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Radical Self-Acceptance

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In Tara Brach’s book Radical Self-Acceptance, she asks, “How much time have you spent trying to change yourself?” Take a moment to consider your own answer to this. How many hours, days, or months have you spent trying to become better: more intelligent, smart, fit, attractive, productive, or likable?

Self-optimization is so ingrained in society that many of us never stop to consider why we feel the need to constantly improve. Most of us are raised to believe our purpose in life is to achieve and excel through our job, looks, school, or relationships. We are born into a world of idealized archetypes that nobody can ever achieve. We unquestioningly accept that we need to change ourselves. We accept the critique that we are not good enough.

What is radical self-acceptance?

Radical self-acceptance is the practice of fully embracing our true nature, loving the entirety of our human experience, imperfections and all. Radical self-acceptance goes beyond self-acceptance, it is the commitment to loving everything and everyone, an embodiment of interconnectedness.

“We use the word self-acceptance because it is a starting point for our inner-experience but what it really trains us to do, in a very unconditional way, in an all-inclusive way, is embrace all of life. That’s what makes it radical. Perhaps another way of saying radical self-acceptance is being in love with life.”

Tara Brach

“Radical self-acceptance takes courage; it is not ignoring or pushing away issues, it is about facing them head on, exploring them with gentle curiosity, taking the lessons, and leaving what weighs us down.”

Tara Brach

Won’t I become complacent if I accept everything as it is?

Some people worry that self-acceptance means being complacent. They fear that if they accept themselves just as they are, they will never evolve. In reality, self-acceptance isn’t about giving up, it is the opposite; self-acceptance is the pathway to embodying the best version of yourself and living an awakened life. By accepting your true nature of goodness and love you are inviting the best version of yourself to rise naturally to the surface.

“There is nothing to strive towards that is outside ourselves.”

Tara Brach

The very things that people fear about self-acceptance—rejection, self-sabotage, laziness, numbness—are really the ones that manifest when you don’t practice radical self-acceptance. When you don’t connect with yourself and refuse to sit with difficult emotions, you turn to coping mechanisms that perpetuate inner shame, distance you from others, and stunt personal growth. Yet through the practice of radical self-acceptance can you embody your full potential.

Another misconception is that radical self-acceptance means that you must accept life’s challenges with a smile and do nothing to change your circumstances. But accepting things actually frees you to take action and responsibility in life when change is possible. It also means that when something is out of your control, you can let it go. In both situations, you create a better reality for yourself by responding from a space of mindfulness.

“Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t try to change things because you only have to radically accept the moment that you’re in and the past. But you can try to change the next moment. You can’t change anything if you don’t accept it because if you don’t accept it you’ll try to change something else that you think is reality.”

Marsha Linehan

What happens when I don’t practice radical self-acceptance?

Maybe you’re not convinced that radical self-acceptance is that important to you. But lacking radical self-acceptance may be affecting your life more than you realize.

Do you scroll mindlessly through social media when you’re feeling lonely? Do you overeat after a hard day or undereat when you don’t feel good about yourself? Is a cigarette your fix for anxiety? How about binge drinking after a “long week”?

There are less obvious ways that we cope with the common stresses of life, such as keeping busy by overworking, overexercising, or constantly seeking attention in relationships. You may not even be conscious of all the habits you have created in order to avoid feeling difficult emotions, especially if they are activities that society has deemed positive such as working hard or exercising.

However, when you use coping mechanisms to deal with difficult feelings—whether it’s boredom, anger, sadness, fear, or anything else—you reject a part of yourself, which can create inner shame. This shame leads to more pain, which pushes you to your unconscious coping habits, perpetuating the cycle. Analyzing your coping mechanisms can be a useful way to pinpoint which negative feelings you avoid and acknowledge your deepest insecurities.

“The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom. Our path is to not reject any part of our life.”

Tara Brach

Coping Mechanisms

Humans have a natural physiological reaction to negative events which is called fight-or-flight but over the years physiologists and psychologists have identified two additional responses, freeze and fawn, that can also arise in stressful situations.

  1. Flight
    • In flight you run away from the threat. This can manifest as numbing, like using food, drugs, or sex to actively ignore and repress negative emotions.
  2. Fight
    • With the fight response, you respond with anger, sarcasm, violence, passive aggression, judgment, blame, or other aggressive, hurtful reactions.
  3. Freeze
    • When you freeze, you are unable to act. The feeling completely overtakes your body and mind. You can experience freeze as a sense of dread, inability to think, or anxiety in the face of a threat.
  4. Fawn
    • People can turn to the fawn response when fight, flight, or freeze hasn’t served them well. The fawn tactic, also called “please” or “appease,” is conforming to others’ expectations of you, and pleasing others in order to win approval.

Mental health issues

In more serious cases, these coping mechanisms can transform into mental health issues, including substance abuse and eating disorders. But people often misidentify the root of these problems.

People with eating disorders may see their unhappiness rooted in their bodies. They believe that once they favorably change their physique then they will be happy. Someone with depression may see their sadness based on their circumstances (relationships, school, work, etc.) and think that they need a drastic life change to achieve happiness. A person suffering from a drug addiction may think that the problem is their stressful life, and once life gets less crazy they will stop drinking or smoking weed every night.

The principle of self-acceptance says that none of these coping mechanisms get to the root of your mental health issue, which is a deep-seated belief of not being good enough; that if you can’t see the true issue, then you can never heal.

“Knowing your own mind is the solution to all our problems.”

Thubten Yeshe

Many of these coping mechanisms may only lead to more shame and further feelings of deficiency. In order to stop this vicious cycle, you can train yourself to first become more attentive to your emotions, accept your negative feelings, and forgive yourself, rather than shaming. Tara Brach calls this strategy “attend and befriend.” The key here is to practice mindfulness and to honestly explore your inner workings in order to get to the root of your emotions.

Instead of judging yourself for your coping mechanisms, simply observe them with care and forgiveness, then notice what your feelings can teach you. Remember that each emotion has a lesson to offer, all you have to do is stop and listen. Suffering is a natural part of life. You can choose to accept this fact or worsen the suffering by rejecting it.

What does radical self-acceptance mean in a Buddhist context?

In Buddhism, practicing radical self-acceptance is considered crucial to spiritual awakening. The Buddha said that suffering stems from the belief that we are separate from others. This can create a sense of not belonging – and even not caring – which disconnects us from our own natural kindness and compassion. Because we are deeply interconnected with others, when we reject parts of ourselves, we also push everyone else away.

This idea of interdependence is at the core of all the Buddha’s teachings. It’s difficult to experience true connection to others if you are unwilling to connect with yourself. For this reason, recognizing and accepting your deepest emotions of shame and self-loathing may be the foundation for spiritual unfolding, bringing you one step closer to embodying true interdependence.

“Radical acceptance is the grounds for the bodhisattva path. The understanding here is that we are all bodhisattvas, all awakened beings, and that it’s by embracing our inner life that we realize a real natural connectedness and compassion that extends to all beings.”

Tara Brach

How do I practice radical acceptance?

To practice radical acceptance means committing to living in the present moment—even during difficult times—and snapping out of the auto-pilot mode we often find ourselves in. To agree to be fully present, even during the dark times, is an act of bravery. But the rewards are innumerable. Not only is this the only way to love yourself at the deepest level but it is the key to healthy relationships, resilience, emotional regulation, and a fulfilling life.

Radical self-acceptance might seem like an unachievable standard but this is far from the truth. You already have all the tools needed to unlock your inner potential and the last thing you need is to strive for perfection. Rather than trying to be perfect, shift your focus to embodying “wholeness.” The common phrase “higher states of consciousness” can be misleading because your journey is not about ascension, but rather embracing what is around you already.

“To be in harmony with the oneness of things is to be without anxiety about imperfection.”

Zen Master Dogen

Where do I begin?

“It is impossible to maintain a sense of interest and curiosity while simultaneously rejecting something. The very nature of curiosity is being open to something.”

Tara Brach
  • Mindful awareness
    • Before all else, identify feelings of shame and deficiency. This means digging past surface emotions and accepting the root of your suffering, the self-judgment that you are not good enough.
    • You can explore these feelings by journaling, talking with someone you trust, meditating, or talking to a clinical psychologist, therapist, or qualified spiritual teacher.
    • Tara Brach offers some beautiful questions that you can ask yourself:
      • “What is asking for attention right now?”
      • “What is true now?”
      • “What is happening now?”
  • Observing with curiosity and love
    • Once you have some experience practicing mindfulness, it is important to take the next step beyond mindfulness by choosing to embrace your experience with curiosity and love. In this way, you are able to eliminate the shame around your negative thoughts and emotions because you are no longer rejecting and ignoring them.
  • Expanding your love to all
    • This is the step that takes you from “self-acceptance” to “radical self-acceptance” because you are not only embracing your own nature but expanding your love to all of life.
    • One of the most useful ways to practice this is the loving-kindness meditation or the tonglen practice, described below. This helps you to remember that your true nature is love and this love is what connects us all.
  • Repetition
    • Radical self-acceptance is not a one-time course you finish and move on from. It is a mindfulness technique that follows you with each new moment. You must unlearn biological conditioning to constantly seek pleasure, go numb, or run from difficult emotions. Instead, the key is to accept each moment no matter what it holds and accept that suffering is a natural part of life.
    • Repetition involves mentally dancing between mindful awareness and observing with curiosity and love, as you experience new moments and situations that require emotional investigation over and over again.

Helpful tools

therapy session

The steps above are the basic outline for practicing radical self-acceptance but you may benefit from more detailed instructions and practices. Here are more helpful suggestions and practices for your emotional healing journey.

  1. Mindfulness meditation
    • Mindfulness (along with love) is the foundation for self-acceptance. This type of meditation is about observing your thoughts, feelings, and experience with curiosity and non-judgment.
  2. Loving-kindness (Meta) meditation
    • Similar to Tonglen, the loving-kindness meditation is a Buddhist technique used to open yourself to love and interconnectedness.
    • This practice is a beautiful way of understanding how we first practice self-love in order to love those around us (and eventually all beings).
  3. Tonglen practice
    • Tonglen practice is a mind-training technique from Tibetan Buddhism that reverses your ordinary pleasure-seeking mental state into an invitation to open yourself up to suffering. It is a combination of meditating on loving-kindness with compassion, visualization, and breathwork.
    • Listen to our Tonglen guided meditation or read more about it here.
  4. Psychotherapy
    • If your coping mechanisms have manifested into serious mental health issues, you may consider psychotherapy in order to begin your path to self-acceptance. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, helps you understand your behaviors, feelings, and thoughts more clearly and positively shift your mindset.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a popular type of psychotherapy—under the umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapy—for those seeking to improve their self-love and self-compassion. The main focus of this therapy is to combine acceptance with change. Through DBT, the goal is to accept life’s challenges—so that you don’t become stuck in negative thoughts and unnecessary suffering—while actively making positive changes when possible.
  5. Self-care and well-being practices
    • Self-care rituals can be a great way to practice self-love and take care of your mental and physical well-being. Here are just a few of the many ways you can care for yourself:
      • Journaling
      • Yoga
      • Affirmations
      • Spending time with loved ones
      • Cooking your favorite meal
      • Going for a walk
      • Listening to your favorite podcast
      • Meditating outside
      • Reading a book while surrounded by other people in a coffee shop

More resources

Podcast Episodes


Guided Meditations




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