Home Childhood Sexual Abuse Working through the concept of Radical Acceptance
what is radical acceptance

Working through the concept of Radical Acceptance

by Matt Pappas

What do these two words mean for me, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse?  It’s a topic we’ve been exploring a bit in therapy, now that I’m further along in my healing. Nowhere near done mind you, not by a long shot, but I would probably safely admit that I’m at or close to the midway point. Which is a whole other topic in itself that I’ll probably dive into at another time.

So radical acceptance, I’ve been doing some research and inquiring to my therapist, J, about this because it’s something I definitely struggle with. I wrestle with the true meaning, or how to make myself believe the true meaning, rather than what my emotional mind is telling me.

When I first think of that phrase, radical acceptance, a couple things come to mind:

  • If I accept what happened, that means that I am ok with it or that I, *gasp*, somehow approve?
  • If I accept what happened, I will forget about it and suppress my feelings which won’t allow me to continue healing.

Those two thought processes are of course incorrect, but it’s a harder concept to grasp than maybe I realize. It’s easy to try and rationalize to myself that I shouldn’t accept what happened so I can continue to feel the familiar sadness that encompasses my life. That comforting despair if you will. By that statement you can see that while I recognize what I’m going through, I’m still learning to process the healing aspect of my life. 

Nobody should ever feel like their abuse was “OK” or that “it wasn’t that bad”. It doesn’t matter whether the abuse happened once or for years, it’s still a life changing experience and affects our very being to the core of our existence. Even for someone like myself that minimizes everything that happens to me whether it’s positive or negative, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that abuse has changed me in many ways.

To the second point, yes I do worry that I will suppress the memories and not continue to deal with them, even though my therapist, J, has told me countless times that I won’t do that. For most of us our minds will never allow us to forget completely what happened. It’s part of us, who we are.  Our minds may bring to light the trauma in stages to help us deal with it, and if it’s too difficult it can pull them back again, but we don’t fully forget.

We don’t have to live in fear and shame. By working through our past we can learn from it and become what is radical acceptanceempowered. It’s by no means an easy process. In fact, I half wonder sometimes what’s worse, the actual events that happened to me or remembering them now and working through the pain.

I’m very good at trying to find ways to rationalize being stuck and not moving forward with my healing Being stuck in my past is all I’ve known. It’s comfortable in a not very comfortable way. Actually the word, familiar, is a better way to put it. It’s familiar and therefore somewhat comfortable.

So what is Radical Acceptance then? It’s not that we forget about our past trauma or that we approve of it or minimize Our past is part of us and makes us who we are. Accepting it is not a sign of weakness either, but rather it can be an empowering feeling!

I wrestle with this thought process of being empowered from my past, not because I don’t understand it but rather trying to let myself embrace it.  We can use our trauma to become strong! Stronger than the average person who has not had to live through the abuse first hand and the memories that haunt us.Survivors are strong, super strong, people even when we don’t feel like it.  Every day that we keep going is a victory and should give us hope! We just have to believe that we deserve the life we want.

There’s where the problem lies for me. Do I deserve to be happy? Everybody says that I do, so why the stumbling block in my head?  The lack of self-esteem tries to keep me stuck in the past, and slows down my healing even with going to therapy twice a week and writing on this blog all the time.

I have to admit it sure would be nice to feel empowered and embrace the thought that I deserve to be happy and have a life that I want, with no more regrets moving forward.  If I can figure out a way to harness the power of working through my past, I know I’ll be stronger than I ever dreamed. I will gain self confidence in a way that I’ve never even imagined possible. I will gain courage to take some risks, reach for what I want, and not give up when the going gets tough.

I don’t know how long it will take to actually get to that point, but I’ve come this far already and I’m not turning back now.



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Serena Bradshaw July 29, 2016 - 12:18 pm

I accept my past in the same way that I “accept I am a woman”. In other words of course I cannot change it. However I can change how I view it–in the same way that I can change my idea of “what it means to be a woman”.

Similarly we can all change our narrative around “What does it mean to have survived abuse?” It’s the change in mindset towards what happened that makes the difference; and I also believe that the change isn’t a once-and-for-all change. No–our personal narrative changes as we grow older and as we experience more of what life has to throw us. For example just today I felt such joy when I read a blog written by a parent describing some intimate family moments. I was so moved and not at all bitter, not at all regretful, not at all saddened. Yet in the past I would have felt all of these emotions.

When we realise that we can replace the narrative of our abusers with our own narrative, then we have the power to think whatever we want to think. We have the power to interpret our abuse in whatever way we wish. This is what shapes our day and our being –and herein lies our strength and opportunity.


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