When we acknowledge the facts of our life (including the attitudes and behaviors of other people) without judgement or hostility, it becomes possible to respond with tremendous peace, thoughtfulness and kindness to even the most difficult circumstances.
If you have not read Part I yet, I strongly urge you to do so now before proceeding further with this article.
Radically accept the other person, just as he or she is right now.
You might be asking yourself some questions at this time about radical acceptance:
“If I accept other people as they are, aren’t I enabling bad behaviors in other people?”
“What about my needs, my feelings here, about how they are acting? What if it affects me? What if I have to breathe in their smoke and it makes me cough?”
“When you smoke around me, it brings up my anxiety about your health. I also don’t like to breathe the smoke. Could you please put that cigarette out? I’d really appreciate it. If you won’t put it out, I don’t think I’m comfortable staying in the same room, and I’ll move myself to the other room for a while.”
Radically accepting the other person is, in fact, the first step towards getting your own needs met. Instead of arguing with the other person (either in your mind, or out loud), you shift your focus to:
- appreciating the other person as they are;
- making requests directly, calmly and peacefully;
- getting your needs met some other way if they won’t accommodate you; and
- letting go of “needing” what you don’t need.
Radical acceptance in action: an example
Here is an example of the last point. Tim was a father of a strong-willed, intense 8-year-old boy. Oftentimes when the family was sitting down for dinner, his son refused to join the family, and instead played in another room with his action toys.
Tim’s initial reaction when this happened was to say “You have to come sit with everyone else. You can’t just do what you want! I need the whole family to sit down together.” Predictably, this led to numerous power-struggles, arguing and tension at the table - even when the boy was cajoled into joining, he sat sullenly, picking at his dinner.
Tim practiced radically accepting his son’s desire to be aloof. In other words, like acknowledging the flat tire, he started with accepting that his son indeed, did not want to sit down at dinner time with everyone else, nor eat the food, nor talk to the rest of the family. Arguing against this didn’t change reality.
Then, just as the next step to dealing with a flat tire is, “what do I need to do now?”, Tim asked himself: “What is really needed here?” He imagined not having the thought, “I need the whole family to sit down together.” He pictured everyone but this one child sitting down, enjoying dinner, and himself not wishing it to be different. All of a sudden, Tim realized that this was a much more peaceful scenario than the one that played out most nights.
They began to start dinner at the usual time without much fanfare, letting the son come or not come. Tim noticed himself relaxing, since he wasn’t spending 10 minutes locked in an argument with his son right before dinner. He decided to start telling a funny story each night, sometimes from his work, sometimes a joke he had just heard. The other kids laughed at the jokes, told their own stories from school, and the sound of the laughter - more often than not - brought his son’s head poking into the dining room to hear what was so amusing.
Learn to use radical acceptance with the difficult people in your life
Radically accepting other people means that you get to have the peace, serenity and self-respect that you want, right now, instead of having to wait until the other person complies with your idea of how they should behave.
If you are intrigued by how to practice radical acceptance in relationships, I invite you to look at two wonderful books that can guide you further: “Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha” by Tara Brach, and “I Need Your Love: Is That True?” by Byron Katie.
You can also reach out for some guidance in how to implement this approach with those relationships that you care most deeply about. You can schedule an appointment with me by calling 215-240-1449 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.