Not everything that happens to us in life is something we signed up for.
There are some things in the past we desperately wish never happened to us.
There are other things in the present we desperately wish we could change.
In fact, there are even people we desperately wish we could change.
Extreme Acceptance means accepting something that you emphatically do not like. Extreme Acceptance does not mean that you approve of or agree with the situation—but it does mean that you will acknowledge and embrace the situation anyway.
Extreme Acceptance is the exact opposite of denial. Denial is adaptive when we are still in shock and the brain needs to protect us from information that we cannot handle yet. But denial is no longer adaptive when we constantly have blinders on that prevent us from seeing realty how it really is. Long-term, ongoing denial is basically when we lie to ourselves—and then believe our own lie!
Extreme Acceptance, in contrast, means we see reality exactly how it is—no better, and no worse.
Why should we learn to practice Extreme Acceptance? Well, here are a few reasons to consider:
First- Just because you deny reality does not mean that problems just go away. In fact, the opposite is true: The more we make an
ongoing habit of denying reality, the worse our problems get—not better!
Second– Another reason to practice Extreme Acceptance is because pain cannot be avoided anyway. Pain is simply a fact of life. We all have pain. A baby’s first emotional response to life is to cry. Why? Because coming into this world is painful…just ask the mother! And even death is sometimes painful. And then there’s plenty of pain in between. So in short, it’s not possible to avoid all that pain, no matter how hard we try.
Third- A third reason to practice Extreme Acceptance is that we must accept reality before we can change it! Accepting reality is indeed painful, since we are becoming more aware of painful things that we would prefer to ignore. But eventually, Extreme Acceptance leads to peace and freedom. Why? Because Extreme Acceptance puts us in a better position to deal with reality (*Linehan, 2015).
Since Extreme Acceptance can be such a difficult idea to grasp, here are two formulas that help explain this concept better:
Pain + Extreme Acceptance = Healing
Pain – Extreme Acceptance = Suffering
Both of these equations include pain. However, our response to pain is what determines the outcome of this equation. If we demonstrate Extreme Acceptance of the pain, we are now on the path to healing. But when we do not practice Extreme Acceptance, that pain only gets worse! When pain gets worse instead of better, we will experience suffering rather than healing. Something else we can learn from these two formulas is that pain is required, but suffering is optional. —I do not mean that everything you have suffered in your life is your fault. However, now that you are learning new skills and new insights in this blog series, the pain in your life does not have to keep piling up or getting worse.
By demonstrating Extreme Acceptance, you really can start to turn the tide on your suffering. You can switch from the path that leads to suffering—to the path that leads to healing. Both paths will still have pain. But the pain on the healing path is bearable, while the pain on th suffering path is not. And that’s an important difference!
For practical exercises to learn more about Extreme Acceptance, please refer to my new workbook: DBT Skills Workbook for PTSD: Practical Exercises for Overcoming Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder…coming soon in 2019!