Radical Acceptance means completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart, your mind, and body. You stop fighting reality. When you stop fighting reality you suffer less. That means you don’t feel hot anger in your stomach whenever you see the person who got the promotion you deserved and you don’t seethe with resentment when you see your best friend who is now dating your boyfriend. You accept that what is, is. You learn and you go forward. Radical acceptance is easier to understand than it is to practice. There are many obstacles to giving up the suffering of resentments and anger, particularly for emotionally sensitive people.
1. But I don’t want to let them off the hook. Holding on to your anger can seem like you are punishing the offending person, whoever did a wrong to you. As long as you are angry then they aren’t getting away with whatever they did to harm you. Your anger serves as a marker, a memorial almost, of their actions. If you let go and radically accept then it is like it never happened and you don’t want it to be that easy. When your feelings are deep and intense, you want the other person to understand they hurt they have caused. Plus your resentment is pretty intense too and difficult to manage.
That sounds good. The problem is that it doesn’t really work that way. When someone has treated you unfairly, he either knows it or doesn’t know it. If he recognizes his actions were unkind, then your anger serves only to distract from his facing his own failings and guilt. If he doesn’t recognize his unkindness (or worse), then your anger changes nothing. Your anger will not teach another person about compassion and kindness or respect of others.
Radical acceptance does not mean that you embrace the person who hurt you as if nothing happened. You go forward with knowledge you didn’t have before. Stand up for yourself with respect. Take the anger and resentment as messages to be more careful in the future or to stand up for yourself in effective ways or to strengthen your support system, or to use whatever knowledge you gained to be more effective in living your life. Holding onto the anger or resentment handcuffs you to the past and keeps you reliving a painful event.
The same information is true if you are angry with yourself.
2. Accepting means I agree and I will never agree. I think the problem is that the word “accept” often means approving of something or agreeing with someone, such as accepting a job offer means agreeing to take the job. Radical acceptance does not mean you are agreeing to a situation or action. It means you are acknowledging that the event happened and is real. Acceptance means not fighting reality. There are many ways to fight reality.
Your language is a clue that you are not accepting reality. You say something, for example a wedding, shouldn’t have happened, that you will never accept that he married her, that you will hold it against him to his dying day, and that you will never acknowledge their relationship. The suffering is yours. The reality is that he did marry her. Your refusal to accept it doesn’t change the facts and only holds onto to emotional pain for you.
The same information is true if you are not accepting your own behaviors. The truth is that you did whatever you did. You don’t have to approve or agree, but the facts are the facts.
3. I need to be angry to protect myself. Radical acceptance can seem very risky to emotionally sensitive people. Anger, withdrawal and resentment can seem like armor to protect yourself. You may be protecting yourself from the person who hurt you, believing that you forgive too easily and forget that someone behaves in certain ways so that you get hurt again. The problem is that you are not applying the knowledge you gained from the hurtful event. Staying angry hurts you too. The answer is not to protect yourself from possible future suffering by doing something that creates suffering in the present. In this case, finding a way to go forward in a different way, with wisdom, so you don’t let the same scenario happen again and again. My guess is attempting to use anger in that way works only for a short time anyway.
You may be using anger to protect yourself from more painful feelings such as hurt, sadness and emotional pain. As long as you stay angry you don’t feel as vulnerable. Feeling sad and hurt can seem scary vulnerable. In this case anger is a secondary emotion and you are blocking your primary emotions. As long as you block your primary emotions you cannot heal.
Practicing radical acceptance can be very difficult. The relief from suffering that results is worth the effort.