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Radical acceptance is a term used to describe the point in time that we are able to fully accept our feelings as they are in the present moment. If we experience distressing emotions we tend to judge our emotions, give them labels as “good” or “bad” and react to them without our wise mind. Radical acceptance is describing the act of simply identifying what we are feeling -anxiety, sadness, anger, etc. – and accepting it completely. Treatment for addiction and often co-occurring mental illness requires the ability to learn radical acceptance – or as they say in 12-step programs “to accept the things we cannot change.”

Radical acceptance is an important component of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), as well 12-step programs. In DBT, radical acceptance aims to help people stop fighting, to stop wishing things could be different and to accept setbacks and even joy for what they are. Radical acceptance is used in conjunction with skill sets like mindfulness, goal setting, regulating powerful emotions and increasing interpersonal effectiveness.

In the 12-step philosophy, an alcoholic/addict accepts that he is powerless over his/her addiction in order to begin on the path to recovery (Step 1). He/she uses their own past experiences, that insidious feeling in their heart and gut and often the support and stories of others in the informal meeting setting to come to that conclusion. To be effective, the radical acceptance of Step 1 should be followed with action (Steps 2-12) and regular support group attendance.

In the words of Carl Rogers,

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”