- Radical Acceptance and Scapegoat Recovery: The Power of Accepting What IS - November 5, 2023
- Study on Childhood Verbal Abuse - October 7, 2023
- Key Findings From My Recent FSA Survey (2023) - September 3, 2023
Summary: This article explains the concept of radical acceptance in trauma treatment and its relevance to recovering from family scapegoating abuse (FSA). It provides clear distinctions between forgiveness and radical acceptance and offers thought-provoking questions for readers to consider. The article also emphasizes the importance of accepting painful truths as part of the healing process.
Those of you who have read my introductory guide on family scapegoating abuse (FSA), Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, may remember that I briefly discussed the benefits of adult survivors cultivating an “attitude of radical acceptance” when recovering from FSA and its traumatizing effects. In this article, I share why I invite clients to explore “radical acceptance” to support healing from family mistreatment and abuse.
Radical Acceptance in Trauma Treatment
I was first introduced to the concept of radical acceptance via the work of Carl Rogers (one of the founders of Humanistic Psychology), who theorized that accepting one’s situation is the first step to change.
Some time later, I discovered that ‘radical acceptance’ is also prominently featured in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and is used in the treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Within the DBT framework, radical acceptance is viewed as the act of opening your mind to accept that an event happened to you.
Over time, as my clinical practice began to focus more on the treatment of traumatized adult survivors of child abuse, I began to incorporate ‘radical acceptance’ into my psychotherapy and coaching practices with clients who presented with PTSD or complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms. (You can learn more about FSA and the importance of treating complex trauma by reading my article here.)
The Power of Accepting What Is
When I think of the term ‘radical acceptance’, I remember a story I heard years ago about a Sage and their student. It goes as follows:
A student had been studying with a Sage for many years, but the experience of ‘enlightenment’ he was earnestly seeking continued to elude him.
One day, the student had (in his mind) a profound realization. He ran to see his Master, exclaiming with excitement: “Master! At last I have surrendered! I accept everything – ALL of reality – JUST AS IT IS!”
The Master looked at their student with a slight smile, and then softly replied: “My son, that is wonderful. But what choice did you ever really have?”(Anonymous)
When working with FSA adult survivors as a clinician or coach, I am aware of the many painful realities that need to be fully digested and accepted as part of the FSA healing process. For example, when a client tells me that they struggle with rumination, I know that they may benefit from learning about – and applying – the concept of radical acceptance to support their healing and recovery process.
Specifically: When I hear that a survivor of FSA is struggling with rumination (e.g., repetitive, intrusive thoughts that typically begin with, “How could they have…”; “What if I had…”; “Maybe they will…”; “I can’t believe that they…”; “They’re all so…”; “I’ll never accept that…”; “It’s not fair that…”; etc.), I know that they are (understandably) struggling to accept the devastating realities associated with family scapegoating abuse and the injustices and pain experienced in their dysfunctional or narcissistic family system.
Forgiveness Versus Radical Acceptance
I find that the terms ‘forgiveness’ and ‘radical acceptance’ are often viewed as being synonymous. However, they are actually very different concepts. Forgiveness is an act of reconciliation with another, while the process of radical acceptance is individual and personal.
Forcing the idea of forgiveness on any type of abuse survivor is inherently not trauma-informed. Although there is research indicating that forgiveness can positively impact one’s psycho-emotional health, few studies address forgiveness and its impact on trauma survivors. As a trauma-oriented psychotherapist, it is my role to assist my client in exploring whether or not forgiving family members for harms done will benefit their recovery at this particular time.
Issues related to forgiveness that I invite my FSA-impacted clients to consider include:
- “Am I forgiving this person to benefit myself – or them?”
- “By forgiving this person, am I diminishing the impact that being scapegoated has had on me?”
- “Am I fully aware of what I am actually forgiving, i.e., have I recognized, felt, and processed the various pains and harms I’ve experienced in relation to FSA?”
- “Will my forgiving those in my family who have harmed me be yet another way that I am unconsciously colluding with my family system to invalidate my pain and silence my voice?”
- “If I choose not to forgive – at least, not right now – will I feel shame and/or guilt related to my religious beliefs? If so, how might I reconcile this within my heart, mind, and spirit?
Alternatively, when I explore radical acceptance with my clients, I invite them to consider the following:
- “Can I accept that being subjected to this type of systemic abuse is a part of my story – a part of my story that need not define me or permanently influence or control my life?“
- “Can I accept that the fact of my abuse may not ever be recognized within my family and others connected to my family system?”
- “Can I accept the inherent injustice of my situation – and all the emotions and feelings and thoughts associated with this injustice – and at some point decide to live (and live well), anyway?”
- “Can I accept that I have choices – including the choice to accept the past and do all I can now to recover from FSA?”
- “Can I accept that I am more than the painful events I have experienced, and know that my life has value and that I’m worth saving?”
Of course, it need not be “either/or” when it comes to forgiveness and radical acceptance. In cases where a client would like to consciously move through a forgiveness process, they often find that incorporating radical acceptance into their forgiveness work can be very helpful.
Meaningless Suffering Versus Meaningful Suffering
Releasing attachment to highly charged emotions and events does not mean that one is “giving up” on themselves or “giving in” to abuse from others. It is simply a process that supports people in coping with past and/or current life circumstances that cannot be changed and that they are powerless over.
Radical acceptance requires one to cultivate a mindful, nonattached psycho-emotional stance so as to distinguish between painful emotions versus painful events. What has happened is in the past and can’t be changed. The goal instead is to become aware of, process, and release debilitating thoughts and emotions, while accepting the unchangeable, unalterable nature of a given situation.
It has been both my personal and professional experience that accepting incomprehensible realities that cannot be adjusted or altered is essential to recovering from FSA and over time can ease mental and emotional anguish.
The way I explain radical acceptance to my clients is that they can experience meaningless suffering or meaningful suffering as they courageously take the steps needed to heal from being scapegoated by family.
Examples of meaningless suffering caused by resisting what is might include ruminating over past, present, or possible future events; continually reaching out to connect with (or try to “fix” relationships with) abusive family members; succumbing to feelings of despair, hopelessness, and/or learned helplessness; and engaging in abusive acts toward oneself (such as negative self-talk; shaming oneself; etc).
Examples of meaningful suffering that acknowledges what is might include ending contact with abusive family members and accepting the reality of lost family connections; releasing the fantasy that your family will wake up one day and suddenly realize how they have put you in the ‘scapegoat’ role; and releasing the hope that you will one day receive apologies from family members who have gravely harmed you.
Accepting Reality Just As It Is
Remember, mental and emotional acceptance of painful realities does not mean you are weak or complacent, nor does it mean that you are passive or submissive. Ask yourself what you have the power to change, and what you have no choice but to accept. For example, I’ve had clients whose inheritances were wrongly taken from them due to scapegoating dynamics, and several of them chose to pursue restitution in court – and they won.
Cultivating an attitude of radical acceptance also does not mean that you do not experience anger, grief, sadness, etc, regarding what has happened to you within your family-of-origin. It simply means that while you are moving through various emotions and feelings, you are also consciously choosing to adopt a life attitude that supports an acceptance of what has occurred.
As you begin to practice radical acceptance, you may discover a newfound ability to embrace difficult facts while still acknowledging the full depth of your emotions. In doing so, you will be better able to assess the truth of your situation so as to develop ways to effectively cope with it, even as you accept life just as it is, and things just as they are.
Over time, as you begin to fully accept the past and present, you may find yourself increasingly able to focus on what you can actually control, versus wrestling with what you cannot, allowing you to focus on building a future you want, free from mistreatment and abuse.
To learn more about radical acceptance and practical steps you can take toward cultivating this life attitude, read my article, Radical Acceptance and Family Scapegoating Abuse Recovery.
Attention: To those of you on my waiting list for Single-Session Consultations, I am still out on medical leave but hope to be seeing clients again by this coming January.