Increasing your ability to tolerate distress starts with a change in your attitude. You’re going to need something called radical acceptance (Linehan, 1993a).
This is a new way of looking at your life.
On the following pages, you’ll be given some key questions to help you examine your experiences using radical acceptance. But for now, it will be sufficient to cover this concept briefly.
Often, when a person is in pain, his or her first reaction is to get angry or upset or to blame someone for causing the pain in the first place. But unfortunately, no matter who you blame for your distress, your pain still exists and you continue to suffer. In fact, in some cases, the angrier you get, the worse your pain will feel (Greenwood, Thurston, Rumble, Waters, & Keefe, 2003; Kerns, Rosenberg, & Jacob, 1994). Getting angry or upset over a situation also stops you from seeing what is really happening. Have you ever heard the expression “being blinded by rage”? This often happens to people with overwhelming emotions. Criticizing yourself all the time or being overly judgmental of a situation is like wearing dark sunglasses indoors.
By doing this, you’re missing the details and not seeing everything as it really is. By getting angry and thinking that a situation should never have happened, you’re missing the point that it did happen and that you have to deal with it. Being overly critical about a situation prevents you from taking steps to change that situation. You can’t change the past. And if you spend your time fighting the past—wishfully thinking that your anger will change the outcome of an event that has already happened—you’ll become paralyzed and helpless. Then, nothing will improve. So, to review—being overly judgmental of a situation or overly critical of yourself often leads to more pain, missed details, and paralysis. Obviously, getting angry, upset, or critical doesn’t improve a situation. So what else can you do? The other option, which radical acceptance suggests, is to acknowledge your present situation, whatever it is, without judging the events or criticizing yourself. Instead, try to recognize that your present situation exists because of a long chain of events that began far in the past.
Radical acceptance means looking at yourself and the situation and seeing it as it really is. Keep in mind that radical acceptance does not mean that you condone or agree with bad behavior in others. But it does mean that you stop trying to change what’s happened by getting angry and blaming the situation. For example, if you’re in an abusive relationship and you need to get out, then get out. Don’t waste your time and continue to suffer by blaming yourself or the other person. That won’t help you. Refocus your attention on what you can do now. This will allow you to think more clearly and figure out a better way to cope with your suffering.
Radical Acceptance Coping Statements
To help you begin using radical acceptance, it’s often helpful to use a coping statement to remind yourself. Below are a few examples and spaces to create your own. Check (…) the statements that you would be willing to use to remind yourself that you should accept the present moment and the chain of events that created it. Then, in the next exercise, you’ll begin using the statements that you chose.
(…) “This is the way it has to be.”
(…) “All the events have led up to now.”
(…) “I can’t change what’s already happened.”
(…) “It’s no use fighting the past.”
(…) “Fighting the past only blinds me to my present.”
(…) “The present is the only moment I have control over.”
(…) “It’s a waste of time to fight what’s already occurred.”
(…) “The present moment is perfect, even if I don’t like what’s happening.”
(…) “This moment is exactly as it should be, given what’s happened before it.”
(…) “This moment is the result of over a million other decisions.”
(…) Other ideas:
Exercise – Radical Acceptance
Now, using the coping statements that you checked, begin radically accepting different moments in your life without judging them. Naturally, it will be difficult to accept very painful situations, so start with smaller events. Here are some suggestions. Check (…) the ones you’re willing to do, and add any of your own ideas. Then use your coping statements to radically accept the situation without being judgmental or critical.
- Read a controversial story in the newspaper without being judgmental about what has occurred.
- The next time you get caught in heavy traffic, wait without being critical.
- Watch the world news on television without being critical of what’s happening.
- Listen to a news story or a political commentary on the radio without being judgmental.
- Review a nonupsetting event that happened in your life many years ago, and use radical acceptance to remember the event without judging it.
- Other ideas: _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Distress Tolerance Skills:
- DISTRESS TOLERANCE SKILLS
- RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
- DISTRACT YOURSELF FROM SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS
- DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH PLEASURABLE ACTIVITIES
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY PAYING ATTENTION TO SOMEONE ELSE
- DISTRACT YOUR THOUGHTS
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY LEAVING
- DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH TASKS AND CHORES
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY COUNTING
- CREATE YOUR DISTRACTION PLAN
- RELAX AND SOOTHE YOURSELF
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Smell
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Touch
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Taste
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Hearing
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Vision
- Self-Soothing – CREATE A RELAXATION PLAN
Advanced Distress Tolerance Skills:
- Advanced Distress Tolerance Skills: Improve the Moment
- SAFE-PLACE VISUALIZATION
- CUE-CONTROLLED RELAXATION
- REDISCOVER YOUR VALUES
- SELF-ENCOURAGING COPING THOUGHTS
- TAKE A TIME-OUT
- LIVE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
- IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHER POWER
- ADVANCED RADICAL ACCEPTANCE