Making Peace with Reality: The Practice of Radical Acceptance

By Ben Ringler, MFT, Topic Expert

Have you noticed a general unease, anxiety, or agitation as you move through your days, with sudden bursts of more extreme rage or anxiety when certain things don’t go your way?  Do you notice a frequent feeling of depression and despair when you think about how your life is going?  Does every day feel like you’re walking through mud or as if nothing feels good enough?

There may be a variety of causes for these feelings, but I want to focus specifically on one cause that plagues many of us: the war we are waging against reality. To put it another way, we may have certain pictures in our minds of how we think life should look and cannot accept when those pictures do not correspond to what life really is shaping out to be. In this article, I want to help you identify if you are indeed waging such a war and (if so) how you can find peace by accepting yourself and your life as is.

Why Do We Wage War with Reality?

One of the most difficult aspects of life for human beings is our lack of control. It is often the cause of a tremendous amount of anxiety, and many of us unconsciously spend a great deal of energy developing strategies to attempt to establish control or convince ourselves that we can control life. When things in life go in certain ways that demonstrate our lack of control, it can be quite unnerving. If you experienced pain as a child, when a lack of control is quite evident, unnerving events now may feel especially threatening.

If this resonates for you, you may be unconsciously fighting against reality. Other signs might include frequent agitation and anxiety or rage when things happen that you don’t want to happen. This can range from spilling something on the floor, to traffic, to not performing the way you want, to feeling frequently agitated by the people in your lives. And if these intense emotional reactions are due to particular events, they may be evoking memories of injuries you may have sustained as a child.

Fighting against reality, whatever is actually occurring in every given moment, can be the source of significant pain, but the thought of not fighting can be even more frightening. By not fighting, you have to accept that you are not in control.

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance describes the act of embracing, with your entire being, what is happening now. It is accepting that you cannot control others. It means accepting yourself as you are, no matter who that person is. Radical acceptance means removing the additional layer of reactions to the things that are happening that you do not like.

Accepting that you are not in control takes a lot of practice! It helps to remember you don’t have to like what is happening. In fact, radical acceptance does not mean you resign yourself to injustice or harm. What it does mean is accepting what is happening in order to take action appropriately and effectively.

Fighting against reality, whatever is actually occurring in every given moment, can be the source of significant pain, but the thought of not fighting can be even more frightening. By not fighting, you have to accept that you are not in control.

When you accept life, you will find that you can choose how to respond to it rather than feel imprisoned by it, and this, in turn, may help you find a connection to joy.

Here are a few ways to start down the road to radical acceptance:

  1. Build your awareness. Start to observe your own reactions to life’s twists and turns as much as possible. Examine which kinds of twists and turns in particular get to you. How do you typically react? Building awareness in and of itself is an act of acceptance because it is separate from judgment and reaction.
  2. Practice watching your breath. You don’t need a meditation practice to watch your breath. Whenever you feel a reaction coming on, take several deep breaths into your belly, as many as you can until your reaction subsides. This and awareness are the seeds of radical acceptance.
  3. Work with your thoughts. As you build your awareness, you will notice your reactive thoughts take a certain form: “This sucks!” “I hate this!” “Why is this happening to me?” “Why do bad things always happen?” Once you can identify those thoughts, you can work with them by counteracting them. You can challenge those thoughts by refuting them in your own mind: “Actually, bad things don’t always happen to me.” “Yes, I don’t like this, but it’s okay. I can deal with it.”

These are some of the basic but surprisingly difficult ways to develop radical acceptance. If you dedicate to these practices, you may find it easier to shift the way you relate to life and that, by doing so, you find more peace and joy in life.

If you find the practice of radical acceptance to be challenging, a mental health professional can offer support and guidance. I wish you the best in your pursuit.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ben Ringler, MFTtherapist in Berkeley, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by

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