Radical Acceptance: May it Show Us, May it Grow Us

I’m putting laundry away (what feels like the one millionth basket) when my middle son walks in with a serious look on his face as he approaches me.

Son: “Mom why do humans feel pain”

Me: “Ugh…. well… because we have nerves and the nerves sense sensations and communicate to the brain, ouch that hurts… and then we feel pain”

Son: “No, mom, not like that! WHY? WHY, do humans feel pain? Why are we made like this? You know what I wish? I wish no humans ever felt pain! Why do we need it? It just hurts us”.

Well, that escalated quickly.

You know this moment as a parent, right? That moment when you think, shoot…. How do I answer this one? No one prepared me for this! I feel the hot flush in my cheeks and I take a deep breath.

Me: “Well, you’re right, pain hurts and it’s hard to understand why we need it, but it’s there for a reason. It’s there to tell us when something is unsafe or could hurt us worse, like a hot fire. It’s there to tell us what’s important and what we care about, like people we love. It can show us what’s wrong. Pain is a part of life and a part of being human.”

Radical Acceptance: May it Show Us, May it Grow Us

He’s quiet for a moment, thinks, and says, “well I still don’t like it though”. And there it is folks, radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance is one of the most challenging and helpful skills in DBT. Radical acceptance is the acceptance of reality as it is, in this moment, allowing for hurt, disappointment, grieving, sadness. The idea is radical acceptance turns SUFFERING into ordinary pain. Pain that can be tolerated, because, after all, pain IS a part of the human condition, whether we like it or not (you don’t have to like it, just like my son doesn’t have to like it!). In fact, liking or giving approval is not needed in radical acceptance. Rather, it’s a radical acknowledgment. Seeing what IS, rather than what we wish.

It just is.

This past year was filled with it, wasn’t it? Pain from being apart from loved ones, pain from instability, isolation, pain from illness, even loss. For many it was a year of pain, even suffering and because of it, we took inventory. Inventory on what matters. We were forced to make changes. Change is uncomfortable and even painful; however, it also helps us to grow.

There is a quote I love by Cynthia Occelli that states, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

This year forced me into growth. I grew by learning what’s really important. I grew by seeing how much I’ve really been missing out on when I’m so “busy” (ouch, that one hurt). I grew by learning how much I NEED, my family, my community, my friends, my coworkers. How much I NEED support. Humans are pack animals and you know what? I’m okay with that. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters. Connection and each other. Pain taught me that. I guess there’s a function for it after all.

So the next time you’re presented with a painful or uncomfortable situation, I challenge you to step into radical acceptance of what is, so you can get to the growth of what might be.

DBT of South Jersey media

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