Radical Acceptance: The Key to Surviving the Holidays

By Dr. Marc Kern

During the holiday season we see an endless parade of advertisements presenting it as “the most wonderful time of the year.” However, in reality, this can actually be a time of emotional ups and downs, and it’s easy to get your buttons pushed by expectations, competition, and your family. If you want to get through the holidays, it would be wise to adopt a mindset that helps you weather the storm. That’s where radical acceptance comes in. When you practice radical acceptance, you have made the choice to stop fighting reality and completely accept the current situation you are in. It does not mean that you are avoiding the situation at hand, but rather you acknowledge that something is taking place that you cannot change, and choose to move through it. In the case of the holidays, if something goes wrong during the event that would trigger emotional pain or discomfort, you open to it and accept it instead of closing down. Here are 3 ways to practice radical acceptance when the times get tough this holiday season:

1. Let Go of Control

We all want to control everything and be treated equally. When we give and receive holiday gifts we want what we put on our list and we want people to like what we give them. However, this is not always the case. If you get something you didn’t want, accept it for what it really is: a gesture of kindness and gratitude, not just a material good. If you are unhappy with the recipe of the mashed potatoes someone made at Christmas dinner, just accept that this is the way it is and move on. If, at the dinner table, others bring up a topic that does not sit well with you (such as politics), accept it as is it is and that they want to talk about. You cannot—and do not need to—control conversation. Do not fight what is in front of you. Whatever is happening around you, whoever is causing you to be upset, whatever the topic is, role with the issue at hand. Let it go in one ear and out the other. If it gets unbearable, go into the kitchen and do something helpful like wash the dishes (tip: do it mindfully). They’ll appreciate it later on!

See presents for what they are: expressions of gratitude

2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

When going to a family event, it is very easy to start comparing yourself to others. You might notice that several of your family members are in a better situation than you at, whether it comes to the car they drive, their job title, or their house. They might even ask you where you stack up on these things. This can cause excessive emotional discomfort if the first thing you do when you walk into a room is start comparing yourself to others around you. In actuality, it is hard not to compare yourself to other people, especially during this time of the year when there is so much emphasis on material goods and relationships. However, know that you do not have to be the most talkative, the most funny, best dressed person in the world in order to feel accepted. You can use radical acceptance to accept the truth in front of you: that everyone is unique and on their own path and that, in the end, the only person who really cares about how you compare to others is you.

3. Take the Good with the Bad

Let’s say you’re at a Hanukkah gathering, you’re practicing radical acceptance, and you’ve successfully made it through the many difficult situations. You’re finally having a good time! Inevitably, family events tend to get boring. You do not have to go tell everyone that you are bored, but it is important to just accept that you are. In some cases this may intensify your urge to get a drink. A technique that could be useful during this event would be practicing Urge Surfing. Urge Surfing is a strategy where, instead of suppressing cravings, you allow yourself to experience the craving in a mindful way. Essentially, you accept your urge for what it is and let it pass over you. You can say to yourself: “I’m bored and I want a drink,” but instead of actually reaching for that drink, really feel that experience of being bored without acting on it.

Urge Surfing can be helpful when practicing radical acceptance

 

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The holidays aren’t the only time to practice radical acceptance. Once you’ve got the hang of it, see where else you can use it: whether that’s in traffic, at work when you’ve got too much on your plate, or with a difficult family member. Over time, by accepting more and more things as they are, you may realize that many of them were not that bad in the first place.

 

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