Radical Acceptance Is Not A Passive State of Contentment

Learning to come to terms with circumstances beyond our control

By Kara Kidder

Having collectively faced several weeks of adjusting to an entirely unanticipated and drastically different lifestyle here on campus, our counseling team shares thoughts on how we can best cope with our new circumstances and continue to maintain a strong connection to the Proctor community while being physically distant. This new narrative we are facing is far from the one we imagined. The “supposed-tos” and “should-haves”, “wanted tos” and all of the visuals that accompany the narrative are disrupted, and, for now, unattainable. We as counselors know that a shift in our personal narrative is emotionally disruptive…a term we call dissonance. How can we collectively as a community cope?

In dealing with dissonance we commonly rely on a skill called radical acceptance. Radical acceptance, as a therapeutic term, is not to be confused with a passive state of contentment. Rather, it is learning to come to terms with circumstances that are beyond our control; learning to proactively accept allows for an increase in the tolerance of distress. When we learn the skill of radical acceptance we are learning the techniques of emotional energy conservation. Moreover, we enable ourselves increased emotional real estate allowing for the acquisition of new skills and techniques that permit our mental energy to become a renewable resource. Implementing radical acceptance helps conserve energy that may have been spent in disagreement with yourself, others, or even more, the state of the world during this pandemic. Instead, we may gain clarity and utilize previously poorly implemented energy to move forward productively.

The Power of Gratitude and Mindfulness:
We must work to allocate time to assess our cognitive patterns. Are we over-invested in trying to predict the future? Is it helpful to perseverate on what we don’t know? Of course, as humans, we seek knowledge, power and control. All of those offer comfort. We are at our very core future-oriented. Our obsessive nature with the future commonly creates distressing emotional states, especially in times of such unpredictability. We are removed from the state of here and now and in an effort to control, we are sent spiraling into thoughts and questions that initiate the stress response cycle. Hence, our collective call to mindfulness and being present in the current moment.

A steady diet of gratitude and mindfulness will help counterbalance the aforementioned stress response cycle. Additionally, remember to treat yourself and those around you compassionately. It goes without saying that we are all coping with change and stress. A practice of compassion consists of suspending judgment of yourself or your loved ones during this unprecedented time.  Mindfully put the inner critic voice to rest. Remind yourself that the harsh voice is not likely to be of service.

Grief and Resilience in Our Lives:
Further, it is important to remember that though we can not predict when this period of social isolation will end, there will be an end. Consistently assure yourself that this unusual time will not last forever. Without a doubt we are all facing loss, loss on many different levels. Loss leaves us with sorrow and oftentimes grief. When faced with grief it is important to stop and remind ourselves of the power of our own resilience and flexibility. We have all faced uncertainty and challenge before. We can gain perspective and strength from those experiences by recalling how we felt, how we coped, and how we persisted. Let those thoughts be encouraging, we are resilient. On top of assurance of our grit, looking for gratitude and opportunity in as many moments as you can during this time will leave us in an improved mental state. This shift in cognition can help reframe your emotional landscape and help you find a sense of calm and appreciation.

Opportunities Abound as Parents:
Where are the opportunities under such distressing times? As we have seen in our small but mighty Proctor community there are ample ways to collectively support and nurture one another and the larger community. Our core values call us to engage honestly, responsibly, compassionately and respectfully. Amidst the pandemic, we as a community carry forth with our values guiding us. There is evidence in our daily virtual engagement with students. On and off campus we are hearing stories of Proctor community members acting compassionately, supportively and positively contributing in ways that are easing the tension of current circumstances.

As parents, we are gifted (unexpected) time with our kids. How can we seize that opportunity to affirm and build on our relationships; our core attachment to our kids? Small mindful moments of connection.  Whether it is a small and fun memory created by a family fitness, game or arts challenge or a more serious moment of attuning to one another’s emotional needs or grief, there is opportunity. Seize those opportunities. Research shows time and time again that those small and big moments of connection build healthy humans. Find confidence in the fact that connecting with your kids when they are emotionally vulnerable does not necessarily mean fixing their discomfort. As parents it is commonly our urge to protect, prevent, or solve circumstances that create discomfort. Reciprocating emotion, attuning to emotion, witnessing,  paralleling, and accompanying our kids in their expression of emotion, it helps us all cope.

By now we have all read recommendations of practical and logistical ways that help us cope with our very different lifestyle. As the weeks go on it is important to revisit these ideas, it is natural to slip away from newly formed habits but important that we remain socially responsible and to continue to take good care of ourselves, our families and our communities.