What is ‘Radical Acceptance’ and How do We do It?

Aren’t we supposed to accept situations that we find difficult to stomach?

Isn’t that the point of the Serenity prayer, Buddhism’s ‘radical acceptance[insert spiritual paradigm of choice]?

Not exactly.

I think that would be to misunderstand the nature of acceptance. 

And anyway, if you’ve ever tried to accept something difficult, you’d know it’s a losing battle.

This article is about what’s underneath those things we can’t seem to say ‘yes’ to in life.

And how, paradoxically, radical acceptance – done the right way – is how we change our experience. 

Radical acceptance is ‘it’s okay’ 


So if acceptance isn’t ‘I accept this’ – what is it?

It is nearer ‘it’s okay that I can’t’. 

What else is okay, that we may have been making not okay?

Loneliness. Fear. Anger. Abject terror. Confusion and uncertainty. The things we observe about ourselves that make us uncomfortable. Our ways of behaving that we don’t like, but for some reason we can’t stop ourselves from doing. The better choices that we don’t make. 

Acceptance is greeting the things we do not like about ourselves with, it's okay Click To Tweet

Radical acceptance is greeting all of these things with ‘it’s okay’, and meaning it. 

We can love ourselves without liking ourselves.

And sometimes, that’s exactly what we have to do.

Yes but, why bother?


Why is it helpful to say ‘it’s okay’?

The answer to the question cannot be proven, so it takes a little faith. Here’s a thought that can help:

How has not accepting a certain situation worked out until now? Has it helped you to change the things or thing you want to change?

Not accepting things keeps the truth of a situation eluding us Click To Tweet

By not making things okay, we stay arm’s length of embodying a powerful realization: 

That underlying all the pain points in our lives, are choices we aren’t making.

My choice? It’s my fault this is the way it is?


It’s not your fault, no.

Or even a fault at all. The situation you find intolerable is there by design, to help wake you up to an aspect of yourself you might not be seeing.

This is tempting to write it off as spiritual woo woo.

When more we take honorable action, the less of a need there is to accept anything Click To Tweet

But what is the alternative to thinking that the suffering we experience is from our own choices?

An unimaginably bleak groundhog day of negative emotions, or denial of emotions, that prevents meaningful action in the direction of change.

It is how most people live their lives.

The mistake we make


A lot of the time, we concern ourselves with the effects of the choices we aren’t making. That is why there is something to accept to begin with.

For example: the effects of my choice not to leave a job that I am stagnant in: apathy, procrastination, boredom, despair, panic and fear that life will pass me by without my making a difference.

The only reason there is something to accept to begin with is because we aren't looking at our choices Click To Tweet

That is a lot of emotional mess to clear up every day: a lot to make okay. 

Seriously, what difference will this make?


Gradually, this practice changes the quality of your relationship with yourself. It eventually changes your actions, too.

How about giving it a try?

Every time you notice a harsh self directed judgment, or a negative emotion, say ‘it’s okay’. ‘You’re okay’. Do this a hundred times a day if you have to. 

By accepting things, we stop being sidetracked by negative emotions and self-contempt Click To Tweet

It is the equivalent of refusing to deal with the middle man anymore. The middle man being your emotions, and self contempt.

Here is something we don’t like to admit: negative emotions have a pay-off. 

Anger, frustration, disappointment: feeling them reassures us that we’re right – our circumstances are objectively intolerable. It gives us the false impression that we are doing something productive about it.

The process of radical acceptance is actually one of discernment - of truth Click To Tweet

This is why radical acceptance is actually a process of discernment.

Acceptance helps us to discern the source of frustrating circumstances and behavior, and get real about whether we would like to deal with them yet or not. 

I could leave that job tomorrow. I am choosing not to.

And that is okay.

But isn’t that just the same as giving up?!


If you’re been paying attention, you’ll already know it’s the opposite.

We’re actually giving up on ourselves everytime we deny a painful emotion, or criticize ourselves for behaving in an unhonourable way.

This is the ‘acceptance paradox’. When we accept things, then they change. 

I don’t know what the choice I am not making is


Let’s say this is true.

Spiritual teacher and author of Whatever Arises, Love That, Matt Kahn, has a nice, rhyming question for you that’ll help you figure it out:

If I was to live like I had nothing to lose,
How would I be being and what would I choose?

If you genuinely cannot pinpoint the choice underlying your discordant life experience, ask yourself that question.

It – intellectually at least – lifts your fear based concerns out of the equation.

Okay, so I’m not making a choice. But I still don’t want to make the choice


That’s okay, too. It is just something else to (radically) accept.

My experience is that once you start to interact with the greater truth of a situation, you begin to take more honorable actions. 

Saying it’s okay is what’s needed for you to not do it anymore.



Radical acceptance takes us closer to the truth. And deep down, that frightens most of us, because we’d be confronted with often difficult choices. Should I stay or should I go? What is the thing I need to do here?

But acceptance is necessary work if we care about living an authentic, meaningful life. 

Saying 'it's okay repeatedly shifts our prevailing states of consciousness Click To Tweet

Saying it’s okay repeatedly gradually shifts our prevailing states from anger, fear, apathy and condemnation, etc., into something more powerful: