking more, staying up too late, working to exhaustion, or abusing food or drugs — all these are common ways to avoid pain.
Poor self-care is often a red flag that we’re at war with ourselves. We’re working against ourselves, fighting unpleasant sensations from within.
Radical acceptance offers a different path. It’s a decision to soften the resistance to pain. We become present with it, to learn about ourselves, our situation, and what changes we can make.
Acceptance does not mean tolerating mistreatment. It doesn’t mean having infinite stamina for hardship or wrongdoing. Radical acceptance means recognizing where the pain comes from, honoring our needs, and then responding as best we can in this moment.
Resources for Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is not easy. Therapy can be a valuable resource when trying to find the roots of one’s suffering. A therapist’s training helps you explore your distress without feeling overwhelmed, and helps validate what is true for you. Then you can tune into your mind and body.
Facing pain from past trauma, feelings of disconnection, or anything out of your control can trigger a lot of anxiety. No one can problem-solve when anxious and agitated. Therapy can also provide ways to remain grounded and calm, and help manage anxiety.
In grounded mindfulness, you can:
- Experience being present with pain without getting lost in it
- Recognize external sources of pain (for example, a loved one’s actions; a situation at work, abuse or neglect in your past)
- Recognize internal sources of pain (for example, a sense of shame, unworthiness or failure)
- Recognize your deepest needs (for instance, compassion, forgiveness, more sleep, clear boundaries or limits)
- Experience self-compassion, kindness and tenderness toward yourself
- Identify the values you have
- Realize what choices you have that align with your values
- Realize what actions you can take for change
Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion
Compassion is an important part of radical acceptance. Compassion is our power to sense suffering in one’s self or another, and offer comfort and kindness.
Radical compassion is the ability to be present to all forms of suffering, no matter how painful or distressing, and engage in alleviating it, says author and neurobiologist Dan Siegel.
Compassion helps us empathize with others and be kinder to ourselves. This helps us balance different streams of awareness so we can function well as thinking, feeling beings. Integration is another word for cultivating balanced awareness. Integration, says Siegel, is the key to harmony, healthy relationships, and wellbeing.
Radical acceptance is like the radical compassion you offer yourself. It allows you to focus your attention with kindness and curiosity instead of critical self-judgment on whatever is challenging you.
Healing is a process of learning to trust the whole self, including where we hurt. By radically accepting our experiences we can begin to respond to what’s real instead of fight things that separate us from what we want.
By seeing and soothing the real source of pain and distress, we can experience a new freedom to move forward through our greatest challenges.
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