4D Acceptance

This page tells you more about the DBT ‘acceptance’ skills

Acceptance skills help you to let go of the need to fight reality when you have no control over the situation. Accepting reality is about acknowledging ‘it is what it is’; it offers you freedom from suffering and allows you to concentrate on the things in life that you can change.

The skills of  acceptance are important, because sometimes the things that cause us distress are things that we can’t do anything about, either because they are in our past or because they are out of our control.  We may not agree with them, but rejecting or fighting them will increase our suffering.  In these situations, the best way to get us through the pain and help us make the right decisions for the future, is to accept that what is happening in this moment is happening, it is reality and it will pass

‘Acceptance’ as a DBT Distress Tolerance skill involves 3 key elements:

You can check out some exercises to help you achieve acceptance here.

Radical acceptance

Radical acceptance means to give complete acceptance to the pain you are experiencing, to accept it as it is without judging it.  The acceptance needs to come from deep inside of you, and this acceptance will allow the pain to remain pain, rather than become suffering.

Pain is a part of life, which everyone will experience from time to time; it might be physical or emotional and it can serve a useful purpose, it lets us know that something’s not right or something needs to happen.  If we can find acceptance for the pain we experience, we are much more likely to be able to cope with it.  If we don’t accept the pain, it can turn into suffering, our awareness and understanding of the pain can become less clear, and it can become harder for us to reduce the pain.

Remember, acceptance does not mean approval of what is happening; instead it’s about acknowledging that what is happening is happening, it is what it is, it is reality.  And it’s not about giving up; instead it’s about gaining control.  Effective change won’t happen if you ignore or fight what it is that you want to change; instead, if you accept the reality of the situation (the things you cannot change), you are more able to see a way forward.

Turning the mind

Accepting reality is an act of choice; this skill is about acknowledging this and actively turning your mind towards the path of acceptance and away from the path of rejecting reality; and it’s about committing to this path of acceptance.

This can be more difficult than it sounds; choosing ‘accepting reality’ over ‘rejecting reality’ isn’t easy and keeping yourself on that path might get challenging.  It’s quite common to have to keep making this choice (maybe lots of times in one day), and keep making the commitment to staying on the ‘acceptance’ path; turning your mind each time you are directed by the path of rejecting reality, maintaining your focus on the path of acceptance.

Willingness over wilfulness

This skill is about choosing and developing a willing approach as opposed to wilful approach; the difference is:

Willingness is about being accepting of a situation, accepting it for what it is, but it’s also about choosing to respond to this situation in an appropriate and effective way.  It’s about doing just what’s needed in the moment.

Wilfulness is about willing for the situation to be different, willing it to be the situation you want it to be; it’s about doing nothing in the hope things will change, or it’s about fighting it to try to make it change.


Put simply, ‘acceptance’ is about:

  • giving complete acceptance to the pain you are experiencing

  • whenever you notice your focus upon acceptance slipping, turning your mind back to your chosen path of acceptance and reminding yourself of your commitment to this path

  • willingly doing what this path requires of you, which means to use your ‘wise mind’ to do what’s effective in the moment


My 4D Toolkit Activity

Donkey acceptsA tale of radical acceptance with a tail

Part of the 4D DBT Toolkit, this podcast tells the tale of a down in the dumps donkey that finds happiness in accepting the things that cannot change.


For more information about ‘DBT’ skills check out the ’4D Toolkit’.

Distress tolerance

Related Pages – Crises Survival: Distract, Self-soothe, Improve the moment, Pros & Cons

Related Pages – Acceptance Skills:  Acceptance Exercises

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