Reality Acceptance Skills
To deal with a difficult or distressing situation, you first have to accept it for what it is. That can be hard at first, and may take a few attempts. The process of acceptance can be really helpful in learning how to navigate difficult moments.
Dr Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, says there are three elements to accpting a reality, even when that reality is hard to accept:
- radical acceptance
- turning your mind
We’ve mentioned in previous lessons that the only moment we need to take stock of is this one. We aren’t looking at events of the past, or what might happen in the future, we are only focusing on this one moment we are in.
Radical acceptance is about accepting this moment for what it is. It sounds simple, but as with all of the skills we learn in DBT, practice is needed to get there.
Not accepting the reality of this moment won’t change anything at all. By accepting it for what it is, we can decide how to move forward despite what has happened.
Let’s say for example you were in a car accident and badly hurt. If you don’t accept the reality of the accident, it won’t change the fact that it happened. The accident happened, you were hurt, and it was a painful experience. You have a choice here, you can choose to relive the experience and feel unhappy, spending hours going over it in your head and thinking about the painful siutation you found yourself in.
Or you can choose the other option. Accept the reality of the situation. This isn’t about being happy about the accident, or ignoring it and pretending it didn’t happen. Radical acceptance is completely and totally accepting what happening, not denying it or fighting the reality of the situation. So you accept that the accident happened, and free yourself from the repeated torture that non-acceptance was causing you.
It sounds simple, but we know it isn’t. It’s hard to accept a painful reality and this skill will be hard to learn. But, radical acceptance of the moment we are in, can help free us from the pain of the past and the worry of the future, by focusing solely on where we are right now.
Accepting the accident in the above example doesn’t mean we like what happened or are happy about, but it means we can make the conscious choice to focus on the moment rather than spending it thinking about what happened or what might happen in the future.
Dr Linehan believes that suffering and agony are the result of pain and non-acceptance. Once you remove the non-acceptance, all you are left with is pain and you can deal with that.
Turning your Mind
Accepting the reality of a situation isn’t a one-time thing. It needs to be practiced regularly like any other skill. Once you stop accepting, you will slide back to where you were. We avoid this by using the skill of turning your mind.
This skill requires some self-awareness – you need to notice when you stop accepting the moment, and then turn your mind back to accepting.
Some people liken this to the method of using an elastic band on the wrist, which you snap whenever you do a bad habit action like biting nails or picking skin. You have be aware you are turning away from acceptance, and turn your mind back in that direction.
Remember the TIPP skill we looking at in a previous lesson? Using temperate, intense exercise, paced breathing and paired muscle relaxation to help us gain control, distract and self-soothe in the moment. That skill can be useful here in helping us to pause, acknowledge and turn the mind back to acceptance.
Remember, it’s ok to take a step back now and again, as long as you keep adjusting yourself to move forward. You are not a failure if you have to turn your mind back to acceptance, you are on a journey and most journeys involve regular stops and starts.
Willingness is a vital component of recovery, and necessary in all of the skills you will learn in DBT. You have to be willing to make these changes, and learn these skills, or things won’t change, things will just go back to the way they were, which you don’t want or you wouldn’t be here on this course today. The fact you signed up for this course, and showed up lesson after lesson, shows that you are willing to do the work.
In the context of acceptance, we use our willingness or desire to change to help us recognise when we need to turn the mind to acceptance. Challenging skills, which these DBT skills can be, require a willingness to keep going even when you feel you may be stuck. Taking a moment to pause, adjust and carry on is part of your willingness.