Have you ever had a problem? Course you have – we all have – most days usually!
Have you ever felt stuck in this problem? Has this problem weighed heavy on your mind or kept you up at night? Has this problem caused you stress and anxiety, or low mood and sadness? Sometimes these problems could be situational or historical. Sometimes our historical problems influence our current situations.
It’s probably fair to say that this is a fairly common issue for most of us, would you agree?
There is a famous saying: Pain is inevitable – suffering is optional. We will all experience trials and problems in our life: Pain. However, the extent to which we suffer as a result of this problem is often entirely up to us.
Let me explain.
Often our first and instinctual response to any kind of pain is to avoid it or resist it. Who likes pain? Certainly not me! Our society is, in many ways, based around instant gratification. If I want it – I can get most things very quickly. If I don’t want it, I’m entitled to change my mind or leave. The same is true for physical or emotional pain. If I have a headache, I’ll take a painkiller – I won’t stop to think why I might have that headache in the first place. If I’m feeling uncomfortable emotionally; I’ll quite likely try to avoid this feeling or cover it up in some way. I might distract myself with something else. I might expend a huge amount of emotional energy pushing those thoughts away. I might avoid or procrastinate. I might self-medicate with a substance; or shopping, or relationships, or staying busy….. or anything really. Basically, the longer we avoid or try to cover up our pain – the more it intensifies and the more we eventually suffer. Kind of like shaking up a coke bottle. Eventually it’s going to pop.
Step One of Radical Acceptance is to accept that the thing has happened – or is happening. This sounds fairly obvious I know – but in reality it’s quite difficult! Our resisting a problem is often unconscious or instinctual. If I admit to myself that it’s there – I’ll have to face the pain of it. Especially if this is a big thing. Especially if this thing has impacted my life in a huge way. Sometimes it's a little thing - a minor conflict or unresolved situation. These are much easier to avoid or ignore - but they also have a way of building up on us!
Let’s get one thing straight. Radical acceptance does NOT, in any way mean that the thing that has happened (or is happening) is OK.
Sometimes the painful things that happen to us are entirely NOT OK, and they're not fair. Radical Acceptance does not excuse bad behavior. It does not cover up offence or mistreatment. Accepting that the thing has happened is not at all the same as saying that that thing is OK.
What naming and accepting that it has happened DOES, however allow us to actually look at whatever is going on. When we see it fully – then we have the ability to analyse what is happening in the Adult. Often, the part of us that is trying to resist the pain is the small, fearful child-like part that we all have inside. The part that worries about its ‘OK-ness’ or acceptance. When this part of us is triggered it is hard to think clearly and we often feel very helpless, insecure or defensive. This part is often linked to our adrenaline response – so we can experience strong physical stress reactions; anxiety or anger.
Being in our “Adult” means that when we feel this happening, we Stop, Pause and Breathe; grounding ourselves in the moment and bringing ourselves back to the present: “I’m here. I’m OK. Even though this is a stressful situation I can make a good choice right now.”
When we are in the Adult, we can separate the past from the present. Yes, there’s something going on here and it’s important. However, I realize that my interpretation of this event is being clouded by my beliefs and events from the past. Have a look at the Separating the Present from the Past Resource for more info on this.
Step Two of Radical Acceptance is simple but profound. You get to say: “BUGGER!” (Or insert any expletive you may find appropriate).
This “Bugger” means that you allow yourself to feel and express the pain of the problem (or the past problem this has triggered). This is Loss and Grief. When we allow ourselves to express our pain, we give our physical and emotional body the chance to heal. We ‘take the fizz’ out of the coke bottle so it isn’t going to explode and hurt someone or something. Sometimes, this needs to be done slowly and carefully. If there is lots of pain inside, you might need someone who knows what they’re doing to walk beside you in this. When we name the pain and let our emotions flow, we are giving our body an incredible gift. There is a growing amount of research on how our bodies hold our pain. The more research that is completed, the more we realize that we cannot separate the emotional and spiritual from the physical and behavioral aspects of ourselves. As we acknowledge and release our pain, we become healthier and happier.
Yes, expressing our pain can be a messy, unpleasant process. But it is a hugely important one. Next week’s blog will be a few tips on working through this process. When we are able to move through our pain, we no longer have to live hiding our shame and insecurity from the world. We can stay ‘in the moment’ and see a current situation for what it is.
Step Three of Radical Acceptance is to ask the question: “Where to from here?” Once you have accepted that “the thing” happened, really looked at it and what it meant for you; experienced the pain and realized that you are OK……Now you are free to make a wise choice in the moment. Now the problem solving and planning can start. What options do I have in this situation? Do I need to put in some fair consequences for bad behavior? Do I need to learn some boundaries? Do I need to let it go and move on?
Radical acceptance can be used in any situation that causes an emotional reaction within you. I believe it’s almost most powerful in the constant, small incidences that we come across in life: Small arguments, offences and disappointments etc. The more we get used to acknowledging and facing these smaller "pains"; the easier and more approachable the "big-stuff" is.
Here’s a ‘not-so-small’ one that happened to me recently. My son and I were travelling home from overseas. We had a stop-off in Hong Kong airport for a couple of hours so we went to get something to eat. Thinking we had plenty of time to get to our gate, we ambled along looking at the shops etc. When we got to our gate, we eventually learned that our plane had left 2 hrs earlier! Our itinerary was wrong. Our bags had been offloaded and we were stuck in Hong Kong. "BUGGER!" I could feel myself getting stressed, the shock was kicking in; and I could see my son next to me getting more and more worked up. I knew I had a choice to make. A large part of me wanted to get upset and throw a fit. This wasn’t my fault – it’s not fair – I’m tired, jet lagged and all I want to do is to get home to my family! And I felt myself going there – I could feel my body reacting to the increasing shock and anger I was feeling. Then I looked at my son, and stopped. If I lost it – he would too. I took a moment to pause and breathe. I remembered Radical Acceptance. (I HATE having to practice what I preach!) To cut a long story short – we survived. When I calmed myself down, I was able to think. Through a friend, I organised a place to stay for the night. We ended up seeing a bit of Hong Kong and making a new friend! It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a lot less of a problem than it would have been if I'd lost my rag!
Radical Acceptance Works! Give it a go. :-)