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Accepting The Paradoxical Theory Of Change: How Welcoming Pain Can Heal It

What happens when sadness comes to visit you?
Or anger? Or regret? Or pain?

Do you try to shut the door in their face? Maybe batten down the hatches, or head into your bunker and wait things out, until (you hope) they stop knocking.

It can be easy to want to resist feeling these things when they turn up in your life – after all, they hurt (and who wants that?).

But sometimes resisting them, or denying them, or expending your energy wishing them away can come at a cost of its own. For feeling bad about feeling bad can bring a second order of pain into your life; a whole new level of suffering that’s layered on top of the original hurt.

So what’s another alternative?

Well, one option’s a bit counter-intuitive, actually. It’s to walk towards the pain rather than trying to run away from it.

To welcome it.
To get to know it.
To see what it’s all about.

It’s a bit like the idea of radical acceptance or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Or a little thing called “the paradoxical theory of change.”

Essentially, all of these concepts are about sitting with what is, ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ So if there’s pain, then it means staying with it for a moment. And if there’s joy, then it’s about really embracing that, too.

For all of these ideas – radical acceptance, ACT and the paradoxical theory of change – are based on the one thing it seems we can know for certain about this mysterious world we live in: that it will change. (If only we let it.)

So if you stop resisting pain, and just allow it to sit next to you – if you just let what is, be – then you’ve already changed your relationship to it. And you’ve let it change its relationship to you. Rather than trying to control the pain and build ever bigger dams inside to keep it all at bay, if you just accept it, the paradoxical theory of change suggests that it may well just wash in and through and out of you again. And then other things have a chance to flow in in its place.

What do you think about that?

What might it feel like to consider welcoming what is into your life?

It’s certainly not a new idea. Nor does it belong only to the realm of the psychological. For instance, the poet Rumi was already onto it in the 13th century. Here’s what he said in his poem, “The Guest House”:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
[They] may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

So which guests might you, paradoxically, consider welcoming in today?


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
Accepting The Paradoxical Theory Of Change: How Welcoming Pain Can Heal It

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2011). Accepting The Paradoxical Theory Of Change: How Welcoming Pain Can Heal It. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Jun 2011
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