Julia Schafer Therapy

The Things We Can’t Change – Radical Acceptance vs. Resignation

by Julia Schafer

by Julia Schafer

Life is filled with challenges, some of which are beyond our control. It’s a common saying that we must “accept the things we cannot change”, especially when facing situations like past events, the actions of others, or unforeseen circumstances such as illness or job loss.

While acceptance may be the key to moving forward, it is not the same as giving up. Let’s unpack the differences between resignation and acceptance, and how acceptance itself can be radical.


Resignation is marked by a sense of defeat and a perceived inability to create change. It goes beyond outright surrender and might show itself in phrases like:

  • “That’s just the way it is.”
  • “There’s no use getting so worked up.”
  • “I just need to get over it.”

These expressions often serve to downplay or numb negative emotions, a result of societal conditioning that tell us that certain emotions are inherently bad or unhelpful. 

The danger lies in missing out on valuable information encoded in our emotions. Core feelings like anger, fear, and sadness are adaptive, signaling us to correct injustice, identify threats, or seek support. In a state of resignation, these signals are often inaccessible. In a state of acceptance, on the other hand, you deliberately commit to acknowledging the reality and validating your feelings.

Radical Acceptance

Derived from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), radical acceptance takes the concept of acceptance further. It involves fully acknowledging and accepting reality without attempting to fight, deny, or change it. This doesn’t mean approval or resignation; rather, it’s an active state where you commit to several processes:

  1. Holding a Nonjudgmental Stance: Notice when you hear yourself saying “I should feel” or “I must feel”, and instead let yourself just “feel”.
  2. Understanding Control: Differentiate between what you can and cannot control – if you’re faced with a traffic jam before an important meeting, recognize the lack of control over the situation, and channel your focus towards actionable steps like finding alternative routes or mentally preparing for the meeting.
  1. Validating Your Feelings: Refrain from labeling situations or emotions as “good” or “bad” – when plans are unexpectedly canceled, instead of labeling it as “bad,” validate your disappointment, recognizing the importance of your time and using this awareness to communicate openly with your friend.
  2. Looking at “Just the Facts”: For example, in the face of a job rejection, avoid ruminating on what you could have done better – instead, objectively assess the situation, acknowledging it as one instance rather than a reflection of your entire career, and use specific feedback for future improvement.
  3. Acknowledging and Letting Go: After a significant disappointment, acknowledge the pain, consciously decide to let go of resentment or regret, and focus on personal growth and new beginnings.

As you navigate the twists and turns of life, know that acceptance isn’t a one-time decision; it’s a caring companion on your path to reduced suffering and improved well-being. Embrace the hope that every instance of acceptance brings you closer to a life filled with contentment, understanding, and a deep sense of peace.

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Julia Schafer

Julia Schafer

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an author when I grew up. The characters I encountered in books deeply resonated with me because of how they could conquer challenges and experience personal victories. As I got older, I found that my connection with storytelling extended beyond the realm of fiction. It manifested itself through my genuine interest in listening to individuals as they shared their own narratives of real-life struggles and triumphs with me. Motivated by this passion for understanding and supporting others, I embarked on the path towards a career in counseling.

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