A wizard named Radical Acceptance

I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan, and this quote from yes, a fictional character, seems fitting for where things are at in 2020, doesn’t it? The parallels between Frodo’s journey, the horrors of multiple threats that seemingly cannot be stopped, and the anxiety of the unknown are a few of many comparisons that we can make.

Speaking from personal experience and talking to colleagues, this year has been busy for those in the mental health and wellbeing field. I believe that the psychological toll left in the wake of COVID-19 will be felt for years, if not decades, into the future.

So in our world, where we are all facing such mountainous challenges, what are we, the individual to do? By now, most would be aware of the many tips and tools provided including regular exercise, spending time with those who matter, healthy eating, avoiding excess alcohol and drugs etc.

These are all helpful and easy to practice. One additional tool to add to the repertoire is what psychologists term, “Radical Acceptance”. Radical Acceptance derives from the works of Marsha Linehan, a well known Psychologist who pioneered work in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.

Radical acceptance is a skill, or philosophy even, where one learns to confront reality and find room for its occurrences. What’s “radical” about this? Well, the concept underpinning this focuses on how we have a choice when it comes to pain and suffering. Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional.

Accepting reality is difficult when life is painful. There is no doubt about this. No one wants to experience pain, disappointment, sadness, or loss. However, these experiences, as awful as they can be, are a part of life. When you attempt to avoid or resist feelings that pair with these events, you add suffering to your pain. The difficult emotions can actually sky rocket with your thoughts, or create further pain by attempting to avoid the painful emotions. You can stop the suffering by practicing acceptance in the face of pain.

Radical acceptance is NOT saying that things cannot change, and that hope cannot be found. It is about consciously building awareness of our thoughts and beliefs, and noticing if they are focused on things outside of our control.

To practice radical acceptance, begin by reflecting on what you’re struggling with in this pandemic. Is it career related, relationships, a holiday you’ve been really wanting to go or something else? Name the unhelpful rejection of reality, usually contained in thoughts “that it shouldn’t be this way”, or “This is so unfair”.

Next, remind yourself that there are limits to what we can control, and that the current reality is usually made worse when we don’t accept it. Ask yourself, “How would things be different if I was able to accepted this reality? What are some other things I can do, if I was able to accept that this has happened?

Allow emotions such as grief, sadness, fears to exist within you. Practice telling yourself, and reminding your ego that life can be worth living, despite the pain. Examples can include:

“I accept this moment as it is.”
“Although my emotions are uncomfortable, I will get through it.”
“I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Give these strategies a go, along with taking action where you can to improve your life, and I am hopeful that we will all be able to look back one day and be proud of how we succeeded to get through this part of history.

To conclude, I leave you with the real hero of the Lord of the Rings:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.

But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back. Only they didn’t, because they were holding on to something…That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

-Samwise the Brave

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