Why “Radical Acceptance” Does Not Work.

I wrote this way back in possibly 2013… Basically before I came out as non-binary.

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” — Zora Neale Hurston

In the fall of last year, I began attending a small women’s group as part of my medical treatment. The group has been a tremendous support system for me in the sense of connecting with other women of color who suffer from mental illnesses, as well as having a safe space where I can speak freely. The prominent goal of the group is to teach coping skills under the psychological methodology of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is facilitated by a Doctor who specializes in DBT.

I have experienced great discomfort aligning my thoughts around one of DBT’s major units, Radical Acceptance.

According to the modules for Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Radical Acceptance is defined as a skill:

“One of the four options you have for any problem is Radical Acceptance. Radical acceptance is about accepting of life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical Acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.”  (Linehan, 1993)

For my existence, radical acceptance just does not work in a practical way. It seems to be most suitably applicable when dealing with nature and events which are out of the hands of human control.

Linehan’s findings, facts, thought, seem to be constructed on and for a particular group of people. This nullifies her argument that is this practice/skill as a “standard.” How can this skill be a standard, when its principles were not intended for a larger population who are affected in a variety of aggravated degrees beyond simply, “letting it go,” “accepting the moment?” Redundant nonsense is what I call this standard skill. Redundant nonsense, since its ideal is already commonly accepted and used by people who are forced into dichotomies: human versus subhuman, victim versus predator. These are not out of human control. The use of radical acceptance at this level supports the already sickening pathology for sickness!

On a very basic level, the concept/philosophy of radical acceptance works. I know if I go outside in zero degree weather without a coat, I will freeze to death. I accept my inability to control the weather, and I adapt to whatever the weather presents each day: I wear a coat when it is really cold. I wear nothing when it is really hot. It is clear I know what radical acceptance is; and on this level, I have been practicing its principle for a very long time.

However, it is foolish (at best, redundant) for my life’s existence to adopt its principle beyond the basic level of what definitely cannot be controlled. For example, I am genderqueer non-binary. Some days I am a man, and some, I am a woman, and then there are days I am both. There are even days when I am neither a man nor a woman. It has taken some time for this form of self love and acceptance to exist, especially when there is so much outside of my personal being which pervasively says my existence is not welcomed.

Another aspect of who I am, which blatantly does not fit into the pegs of society, is my race. Just one example: a friend was trying to explain to me why the word nigger is just a word, and how he can use it. He – a white man – possibly believes that because he is married to a person of color, this somehow makes him black even though he can opt out of being black when it gets tricky (survival).

All of these squares intersect with each other, overlapping in varying degrees of how safe is it…?! I am constantly weighing this question of safety. 

The reason I believe adopting radical acceptance beyond the basic is foolish, is that, I have been radically accepting the ignorance of classist, racist, sexist, homophobic bigots for all of my life. From a very young age, I have been made very aware; I cannot change anyone. This philosophy then purports a banal repetitive knowledge. 

The most personal of any experience where I radically accepted the moment: when an important family member referred to my acceptance of myself as genderqueer as shame to the family. I radically accepted I could not change this family member, and I decided to not have any contact with them as a way of protecting myself from their inability to accept me. I live with the pain of this decision, because that was the last conversation I had with that important family member before they unexpectedly died.

I have also radically accepted being verbally and physically attacked by strangers and people in authority, just because they were confused. Yes, I have turned the other cheek, been the bigger person when being called a cunt, nigger, bulldagger, bitch, whore, dyke.

I have and continue to radically accept this is something that will happen as a part of my reality, and I must understand that this person, these people, are acting out of something else which has nothing to do with me. At the same time, it is an incredibly dangerous moment of vulnerability, when you are aware that this person is, most times, in a position of power, and they can really hurt you. 

There are countless moments where I radically accepted what was unfolding, because in all of them, I was not in a position to do anything else. Whether it was going to the bathroom and your presence appears threatening for whatever stupid reason, and that person decides to hurt you. Or where your supervisor recognizes they can get away with treating you badly because your position not only outside in the world at large is seen as less, but at the workplace as well. Or, even in your love relationship, where your partner, after biting a piece of your lip off, says to the threat of reporting them to the police, “No one will believe you, because I am white and a lawyer.” You say nothing because you radically accepted it. Because it is true. This is your reality.

What is most recognizable, but subliminally rendered in the silent meaning for radical acceptance, is what everyone says: “Stop being a victim.” I have never seen or heard, “Stop being a predator.” Well, of course not, why would anyone not want to be the predator? How about we start there first before we decide it is ok to radically accept being treated like shit.