DBT Skills for Parents: Reality Acceptance 

Years ago, Nick and I were sitting in our living room in Montreal, having what could have been a make-or-break moment. Our credit cards were maxed. Our job prospects were nil. We were feeling isolated and broken. My anxiety was at an all time high, and both of us were probably a little bit depressed.

We could have blamed each other for how we got there. Nick could have blamed my anxiety for the fact that we didn’t explore as much as we envisioned. I could have blamed him for not keeping me updated about how much (or how little) work he was getting. We both could have blamed each other for poor planning and poor budgeting. Instead, we both came together to come up with a solution together.

Nick and I are both very practiced in the DBT Skill of Reality Acceptance. Reality Acceptance is key to getting through painful situations without suffering. There are four possible responses to difficult situations:

  1. Change the situation.

  2. Change your emotions about the situation.

  3. Stay miserable.

  4. Accept the situation.

Some situations you can change, or change how you feel about them. But if you’re dealing, for example, with not being able to breastfeed or having had a C-section when you were hoping for a home birth, you can’t change that situation, and you likely can’t change your feelings of sadness and disappointment. So you can either stay miserable or accept the situation.

It seems as simple as saying “it is what it is”. You acknowledge that the situation you find yourself in is happening. But in order to truly accept it, you have to not blame, let go of SHAME, and stop telling yourself this shouldn’t be happening. Getting stuck in the it’s not fair/it’s not my fault/it’s all my fault loop is what keeps us suffering when we really could be attending to those painful emotions with self-care, distraction, and mindfulness.

For parents, this skill comes in handy so much. It can be useful in getting through a kid’s challenging behavior or characteristic. It can be helpful for moms accepting their postpartum bodies. It can mean accepting that you and your partner may not have as strong of a connection for a while when your kids are little.

However, Reality Acceptance does not mean you don’t try to change your reality. Only by accepting what is in front of us can we truly spend our energy healing and moving forward. You can accept your child’s emotional outburst while still working with them to try and have fewer outbursts. By removing your suffering from the situation, you are better able to problem solve to help your child. Similarly, just because you accept that your body isn’t the same as it used to be doesn’t mean that you don’t do those sit ups, it just means you don’t suffer every time you look in the mirror. And just because you accept that your relationship is not as close as it has been in the past doesn’t mean you don’t attend to it and work to keep that connection going.

Mindfulness Muse has a great read on Radical Acceptance. DBT Self Help has a transcript of Marsha Linehan’s introduction to Reality Acceptance that is required reading!