Accepting Reality When You Know You Can't Change It

7 Tips for Practicing Radical Acceptance
animated woman opening curtain

Sometimes in life we end up in situations we can’t change. Radical acceptance is all about fully accepting reality in situations that are beyond your control. This doesn’t mean you approve of the situation, are giving up, or that it isn’t painful. You are still allowed to (and should!) feel however you feel, but by accepting that it is what it is, you give the problem less power over you and you can begin to move forward.

Practicing radical acceptance has been shown to reduce feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety, and it can reduce distress in dealing with negative thoughts or events. Mental Health America offers these suggestions:

Notice when you’re ­fighting against reality

The first step in accepting reality is gaining awareness that you’re resisting it. It may seem like this would be easy to spot, but there are actually a lot of subtle ways that people push against reality. If you’re feeling bitter or resentful, wishing things were different, or thinking about how life isn’t fair, you might be fighting reality.

Remind yourself that you can’t change what has already happened

Before you can make peace with reality, you have to acknowledge that there’s no going back to the way things were. Doing this may be challenging and painful, but by identifying what you can and can’t control, you can turn your energy toward coping with the things you can’t change.

Embrace your feelings

You might still be angry, scared, overwhelmed, or lonely – that’s OK. Accepting reality includes everything that you’re feeling, too. When you accept these feelings and let yourself experience them without any judgment, you can work through them in a healthy way.

Pretend that you’re accepting reality

Even if you’re still struggling to fully accept reality, think about what it would look like if you did. How would you act if you simply accepted things as they are? What would your next step be? Changing your behaviors and actions to reflect “pretend acceptance” can help you to actually shift your thoughts.

Relax your body

If you’re feeling stressed or are pushing against the reality of your situation, there’s a good chance your body is tense. This is often associated with resistance and keeps your mind on high alert. Physically relaxing your body can help you feel more ready to accept what is reality. Try yoga, taking a hot bath or shower, deep breathing exercises, or getting a massage to help you relax.

Use coping statements

These are sentences that remind you that different, healthier ways of thinking are possible. Repeating them can help you get through difficult moments – you can focus on just one or make a long list of your own. Some examples are:

  • It is what it is.
  • I can’t change what has already happened.
  • I can accept things the way they are.
  • I can only control my own actions and reactions.

If it helps, write your coping statements on sticky notes and put them in places where you will see them multiple times a day, or set an alarm/create an event on your phone with a coping statement to pop up with a reminder every now and again.

Know that it takes practice

Radical acceptance is a great tool to cope with hard situations that we can’t control, but it can take a while before it comes easily. Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t master it immediately. Start by trying it out in smaller situations, like when you’re stuck in traffic or your internet is acting up during a call. By practicing radical acceptance every day, it will be easier to use as a coping tool when bigger, tougher challenges come your way. 

Radical acceptance resource

Download the Practicing Radical Acceptance Worksheet (PDF) from Mental Health America

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