REFLECTIONS: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
David’s crisis has brought me to thinking about acceptance. When someone is on the Downhill Slope and realizes it that is a Life Blow. Such blows are also part of caring for when a loved one is crucially ill. Here is something I wrote to help deal with Life Blows. I was mainly thinking about the Life Blow parents face when a child is critically ill, but it applies to all Life Blows.
If we are to survive Life Blows without becoming dehumanized, we need to practice what Marsha Linehan calls radical acceptance. Linehan defines radical acceptance as going completely with what is. Radical acceptance does not mean approval, it means acknowledging what is.
Linehan says “Acceptance is the only way out of hell.”
Radical acceptance means choosing that last freedom referred to by Victor Frankl: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.”
Acceptance is choice, it is the opposite of rejecting reality. And I agree with Linehan, it is the only way out of hell.
Your child has leukemia and the outlook is bleak, you feel powerless. You do what the doctors say to do, but whether the disease responds is not within your power. You even have limited power when it comes to the treatment process.
If you have money to pay for the best medical care you have more power than if you have no money and little or no insurance, but you still may not stop death. Ultimately, the thing you most control is how you will deal with the pain and anguish, how you will spend whatever time your left, how you will help your child cope. The more you accept that death is possible , the more you can do what has to be done to live the best way possible. Here is a poem that describes what Linehan and I am talking about:
The Two-Headed CalfTomorrow when the farm boys find this freak of nature, they will wrap his body in newspaper and carry him to the museum. But tonight he is alive and in the north field with his mother. It is a perfect summer evening: the moon rising over the orchard, the wind in the grass, And as he stares into the sky, there are twice as many stars as normal.
Laura E. Gilpin
When death is a possibility, you cannot turn your back on doing everything within your power to sustain life. At the same time, if you accept the possibility of death, you know that you must make the most of the time left to you and your loved ones . It means accepting and moving beyond pain.
Radical acceptance begins in the ability to accept painful feelings. Specifically, the following skills are most important in tolerating pain.
- Observing and naming the Life Blow and the pain it brings.
- Measuring the pain and becoming aware of how it ebbs and flows between moments of peak pain and times of lesser pain.
- Distracting yourself from the pain whenever possible by staying active, maintaining as normal a schedule as possible, doing the small things you normally do for pleasure, practicing gratitude for what you have, practicing acts of kindness, praying, meditating.
- Practicing breathe counting, visualization, calming self talk, and all other similar self soothing skills at your command.
- Avoiding all situations that bring more pain
- Attending to your health well-being.
- Reaching out to others to give and receive comfort.
Sometimes before we can practice acceptance, we must do what some call “Standing dead in the water.” Life Blows can immobilize, but not forever. When we can once again drag one foot forward, the above skills help us keep our forward motion.
We need always to remember our ability to care is our saving grace. We care when we give to others; we also care for others when we accept their caring. Thank you all for your caring for David and I as we have wended our way through this crisis. You have helped me stay strong.
 Linehan, Marsha. Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.
 Frankl, Victor. Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2006,
 Gilpen, Laura “The Two–Headed Calf,” Hocus Pocus of the Universe.. NY: Doubleday and Co. . 1960.