Life is built one choice at a time. Often, we feel very confident, and in control of life and the choices we make or events that occur: a home to buy, vacation to take, car to purchase, what to eat. In these instances, we will often say with a smile, “I am happy and in control of my life choices.”

When sudden life stressors come our way, it is very easy to fall into the victim mentality. Sometimes we become consumed by these stressors, a mindset sets in that “life” is making choices independent of the self. Life is choosing our circumstances and, thus, falsely, my emotions. When stuck in this victim mentality, how can we move to a more centered space of feeling in control or having that choice back in life when a wide variety of circumstances come our way?

First, look at what Cognitive Distortions are sparking:

Emotional Reasoning- The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are.

Catastrophizing- Only able to see the most extreme and worst possible outcome of a situation, every time.

Magical Thinking- The need to believe that one’s hopes and desires can have an effect on how the world turns.

Next, using the Dialectical Behavioral Skill of Radical Acceptance can be employed. Many sayings come to mind with Radical Acceptance:

“Accepting Life on Life’s Terms.”

“Acceptance leads to serenity.”

“This too shall pass.”

These are great and comforting sayings which can be helpful in mindfulness work. However, the question arises, HOW do I get to a peaceful place of saying (confidently and comfortably), “I Accept Life on Life’s Terms” without feeling helpless?

Moments are opportunities to choose to change direction. In practicing Radical Acceptance, sound choices will rule the focus of our life because we have a sense of control and grounding. Understanding the basic principles of Radical Acceptance can help one take back control and choices in life as well as emotional well-being versus being bulldozed by life.


Life is going to be tough

Truly, circumstances in life are going to be tough. How tough, though, depends on your resistance to reality. It will be advantageous to comprehend, understand, and accept that life is not always fair. I will often ask clients, “Who in life told you everything in your life will be fair?” When one reflects on this question, the answer is, “no one; in fact, people told me how difficult life would be.” So now there is a movement towards acceptance and disputing this irrational thought that life has to be fair for us.


It is what it is

Well-being resides in the idea that we accept certain things that absolutely cannot be changed. This acceptance frees us to look at things we can change, which helps us get through the moment. I explain to clients that our brain only has so much space, and when we are spiraling or dwelling on the things we cannot change we aren’t allowing room for things to come in that we can change or have control over.

An excellent behavioral skill I enact in session is to have the client put out their hands- palms up. On the one hand are things we have no control over–illness, death, end of a marriage, loss of job, legal troubles. Those are events outside of our control, and they belong in this hand. Now, on the other hand, are things we do have control of in the situation–course of treatment, better self-care, how to mourn a loved one, choosing a new career path, and preparing for a legal outcome. Now there is enlightenment that there are choices and things to gain control over and focus on empowering positive steps.

**Individuals can get so wrapped up and dwell in negative aspects. We fight for control of the circumstance when it is not a possible winning situation, leaving us snow plowed by life. However discouraged one may feel- working hard, quickly, and efficiently to regain the power of choice is imperative to healing and moving forward. Not all choices are equal, and not all produce a good or beneficial outcome. Some choices muddle a situation, and some clarify. Some choices feed optimism, while others spark desperation. It is important, and acceptance is reached when we always remember it is our choice what emotional response we have to any situation.**


Certain things are unchangeable

Where life or circumstances of life have determined there is a “period” (end), there has to come to a point where we stop forcing a “question mark” (possibility). Radical Acceptance is reached quicker by looking at “what is” (the period) vs. “what could be” (the question mark). It allows you to stop fighting something that has ended and instead have control and choice over “what comes next.” If I am driving to work and get a flat tire, acceptance tells me I am going to be late to work, and I need to either call for help or fix the tire- I have accepted the fact (I don’t like it,) but now I can move on to my choices of handling the situation. Putting a question mark there leaves me with, “well, I can probably drive on this flat/rim and still make it to work….” This thinking and choice will cause me more distress and, in the end, have worse consequences vs. just accepting the reality of what is.


I may not like it or always agree

Life stops being an uphill battle when I accept that I may not always get my way. When this happens, I have to do an honest inventory of my part in something. Did I fight as I could for something? Was my stance clearly known? Here is where another cliche comes in: “This too shall pass.” Something happened that I don’t agree with or like. Practicing the Dialectical Behavior Therapy skill of ‘looking in the rearview mirror’ can be helpful and motivating. Reflect on my past circumstances and where I have not gotten my way, and it was ok. What coping skills did I utilize that helped, or do I need work in that area?

In closing, suffering after disappointment, failure, death, deception, loss of self or what matters most in our life can be a devastating blow. The initial natural response is to ignore life, avoid the circumstance, block thoughts, pretend the suffering is not there or other deflection techniques. However, when we are done deflecting, life, the suffering, and the blow are still there. Life only moves forward. Using tools to enact Radical Acceptance enables us to maintain well-being and control in all circumstances and not to fall victim to life choosing our course and instead empower us to choose life and our emotional reactions.

For help with any of the above, I would love to hear from you at [email protected] or visit



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About the Author: Jessica Ellingsworth
Jessica's main therapeutic goal is to help people take control of improving their own lives to make better choices. Jessica understands and helps clients understand that we cannot control our feelings-we can however control how we think and behave. Jessica's therapeutic philosophy is that we are all on a journey through life; sometimes we go astray and need guidance from each other to get back on track. My practice style is Cognitive Behavioral, including, Mindfulness, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Reality Therapy which entails working through concerns from both a modern and more choice-driven point of view. Jessica works with individual adults, couples, as well as clients involved in the criminal justice system and their family members. Therapy techniques involve identifying true feelings, trauma-related care, and learning how to rebuke irrational thoughts.

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