Radical Acceptance over the Holidays

By Eamonn Walsh, LCSW | November 16, 2023

“Pain in life is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

Things often differ from how we think they should be or how we want them to be. The holidays can be a very stressful time of year. Increased commitments, holiday parties, shopping for gifts, and traveling to visit relatives can all grate on our nerves as we feel overextended and are often forced to deal with overcrowded stores and airports. This may be the year your children are with the other parent, and you’re spending your first post-divorce Christmas alone. Your in-laws are visiting, and you do not have the best relationship with them. Maybe your children are older and want less time with you over the holidays. 

We are often called upon to deal with situations out of our control. Around the holidays, these types of stressful situations can be magnified or multiplied, as we tend to have so much on our plates. Radical Acceptance is one method to decrease our stress levels and suffering. Radical Acceptance is a concept used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It involves learning to accept reality as it is in the present moment. This does not mean we agree or are happy about what is happening. Still, through Acceptance, we avoid the suffering we would otherwise be subjected to. A significant part of our suffering is due to our negative thoughts about ourselves and the situations we encounter in our lives. We may beat ourselves up for behaving in a particular way or believe we should not have to endure frustrating events. We want to feel that we can influence our lives and get upset when things don’t go our way or are out of our control. We become angry at the unfairness of the cards that life has dealt us rather than accepting the reality of what is.

Although we know deep down that we can’t change the way things are, most of us have a difficult time letting go. Instead, we tend to put a lot of mental and emotional energy into wishing they were different. The only problem is that staying in that place keeps you stuck and miserable. By shifting your focus, you can feel less sad. And that’s where Radical Acceptance comes inRadical Acceptance is a process of accepting things as they are instead of how you want them to be. When you get more focused on how things should be than how they are, feelings of hopelessness, resentment, guilt, or anger start creeping in. You aren’t accepting reality; you’re fighting against it. And that is suffering. 

When things aren’t how you want them to be, here are some things to say to yourself.

  • First, What is it costing me to focus on what I can’t change? What are some of the things I will miss out on?
  • What can I do to celebrate the season and make it meaningful in a different way? 
  • What would it take to tolerate or make peace with this situation that I don’t like?
  • How would life be different if I let go just a little bit and tried to accept the situation for what it is?

If you try this, you may feel more at peace. You may still not like how things are, but letting go helps you be less miserable and helps you look at other options by shifting your focus. I hope you’ll consider giving Radical Acceptance a try. 

Author

  • Eamonn Walsh, LCSW

    Hillside Therapist – Residential Treatment Program - Eamonn has been working with children, adolescents and their families at Hillside for over 18 years. In addition to DBT, Eamonn is also trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT). He specializes in trauma and kids who have sexual behavioral issues at Hillside and in his private practice. For fun, Eamonn likes to watch and play soccer and ride his bicycle.