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Distress Tolerance Techniques: Radical Acceptance

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Distress Tolerance Techniques: Radical Acceptance

Distress tolerance techniques are about better managing crisis and stress as it arises without making things worse. Oftentimes, when we are in a crisis, the emotional mind takes over, leading us to feel out of control and act in ways that are counterproductive to getting through the situation. DBT has a whole module focused on distress tolerance techniques that can help you more effectively work through crisis. Today, we will focus on one of distress tolerance skills, “Radical Acceptance.”



Radical acceptance is about recognizing reality as it is without fighting against it. Doing so can lessen your suffering and increase your control and feelings of freedom. Many times, when life doesn’t go the way we want, people have a tendency to be in denial or fight against it. However, this doesn’t change the truth and will inhibit your ability to actually cope and move forward. Spending your energy on pretending things are different doesn’t accomplish anything except prolonging and increasing pain and disappointment. It also limits your ability to successfully problem solve. This is where the distress tolerance techniques can be helpful. The distress tolerance skills related to radical acceptance help you better cope and work through crisis situations so that you can find peace and satisfaction.


Here is an example to help show how this might play out in reality. Let’s say a teenager’s parents make them move to a new town that is far away from their current residence. The child can choose to be stubborn and not accept the change because they are unhappy that they must leave their friends and the house they grew up in. This can lead to not adapting to their new home; they won’t try to make friends, set up their room in a way that’s comfortable, try in school, etc. The outcome is just being unhappy and not moving forward. If instead, they accept that they have to move because they have no choice, they now have control in making a happy life in their new home. They will put effort into making new friends, set up their room in a cool new way, keep up their grades, and overall, create a satisfying life in a new place.


It is important to note that radical acceptance does not mean giving up or approving of something. There is a difference between saying something is okay and acknowledging it is the reality. If your best friend started hanging out with some new people who you don’t like or get along with, you may just have to accept that.  Your friend likely will not be receptive to criticism about their new friends, especially when their wellbeing is not at risk. Therefore, radical acceptance here is key so that you can navigate through how these new relationships affect you. This does not mean you approve of these new people or are giving up on your friendship, it just means that you are using distress tolerance techniques to ensure your own mental well-being.



  • Reality as it is, the actual facts about the past, present, and reasonable future probabilities. Be careful to avoid distortions and exaggerations.
  • Our present limitations. Sometimes we have to work with what is even if we don’t like it. Other times, we can make a change to no longer be limited. For example, if you would like to be a doctor, you have to go on and get your MD; not having an MD is a limitation. You can decide to go on for your degree, and put in the 7 years it takes. You may want to accomplish this in 3 years, but it’s not possible. Trying to do so is working against reality and not accepting your limitations.
  • Everything has a cause. You may not be able to know what the cause is, but understanding that there is one is necessary for acceptance. Oftentimes, not understanding why something is the way it is leads to denial and fighting against reality.
  • Life will bring pain and have low points. Accepting that we will experience negativity brings freedom and higher resiliency.




  • Note that you are questioning or fighting reality. Describe in detail what you need to accept. List what factors are especially hard for you to deal with and why.
  • Make an inner commitment to work on accepting reality as it is. This means, telling yourself radical acceptance of the situation is the goal, and when you start to falter, remind yourself of the commitment you made.
  • Remind yourself that reality is what it is and you can’t change that.
  • Consider the causes of the situation you are trying to accept.
  • Practice accepting with the whole self- mind, body and spirit.
    • Check in with your body sensations; when you are in a state of non-acceptance, your body and muscles tend to tighten. Un-tensing your muscles while thinking about the situation can help set the right tone for beginning acceptance.
    • Force yourself to act in ways that show acceptance. Remember, your mind will catch up to your body.
    • Repeat acceptance thoughts in your mind and say it out loud a few times.
    • Imagine yourself being accepting and what that would look and feel like.
  • Allow yourself to feel disappointment, sadness, grief, or any other emotions that come along.
  • Remember that with time and work, things will get better.
  • Do a pro and con list for accepting reality to remind yourself of the benefits.
  • Develop a plan to catch yourself when you drift out of acceptance. Make a list of signs to look for to show you are not accepting, have a stop word to say to yourself that will move you onto the path of acceptance, and do a regular check in with yourself and your feelings.
  • Practice, practice, practice! It will take time, effort, and repetition to reach acceptance.



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