Radical Acceptance: A Gift For Yourself During The Holidays

Have you heard of the old parable about the frog and the scorpion? A quick summary is as follows:

“A scorpion was at the edge of a river and he asked a frog for a ride across. The frog hesitated at first, saying that if he gave such a ride to the scorpion, the scorpion would sting him. The scorpion replied by saying that if he did so, they would both drown. The frog finally agreed, and halfway across the river the scorpion stung the frog. As they both started to sink, the frog asked why he would do such a thing. The scorpion replied that it’s simply in his nature to do so.”

Spending time with friends and family during the holidays can be stressful. It’s been said that if we think about what creates stress, we realize that it is the product of what reality is and what we want reality to be (or what we believe “should” be). This holiday season, as you are sitting around the dinner table, making small talk in the living room, or helping out in the kitchen, it might be helpful to recognize that, in some way, we are all scorpions. We have our nature, our ways of doing things, our personality types, and our opinions. Sometimes they may clash or conflict with others’ natures, even those we love (which makes it that much harder).

It can be easy to get caught in the mind-trap of thinking things like “if only she would relax more,” “if only he could be more thoughtful to others,” “if only they recognized how much I have been doing,” etc. Wanting people, particularly those we love and care about, to be different from who they are can create stress, aggravation, and even emotional pain for us. This, in turn, can get in the way of spending quality time with our loved ones.

Radical acceptance in these situations means truly accepting others for who and what they are and catching ourselves when our minds are telling us how much we want them to be different. This is different from simply “tolerating” others. Imagine yourself sitting around the Thanksgiving Day dinner table with your family. What would simply “tolerating” certain family members look like in action? Perhaps it would look similar to ignoring them, or briefly acknowledging them but then turning your attention elsewhere (“If I don’t have anything nice to say…”). Now, imagine what truly accepting certain family members would look like in action. Perhaps this would look more like active engagement in conversation, or initiating an offer of more food or drink. You might still be having the thought of how you would like this person to change. You might even have thoughts related to how truly embracing them for who they are makes you a pushover, vulnerable to be taken advantage of, appear to be ignorant or weak, etc. However, you can also recognize that your actions don’t have to follow your thoughts.

Why would you want to do this? Being the type of family member (parent, sibling, son/daughter, cousin, etc.) you want to be, living consistently with your values, can help you feel good about yourself. It can be very freeing to practice letting go (over and over again, because this isn’t easy!) of what you think should be and simply embracing what is. Focusing on what you can control, and recognizing that it is extremely difficult and often exhausting when we try to control others. In letting go of the struggle, you just might notice something in someone that you had missed before because you were so busy focusing on what they were not.

Challenge yourself to see how many acts of radical acceptance (and these are actions, not thoughts or emotions because we can control our actions much easier) you can engage in during this holiday season and see if you are surprised by what comes of it. While you are doing so, remember to practice radical acceptance towards yourself as well. Notice when you are having thoughts related to how you may not be good enough in one area or another, or how you might not deserve something, and then simply loosen the grip of these thoughts and engage in actions that are consistent with accepting yourself for who and what you are.

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