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Radical Acceptance of Reality

Updated: Jan 14

Having a new focus on life can help you move forward

-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

August 24, 2022

The traumatic global COVID-19 pandemic triggered an onslaught of a variety of psychological crises worldwide which has been impacting all ages and all cultures. We experienced stressors we had not before, tumultuous events since, experiencing more anxiety, stress, and depression across the globe as a result.

But we also have learned something really important: we can survive. We are resilient. We have learned how to live with uncertainty, pessimism, and frustration--though we have not always done it in the healthiest of ways.

Yet there is much more to do as we take steps towards building lives allowing us to not just survive, but to actually thrive, come what may.

The last few years have shaken us. People who had spent time making safe and healthy decisions for themselves while believing they had an impact on their own destiny found themselves becoming more reactive, and experiencing much more anxiety.

"We acknowledged that the pandemic is a disturbing, unexpected, terrifying event that remains outs of our control" (Lucena, 2021). "We are stuck in a reality that we did not seek; it moved in like an inconvenient guest who has not announced how long the visit will be." The longer the pandemic lasted and the unknown with it, it left in its wake unwelcome remnants, including apprehension, fear, and sometimes panic.

In a treatment intervention Lucena (2021) referred to as "Mental Health PPE", Mindfulness and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills were shared in a Brazilian virtual group over the period of three months. One particular skill became key: Radical acceptance.

By accepting the reality of what we cannot change, and focusing on what one can change, we are able to take back some semblance of control. "COVID-19 remains a threat to us all" (Lucena, 2021). "It created an unwanted reality that we have not yet been able to modify. Continuous adaptation is required to live in an altered, more challenging world."

With roots in eastern Zen and western contemplative practices, "Radical acceptance of the present moment without attempts to change it" (Lenihan, 2018).

Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance skill from Lenihan's DBT modality which is described as "whole-hearted acceptance of a situation, including the pain involved" (O'Hayer, 2021). It is one of the most effective and difficult skills to utilize. The concept has long been used in the Serenity Prayer.

Radical acceptance can be quite difficult to implement. "To use the skill successfully, you must accept your entire situation as it is, with no judgment" (DBT Self Help, 2022). "You must stop fighting reality. Given the severity of the situation, this can be quite challenging."

10 Practical Steps Toward Radical Acceptance

  1. Observe that you are fighting reality (“It shouldn’t be this way.”)

  2. Remind yourself that this particular unpleasant reality cannot be changed. (“This is what happened.”)

  3. Acknowledge that something led to this reality. (“This is how things happened.”)

  4. Practice acceptance with your entire being, your mind, body and spirit. Be mindful of your breath, posture and use accepting and compassionate self-talk, as well as mindfulness or relaxation techniques.

  5. List what your behavior would be if you did accept the facts then engage in those behaviors as if you accepted reality.

  6. Plan ahead by imagining and believing what you do not want to accept and rehearse in your mind what you would do if you accepted what seems unacceptable

  7. Remain mindful of physical sensations throughout your body and attend to them.

  8. Recognize feelings such as disappointment, sadness, or grief as they arise within you, without judgement.

  9. Acknowledge that life is worth living even when there might be temporary pain.

  10. Complete a pros and cons exercise to better understand the full impact of your choice.

Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a place of resistance. Reflecting radical acceptance concepts in mindful moments can be helpful. You may want to experience these thoughts in nature, or consider writing your thoughts out embracing the evolution that time and wisdom invite.

If we recognize we are part of the human condition and only have the ability to take control of the things within our grasp, and take some steps forward, we can begin to feel better. Once we accept what is, and take the next steps to pave the way forward, we can accomplish much, even in the wake of the pandemic as well as the turmoil left behind.


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting


DBT Self Help (2022). Radical acceptance & turning the mind. Retrieved from

Linehan, M.M. (2018) The course and evolution of dialectical behavior therapy. The American Journal

of Psychotherapy. Retrieved from

Lucena, R.J.M. (2021). Mental health PPE in times of COVID-19. The International Journal of Whole

Person Care, 8(1). 43-46.

O'Hayer, C.V. (2021). Building a life worth living during a pandemic and beyond: Adaptations of

Comprehensive DBT to COVID-19. Cog Behavioral Practice. 28(4): 488-496.



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