Credit: Jackson David via Unsplash

Accepting defeat never tasted so sweet

By Hailie Pentleton-Owens

Hailie encourages us to embrace reality in this brief exploration of radical acceptance.

It’s been increasingly hard not to go all doomsday on things when it feels as though we’re permanently in crisis mode. Be it the chaos surrounding the cost-of-living, the continual demise of the climate, or the pressure to unpack the two-hundred-and-twenty-two easter eggs surrounding Taylor Swift’s Midnights before it’s release on 21 October, peaceful places are often scarce. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with someone else that didn’t feels as though it was haunted by some semblance of hopelessness. Like so many others, I long for a sense of escapism, but I’m not entirely sure that ignorance is bliss at a time that requires us to be so mindful of our every penny, purchase, and footprint. 

How we process crisis and chaos depends entirely on our lived experience up until that point. Some lucky (and I mean really lucky) people will have already cracked the Serenity Prayer, finding it easier to identify those circumstances they can and cannot change. For some of us, having lived through periods of prolonged uncertainty before, it can be easier to accept that certain circumstances are – for the most part – beyond our capacities for change. On the flip side, increased exposure to situations within which we feel out-of-control can cause some people to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms to reaffirm a sense of order. These kinds of behaviours, common in people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders amongst other mental health and neurological conditions, although received by others as irrational and harmful, are perceived as entirely rational by the owner as ways to relieve anxiety or intense emotions. 

However, regardless of how you have learned to process uncertainty, one practice that we could all engage with a little more is radical acceptance. I know, I know, the name caused me a colossal eye-roll the first time I properly encountered it in a depressingly small Southside surgery waiting room. What makes the practice of accepting reality so off-the-walls that it has to be referred to as some kind of radical act of reclamation? 

As I’ve worked through this distress tolerance oriented practice a little more, and explored its roots in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, I’ve realised that it is less about accepting that there is a reality that exists outside of our own little heads, and more about embracing the things that are out of our control to prevent our pain and frustrations from turning into self-directed suffering. Importantly, the notion of radical acceptance is not about wilfully ignoring those things that you can change about your circumstances, and nor is it about approving the shitty and harmful aspects of the reality we’re faced with at the moment. Rather, radical acceptance encourages us to renege against some of our escapist tendencies, to take some time out to observe those aspects of reality that we may want to ignore, to remind ourselves that – more often than not – we cannot change them, and to unearth the causes that have lead to the undesirable effects we’d like to ignore. In doing so, it becomes easier to identify where our personal responsibilities lie and, as is so often the case, when something is not your fault or duty to fix. 

At the crux of DBT therapy is the notion that two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time. Sometimes you will need to embrace escapism to make things a little easier to cope with and you will need to practice radical acceptance of those things you’re avoiding coping with. Sometimes you will have a level of responsibility in a crisis – you’ll need to wear a mask, or reduce your energy usage – and you will have to accept that you aren’t responsible for fixing a fried economy and an equally fried planet. Either way, taking some time out to practice radical acceptance – in its simplest form, or through exploring DBT a little further, can make it a little bit easier to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to accept and act upon those you can, and develop the wisdom to know the difference, free of shame or guilt about those things beyond you.


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