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DBT Series 11 - Radical Acceptance and Half Smile/Willing Hands

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We have reached our final Distress Tolerance skill! Today, we are going to discuss Radical Acceptance and Half Smile/Willing Hands. Strap in, folks. In my opinion, Radical Acceptance can be one of the more challenging DBT skills to practice.

Radical Acceptance involves wholly and completely acknowledging reality as it is presenting. It’s important to remember with Radical Acceptance that just because we acknowledge things as they are, we do not have to approve of them nor do we have to like them.

In DBT, Radical Acceptance can be expressed the following way:

Pain (physical or emotional) + Non-Acceptance = Suffering (never ending)

Pain (physical or emotional) + Acceptance = Ordinary Pain (comes and goes)

If you are in a space of non-acceptance, you may notice your “should/shouldn’t statements” increasing (i.e., “I should do this,” “It shouldn’t be this way”). This may also include doing the opposite of what is effective or what works. This is referred to as Willfulness.

If you are in a space of acceptance, you may notice yourself saying “Yes!” more. This may include listening to and acting with your Wise Mind. Essentially, you are doing what is effective and doing what works in the moment. This is referred to as Willingness.

How to Practice Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance can be practiced through the skill Half Smile and Willing Hands. Let’s break this down:

  • Half Smile: To start, fully relax your face and release any facial muscle engagement. Next, imagine the Mona Lisa (pictured above) or the Amazon symbol. You will want to turn the corners of your mouth slightly up into a half-smile shape. Not a full, say-cheese! kind of smile.
  • Willing Hands: Turn your hands palms up and relax the fingers. You can do this while sitting, standing, or laying down.

Utilizing Half Smile and Willing Hands allows for the body to communicate to the brain that we are trying to embrace Radical Acceptance, we are trying to turn the mind, and that we are trying to be open and willing to what reality is presenting to us.

Want to hear more about the DBT Radical Acceptance skill? Check out this free video from DBT-RU to hear more! (1)


(1) [@DBTRU]. (2020, December 8). Radical Acceptance  [Video]. YouTube.

Reminder: these blog posts are meant to be purely educational and/or entertainment tools and do NOT replace psychotherapy and/or other medically necessary treatments.

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