What is radical self-acceptance? Really it is pretty simply exactly what those words mean. For something that easy, it is pretty hard for many adults to practice Radical Self-Acceptance.
Try saying out loud: “I accept myself completely as I am right now.” It sounds simple, but remember, it means you accept everything about yourself in this exact moment: your physical body, your emotional body, your mental, creative and spiritual bodies, not the way you might have looked or felt or been several years ago or as you think you “should be” right now or how you want to be in some future time. This means you accept your whole body, for example, you can’t just accept your head and pick apart which parts of your body are acceptable and what isn’t. It’s all or nothing. As one of my patients once told me, “You cannot receive something in parts or somewhat, you have to receive it completely or not at all.”
So the challenge is, can you receive yourself and accept yourself in this present moment, no matter what you are feeling, how you are looking, what is going on with you and your life. I posted a while back about this kind of self-acceptance. I took a piece I read about yoga “not caring”, which had a lot in it about yoga not caring what you know, how flexible you are, how you eat, etc., and turned it into a challenge to not “care” what state of affairs your life, body, career or lack thereof, apt or lack of home, family or no family, etc. is and to just care that you have showed up to your life in this moment. The link to the post is:
Here are a few of the sentences:
“I don’t care what color my skin is or what gender I choose to love or what gender or non gender I am. I don’t care about others’ appearance, sexual orientation, gender, etc. either. We all share similar struggles and pain.
I don’t care how much money I have, what house or space I live in, what car I drive, or if I have to live on the streets right now.
I don’t care what my apartment, house, living space etc. looks like right now. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that I am still here anyway.
I don’t care if I smoke cigarettes, drink, use substances that are illegal, eat too much, binge and purge, starve myself, or am addicted to sex or other things or whether I hoard things in my abode. I’m still here and I showed up to this new day and that is enough.
I don’t care if I am single, with someone, with several people, in a messy relationship, stuck in a difficult relationship or anything else.”
To take these ideas into radical self-acceptance, we would not use the words “I don’t care”, but instead, “I accept that…”. For example, I accept myself as I am right now, including what I am doing right now, even if I am drinking, smoking, binging. I accept myself as I am right now, that I live alone in a tiny apartment and am in terrible debt and unemployed. I still can accept myself as I am in this moment, even though I need to lose 20 pounds and my house is a mess…
I first read about the concept of “Radical Self-Acceptance” in a DBT workbook. DBT is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, first discovered and invented by Marsha Linehan.
Here is a link to a description of the concept: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/radical_acceptance_part_1.html
Here is something from that article: “So what’s Radical Acceptance? What do I mean by the word ‘radical’? Radical means complete and total. It’s when you accept something from the depths of your soul. When you accept it in your mind, in your heart, and even with your body. It’s total and complete.
When you’ve radically accepted something, you’re not fighting it. It’s when you stop fighting reality. That’s what radical acceptance is.”
So there is the importance of sort of surrendering to the reality of yourself and your life as it is, not as you would like it to be. The word “Radical” may sound extreme but it is just the right word to really pin down this concept, the idea of complete and total acceptance.
There is this too: “Often when you’ve accepted you have this sense of letting go of the struggle. It’s just like you’ve been struggling and now you’re not. Sometimes, if you have accepted, you just have this sense of being centered, like you feel centered inside yourself somehow. “
So as this article says, this is an interior process but I disagree that it is hard to describe, as it is really very simple. The sense of struggle versus letting go gets at it. It reminds me of the feeling you have when you tense up part or as much of your body as you can and then release. That moment of release is what this is about. Radical Self-Acceptance is a bodily sensation as well as a verbal affirmation. It is what goes on when you focus on your breathing in and out. When you let the breath out, you let go; that is what goes on with this process. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then release it. There is a kind of metaphorical holding of the breath that people engage in during times of stress. Studying for law school exams and saying, I will attend to my body and get a massage and relax after the exams. That is holding your breath till you’re done. Taking care of yourself while going through some kind of big stress like this is a kind of radical acceptance. Accepting that you have no control over what might happen tomorrow, much less a week from now in the exam room is part of this process, for example.
When you are not calm, not grounded, not relaxed, not liking yourself, not using “healthy coping skills”, that is a time to practice this kind of self-acceptance. I accept that I am a mess, that I messed up, that I was doing great at “fill in the blank”, not picking my skin, not binging and purging, not getting drunk, whatever, and now I’m back in the muck, out of control, disgusting, ashamed, whatever. BUT, I can just stop, breathe and accept myself even in this moment of complete “failure”.
I have sat with very smart, very put together, very successful adults and asked them to say the words, “I accept myself as I am in this moment, right now, completely.”, and had them respond that they cannot do it. I press them to just say it out loud even if they do not believe it. Just getting someone to say that out loud is a huge struggle; for some, it is way more challenging than doing stuff that seems impossible, they can run a marathon, write and publish a book, etc. etc., but to say those words can feel impossible. Say them anyway, say them as if your life depended on it, because in a way, it does.
What I love about the theory of the “Dialectic” in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is the idea of two opposing things being true at the same time inside a person. That includes radical self-acceptance alongside the desire to change behaviors. It turns out you can’t change much until you completely accept yourself as you are now, in the bad, unchanged messy state. You can feel sad and self hateful and want to die and still accept yourself right now, and it is the only route to ever living at all.
Radical Self-Acceptance happens right now, but it is also a work in progress. I can say that I radically accept myself as I am now, and most of me not believe it and say it isn’t true, but when I say it, it is true.
It is 11:11. I should have done my yoga practice and be getting ready to go to sleep. I should have written this article last week as it is not this week’s assignment. I haven’t done the first assignment, the interview yet. My mouth tastes lousy and I should brush my teeth. I think I missed going to the dentist and probably haven’t flossed enough. Now that I focus on it, my teeth are too yellow. My body feels uncomfortable from eating too much heavy food a few hours ago. I am behind on some bills and not budgeting. That could lead me to my issues with money. There’s the graphic novel I started in 2000, 14 years ago, and ten pages of it that I misplaced in my own house/apt. I won’t go to the apartment and what kind of state it is in right now, versus how it should look. There’s my studio too, in disarray. I could go on and on about all the ways I am disorganized, not good enough, my little private addictions, like shopping for stuffed bunnies and old Betsey Johnson jewelry on Ebay, during a month when I am buying holiday gifts and have no business buying crap for myself. I will say, I accept myself anyway, as messed up as I could portray myself. I am vain about my hair, but I accept that it doesn’t look like it did ten years ago, and I accept my gray hair and my age.
None of this stuff matters. What matters is that I am trying to accept myself anyway, just like the rest of humanity. I still mostly can believe in my own inner goodness, good intentions, caring, alongside my grandiosity and selfishness, petty jealousies, etc.
I accept myself completely as I am right now. Can you say this too? Of course you can! Just do it, just say it. Look in the mirror and say it every day.