What is Radical Acceptance and How Can it Help Me?

Radical Acceptance

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

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), the word “dialectic” refers to a synthesis or integration of opposites. In simpler terms, it means that two opposing things can be true at the same time (e.g., the sun and the moon, the seasons, feeling alone at the same time you are surrounded by people). In DBT, this balance is between change and acceptance.

Having originated long before Western psychology discovered it, acceptance has long been a cornerstone of many Eastern religions. Buddhism in particular teaches us that when we accept things as they are—including the pain in life—instead of wishing they were different, we experience much less suffering. In DBT, we call this Radical Acceptance—a practice first developed by Marsha Linehan of the University of Washington.

What Is Radical Acceptance?

It is difficult to accept many things that happen in life—losing loved ones, the way our family members, coworkers or even stranger treat us, illness, car accidents and other tragedies, etc. The mind does not want to allow painful thoughts into consciousness, so it avoids these thoughts—ultimately leading to denial. Unfortunately, until the pain is appropriately dealt with, it will turn into suffering.

Pain can be almost impossible to bear, but suffering is even more difficult. When you refuse to accept pain, you will suffer. A common formula that is often discussed in relation to the concept of Radical Acceptance is the idea that, “pain + non-acceptance= suffering” (suffering occurs when pain is denied, avoided or renounced). In her DBT skills manual, Marsha Linehan outlines the following:

“Freedom from suffering requires acceptance from deep within of what is. Let yourself go completely with what is. Let go of fighting reality. Acceptance is the only way out of hell.”

When we experience pain, if we allow ourselves to fully feel it and accept the reality of it, we can move on to embrace our new reality. If we refuse to accept what is, we become stuck in a persistent state of suffering. Pain and non-acceptance combine to create this suffering. Until we can break through to reality, the suffering will continue.

Radical Acceptance Is

  • Complete and total acceptance of things, just as they are.
  • Knowing where your control lies and where it doesn’t (think of the Serenity Prayer).
  • Tolerating the moment, even when it is painful or uncomfortable.
  • Looking at “just the facts” of the situation.
  • Being non-judgmental.
  • Shifting your focus away from what “should be” and towards how they are.
  • Not fighting reality or trying to change it into something that it’s not.
  • Mindfulness of our emotions and allowing ourselves to lean into the discomfort of painful emotions.

What Radical Acceptance Is Not

  • Judging an event or situation as “good” or “bad”.
  • Throwing our hands up in the air or waiving a white flag.
  • Approving or condoning behaviors.
  • Giving up your needs.
  • Embracing a person who hurt you as if nothing happened.
  • Ignoring or denying a situation.
  • Never asserting your thoughts/feelings.
  • Acceptance does not equal agreement.

An Example of Radical Acceptance

The other day I was driving on the expressway and ended up stuck in heavy traffic. I was already running behind for an important meeting—and with the traffic jam I was facing, there was no way I was going to make it on time. As I sat there, unable to move, I began to feel anxious and frustrated. Why did this have to happen to me today? It shouldn’t be this way! How unfair!

I realized quickly that these thoughts were not effective. They would do nothing to improve the situation or my mindset. I then shifted to radically accepting that there was traffic and I was going to be late. Was I happy about being late? Did I not care about it? Nope! I simply accepted that there was traffic, I was going to be late and that life would move forward with this as my reality.

Applying Radical Acceptance

What are you currently resisting? How can you actively apply Radical Acceptance toward the difficulties you are experiencing? Acceptance of your personal experience has the power to radically change the way you approach almost every aspect of your life and ultimately allow you to engage the world in a more positive, peaceful and productive way.

If you are struggling with this skill, contact me todayemail me, or call me at (585) 615-6985 for a free initial phone consultation.

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5 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving Post-Election

Surviving Thanksgiving Post-election
After the extremely contentious 2016 election, a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner may prove more difficult than usual. Experts say the particularly divisive election could intensify typical family squabbling this holiday season, especially among relatives on separate sides of the political fence who may be seeing each other for the first time since Donald Trump’s stunning victory on November 9th.

So, how do you get through dinner without it devolving into a shouting match? I’ve compiled a few ideas for you to try. But, remember, if all else fails, there’s always hiding in the bathroom. I am kidding. Kind of…

1. Make the dinner table a no-politics zone.

If you’re hosting an event and want to set early boundaries about what you expect from your guests, inform them ahead of time that when the group sits down to feast, all political talk is off the table. If someone else is hosting the gathering, share this idea them and have them reach out to the guests. Some people, unbelievably enough, are looking forward to talking politics with their relatives. If that’s the case, don’t subject a captive audience to it. When dinner is over, the politically minded can retreat to the den to debate, and everyone else can eat pie and watch football in another room.

2. Find common ground. 

Every American wants security, prosperity and liberty. Our political disagreements stem from different opinions of how to achieve these ends. As much as possible, remind your family of how you are similar before explaining the finer points of how you differ. For example, we all want secure borders. We all want to stop terrorism. We all want to preserve the environment for future generations. Establish these points of agreement at the outset, and you just might discover that those “unreasonable” family members aren’t so unreasonable after all. With this foundation, the same passion that might have become insults and personal attacks will be channeled into meaningful discussion.

3. Be ready to create a conversational diversion.

The best way to keep people from talking about politics is to get them talking about something else. What’s the best thing they’ve watched on TV or Netflix or in theaters this year? Inquire about their vacations, their jobs or their hobbies. Browse the news before dinner and come prepared with some interesting apolitical headlines to discuss. If the conversation starts to turn, be ready with what you’ll say next. Consider responding politely with, “You know, I’m not comfortable talking about that yet,” or, “We know we don’t agree on politics, so let’s not discuss it.”

4. Remember to STOP.

Get ready. This is an acronym that can change your life. When you start to feel annoyed or upset in any way, remember to employ this simple, yet rapid technique that will help take control of the one thing in your power: your response.

Take a breath
Observe the sensations in your body, your thoughts/emotions, your interaction with the other person
Proceed in a way that best supports you, the other person, and your relationship

In moments when we feel flustered, usually our first impulse is to act in a way we’ll come to regret. Austrian physician and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl once said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Taking a moment to STOP helps us get into this gap between stimulus and response and claim the power to choose the most beneficial action.

5. Be thankful.

In my family, we go around the table and everyone has to share one thing they are grateful for before we begin eating, and that sets the tone. Remember that Thanksgiving is a time for family. It’s a time to be thankful for those you’re with…and to focus on the things that unite us rather than divide us. No families agree on everything. But at the end of the day, you’re still family. If political conversations get out of hand, affirm to the table that your relationships are deeper than the 2016 election.

Cheers to a peaceful and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday!

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Coping with Today’s Violent World

Coping with Todays' Violent World
We are living through terrifying, unsettling times in an unpredictable world. The onslaught of news about violence seems to be never-ending these days, and in consequence, more of us are experiencing increased anxiety, fear and uncertainty as we go about our daily lives. Adults, children, parents, families, professionals, educators, caregivers, first responders, every member of our community—we all need help coping with the difficult emotions and acute responses caused by acts of terror, gun violence and hatred.

Our fears, if persistent, can result in more stress related-illnesses, decreased productivity at work, problems in interpersonal relationships, and poorer quality of life. For some, it can lead to even bigger problems like substance abuse, depression and trauma. So, what can you do to keep your fears in check? Here are a few coping strategies aimed at helping you during these challenging times:

Limit your exposure to the media and social media.
Take your news in small bites. Media outlets need to push the envelope on their stories in order to achieve higher ratings. It’s our job as intelligent, savvy consumers not to get sucked into the hype. Once you have gotten the facts, don’t keep watching replays of events. Seeing disturbing images over and over not only desensitizes one to the event, but also adds trauma upon trauma—further intensifying the reactions to the event. By getting some distance from the news, by turning off the television or social media, we give ourselves a chance to catch our breath and refocus our attention.

Give fear a shape.
Dr. Friedemann Schaub, MD, PhD, author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution explains that fear typically comes from a part of our mind that feels powerless, incapable and small, based on feelings from early on in life. He recommends imagining that fear has the shape and appearance of a child and then speaking to that child as though you are a loving, nurturing parent. “I have found this to be an effective way to interrupt the fear spiral because you’re switching from feeling anxious to being a source of comfort and support,” Schaub explains. It also empowers people to take charge of their emotions and separate their fear from the rest of who they are.

Keep your daily routine.
Maintain a normal routine and lifestyle as much as possible. Unless public safety officials have issued warnings or closed buildings, continue with your day-to-day activities. This encourages us to feel normal by acting normal. Routines provide us a sense of “normalcy”, comfort and stability. Remember that the goal of terrorism is to make you fearful; terrorists thrive on this kind of thing. They want to see the population change their practices. The antidote to this is keeping a routine that enables you to meet people who don’t look like you, people who you wouldn’t otherwise know. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep, regular meals and exercise.

Reach out.
Reaching out to others—by asking how they’re doing or offering help, for example—counters fear. It helps to help other people, and it can make us feel more connected at times when we’re afraid of other people. Furthermore, people who have strong social support are more likely to successfully cope with fear, anger, sadness, and other difficult emotions related to traumatic events. If you live alone or your social network is limited, reach out to others and make new friends. Connect with other survivors of the event or disaster or participate in memorials, events, and other public rituals. Comfort others or volunteer your time for a cause that’s important to you.

Balance the negative with the positive.
Try to remain mindful of all the positive happenings around you (you may even consider writing out a gratitude list). When we focus too much on human horrors, we lose our sense of safety and security. Remind yourself that these events, while tragic and worthy of our attention and support, do not mean the world is an unsafe place. Think about the honorable people who rescued strangers when their lives were at risk, those who had the good fortune to be saved, and the community that comes together and rebounds. The images and stories of firefighters and other emergency personnel that live on in the hearts of all who watched 9/11 unfold. As Mr. Rogers would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Even in the midst of tragedy, the resiliency of the human spirit shines through.

Get help, if needed.
For some, fear turns into something bigger. If fear is consuming you—if you can’t sleep or focus or function normally anymore or you feel numb or hopeless or are experiencing suicidal thoughts—seek professional help. This is especially important for those who live with depression, substance abuse problems, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your anxieties can be relieved, but you may not be able to do it on your own. It’s also important to get support from friends and family. They can help keep threats in perspective and be a sounding board for fears and worries.

Prayers and thoughts for a more peaceful world.


10 Tips for the Fearful Flier

Fearful Flier
Does the mere thought of flying cause you to clench your fists and break out into a cold sweat? Do you run horrific crash scenarios through your mind while you’re sitting on a runway? If so, you are not alone. Being a fearful flier is a common phobia that cripples countless travelers.

And even though flying is statistically one of the safest ways to travel (there is only a 1 in 11 million chance you will die in an airplane accident, while there’s a 1 in 5,000 chance you’ll die in a car accident), for those with aviophobia (a fear of flying), these stats are not reassuring at all considering we drive daily and only fly a few times a year, if that.

While clinical phobias like a fear of traveling often require effective treatment and care through a trained mental health professional, there are ways to manage and ease your worries on your own when you’re in the air or on the move.

Here are my top 10 tips for the fearful flier:

Educate yourself. For many fearful fliers, learning the basics of how airplanes work can go a long way toward alleviating their anxiety. For instance, understanding how a plane can continue to fly even if an engine fails can help you feel less concerned about your aircraft malfunctioning. GuidetoPsychology.com offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how planes stay in the air, what causes turbulence, and what’s behind those scary sounds during takeoff and landing.

Acknowledge your fear. Human nature is to suppress fear or pretend like it’s not there. But the more we fight fear, the more we fan the flames. Trying to ignore or run from emotions only makes matters worse. It may seem silly, but recognizing that you are afraid and taking a moment to sit with and acknowledge your fear can keep the feeling from escalating. You might say to yourself, “I feel afraid that something bad is going to happen” or “I feel powerless in this moment”.

Pick your seat, but don’t panic if you can’t. It is true that turbulence is felt more keenly in the tail end of the aircraft and is mildest around the wings. If you can, try to get a seat near the center of the plane. However, if you’re not able to reserve a seat in this section, don’t panic. Just remind yourself that if you do hit a patch of turbulence, its effects may feel more powerful to you simply based on the location of your seat.

Breathe. One basic calming technique recommended by doctors and professionals is conscious, deep breathing: in through your nose and out through your mouth as slowly as possible. It may seem obvious, but it works! Breathing also helps prevent (or stop) panic attacks. Try to maintain a relaxed posture without clinging to the chair’s armrests, since this can heighten anxiety.

Look at the flight attendants. If you are worried that the turbulence you are experiencing is going to knock you out of the sky or that that sound the plane is making means the engine is failing, just take a look at the flight attendants. Do they appear concerned? If they are still going about their jobs and don’t look worried or alarmed, chances are nothing is wrong. If the flight attendants are calm, assume all is well.

Avoid caffeine on travel day. Caffeine is a stimulant that can/will make anxiety feel worse than it is. No matter if your flight is at 4 am or 4 pm, avoid it. Caffeine can linger in your system all day. Wean yourself off it for a few days before you fly if it’s too painful to go cold turkey. A stimulated mind can spin out in all kinds of jittery, panicky directions. Just. Don’t.

Practice grounding exercises. Grounding is a particular way of coping that is designed to “ground” you in the present moment and is a powerful tool for combating anxiety. To ground, use your five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight). Observe your surroundings. What do you see? Notice the cloud patterns in the sky, the colors in your environment, the textures. Experience how your feet feel on the floor, the way the armrest feels against your skin. What can you smell? Hear? Taste?

Separate fear from danger. It is often difficult to separate anxiety from danger because your body reacts in exactly the same way to both. Be sure to label your fear as anxiety. Tell yourself that anxiety makes your frightening thoughts feel more likely to occur, and remind yourself that feeling anxious doesn’t mean you are in danger. You are safe even when feeling intense anxiety.

Come prepared with distractions. One of the best ways to distract yourself during a flight is to load up your iPad with your favorite episodes of Seinfeld or Friends or bring a book that you’ve already started and are deeply engrossed in. Whatever you can do to surround yourself with familiar pleasures from home. Think of it as comfort food for your mind. Do anything that keeps your mind occupied and not dwelling on morbid possibilities.

Above all else, know when it’s time to seek professional help. If you’re losing sleep, feeling sick with anxiety, or avoiding travel at the expense of your own or other people’s convenience, then you should speak with a doctor or a licensed mental health professional for further guidance and support.

Wishing you peace and safe travels!

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How to Practice Mindfulness in 60 Seconds or Less

Practice Mindfulness in 60 Seconds
How often have you driven somewhere, only to arrive at your destination with no recollection of how you got there? Or found yourself in the midst of a conversation with someone and suddenly realize you have no idea what was just said? Most people have! In today’s busy world, we often have a tendency to slip into a mindless autopilot mode—only half-aware (at best) of what we are thinking, feeling, and doing at any given time. Mindfulness practice can help us reset.

We feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious, trying to juggle the demands of work, school, family, household chores, social obligations, and other responsibilities. Our minds become easily distracted. We habitually fixate on the past and/or anticipate the future. And in the process, we lose touch with the only thing that is real—the present moment.

The practice of mindfulness, defined by John Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”, may seem like a daunting and challenging task to incorporate into an already busy and chaotic lifestyle. But not only is it possible, cultivating mindfulness will actually help you better achieve your goals and enjoy a more satisfying, enjoyable, healthy life.

Here are a few simple, practical mindfulness exercises that will help you build present moment awareness, achieve a centering of self, and find peace and clarity amidst a hectic world. All in one minute or less.

1. Two mindful bites

Fully savor the first two bites of any meal of your choosing. Start by observing the appearance of the food, the colors, the way it looks sitting on the plate or on your fork. Then, before taking the first bite, close your eyes. Experience the flavors, the texture, the saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, etc. of what you’re eating. Be mindful of the sensation of taste and texture in your mouth as you slowly chew, and how it may change from one moment to the next. See how long you can chew each bite of food before swallowing.

2. Awareness of breath

Begin by gently yet intentionally shifting your attention to your breathing. Simply observe each breath as it happens, whether you focus on the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen, or on the sensation of the breath coming out of your nostrils. Truly experience what it feels like to breathe in and breathe out, without trying to alter your breath in any way. Just simply observe it as it happens. If you find your mind wandering away from your breath at any point, that’s okay. Try not to judge your judging. Instead, just gently guide your attention back to your breath.

3. Use your non-dominant hand

Try using your non-dominant hand for an ordinary daily task, such as brushing your hair, pouring a drink, washing the windows, sweeping the floor, or eating with your non-dominant hand for at least a part of each meal. Pay attention to what you observe. If you are up for an even bigger challenge, try using your non-dominant hand while writing a letter or eating with chopsticks.

4. Fully experiencing a regular routine

Choose a regular routine or chore that you perform often, but usually do while in “autopilot” mode, such as brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, or taking a shower. For one minute, cultivate an intentional awareness to every detail of the activity. Instead of viewing it as a routine chore or activity, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect you can. Taste the flavor of the toothpaste in your mouth and on your tongue, notice the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes, be mindful of the wave of pleasure you feel when the warm shower water washes over you. Be aware of every step, in the moment. Fully participate in the experience—physically and mentally.

5. Body scan

Check in with your body just as it is in the present moment. From the top of your crown to the tips of your toes, scan your entire body, sweeping your awareness through every part of your physical being. Feel the energy of life flowing through you. Notice any sensations, tingling, numbness, tightness, or relaxation you are experiencing. Be mindful of any non-acceptance you may feel towards certain parts of your body and see if you can cultivate compassion for any judgments or for any tensions or pain that might be present.

6. Game of fives

All you have to do is find five things in your daily life that usually go unnoticed and unappreciated. These could be things you hear, smell, feel or see. Look around you. Open up your senses. What do you observe that perhaps would have gone unnoticed without an intentional awareness of your surroundings in the present moment? Can you feel the snap of the cold winter air on your cheeks? Hear the faint laughter of young children playing in the distance? Notice unfolding patterns in the clouds in the sky overhead? Allow yourself to fully experience your environment and the world around you.

When we are able to incorporate mindfulness practices into our daily lives, we are giving ourselves perhaps the greatest gift of all—the gift of time. By allowing ourselves permission to slow down and truly experience life and the world around us intentionally, we will be able to achieve a deeper understanding of ourselves and our experiences and respond to events and others around us with greater awareness and appreciation.