"Radical Acceptance" After Wrongful Accusations

Radically accepting an estranged adult child's accusations decreases conflict.

Posted Nov 18, 2019

Radical acceptance is a cognitive-behavioral attitude first coined by the American Vipassana Tradition of Buddhism and adopted by psychologist Marsha Linehan. Linehan incorporated the principles of radical acceptance and mindfulness into her theory of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

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How does dialectical reasoning help estranged parents? Dialectical thinking, stemming from the philosopher Hegel, involves thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. For estranged parents it goes like this:

  • Thesis: I am miserable without my children or grandchildren in my life.
  • Antithesis: My child wants nothing to do with me.
  • Synthesis: Even though it's painful, it is what it is and I can learn to have a meaningful life even without them.

Radical acceptance means learning how to accept our most painful thoughts and beliefs but also learning how to become more detached from them. It is based on the concept that the more we fight painful thoughts or feelings, the worse we feel.

So much suffering is due to fighting feelings we believe to be intolerable. The more we can allow the feelings to come and to wash over us, and to think of our thoughts as slow-moving clouds in the sky that come in and then move out of view, the quicker we'll move toward greater acceptance and serenity.

As Linehan writes, "The path out of hell is through misery. By refusing to accept the misery that is part of climbing out of hell, you fall back into hell."

Using Radical Acceptance in Communication with Your Estranged Adult Child

I think this model is a good one for communicating with your difficult or estranged adult child around their hurtful, or erroneous accusations and beliefs about you. Why? The more you go to battle to prove them wrong, show them the way, correct their rewriting of history, or let them know how hurtful they're being, the more you encourage them to struggle with their own painful feelings.

More importantly, the more you do that the more conflict you'll stir up in them. And the more conflict you stir in them, the more distance they'll want.

In other words, the same disposition that is required for you to tolerate your own hurtful and self-hating accusations is the one useful to communicate to your adult child. 

What are some ways that you can communicate this if you disagree with their conclusions?

  • I'm glad you're letting me know how you feel.
  • It's clear that I have some blind spots about the past, I didn't know I was impacting you in that way. 
  • My memory of that is a little different but I understand that sometimes people have different memories of the past. It's helpful to hear how you think and feel about it.

In other words, the more you can show your adult child that you're not going into battle against their feelings or memories—however unjustified those may be from your perspective—the more quickly they'll be able to see you as a potential ally or someone to move closer to. In addition, the less they feel like they have to fight to make their point with you, the more they'll be able to consider alternative explanations for their feelings or beliefs.

This method is useful for those accusations that you feel are wrong or unfair about you. If there's a kernel of truth in those complaints you should work hard to repair and take responsibility for whatever hurt was caused by your actions.

We'll discuss more how to make amends to your estranged adult child in upcoming posts.


Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive-behavioral tradition

SC Hayes, VM Follette, M Linehan - 2004