Radical Acceptance: Summary & Review

radical acceptance book cover

Radical Acceptance (2004) teaches readers how to use the two wings of mindfulness plus compassion to become more enlightened and improve our experience, life, and relationships.

Exec Summary

  • Radical acceptance is mindfulness plus compassion: to see the world and ourselves for what they are, moment by moment (mindfulness) and accept it with compassion
  • Whenever you’re overwhelmed, pause, and meditate
  • Pain is OK, part of life, and you can also learn to accept it


About the Author:
Tara Brach is an American author and proponent of Buddhist meditation.
According to Wikipedia, she holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and political science from Clark University and received a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Fielding Graduate University which, frankly, raised some red flags of a diploma mill-type of institution.
Brach is also a meditation teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C.

Swap Feelings of Insufficiency With Self-Acceptance

For so many of us, feelings of deficiency are right around the corner. It doesn’t take much—just hearing of someone else’s accomplishments, being criticized, getting into an argument, making a mistake at work—to make us feel that we are not okay.

Some examples of how people fail to accept themselves and feel insufficient:

  • Do I accept my body as it is?
  • Do I blame myself when I get sick?
  • Do I feel I am not attractive enough?
  • Am I dissatisfied with how my hair looks?
  • Am I embarrassed about how my face and body are aging?
  • Do I judge myself for being too heavy? Underweight? Not physically fit?
  • Do I accept my mind as it is?
  • Do I judge myself for not being intelligent enough? Humorous? Interesting?
  • Am I critical of myself for having obsessive thoughts? For having a repetitive, boring mind?
  • Am I ashamed of myself for having bad thoughts—mean, judgmental or lusty thoughts?
  • Do I consider myself a bad meditator because my mind is so busy?
  • Do I accept my emotions and moods as they are?

Radical Acceptance = Mindfulness + Compassion

Radical acceptance is to transcend our emotional wounds, doubts, and feelings of insufficiency:

Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom.

“As it is”, crucially, also means without judging ourselves.
So, for more clarity, that “willingness to experience ourselves” also means “willingness to accept ourselves”.

Says the author:

In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world. This is the blessing of Radical Acceptance: As we free ourselves from the suffering of “something is wrong with me,” we trust and express the fullness of who we are.

For radical acceptance, you want to accept everything that is you:

The way out of our cage begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives, by embracing with wakefulness and care our moment-to-moment experience.
By accepting absolutely everything, what I mean is that we are aware of what is happening within our body and mind in any given moment, without trying to control or judge or pull away.

Later in the book, the author includes acceptance of physical pain as well.
Many people turn pain into emotional as well. A backache may turn into how we don’t exercise enough, being tired into how we eat too much, etc.

The Two Wings of Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance has two pillars:

  1. Seeing clearly (mindfulness), the quality of awareness that recognizes exactly what is happening in our moment-to-moment experience
  2. Compassion: our capacity to relate in a tender and sympathetic way to what we perceive

The two are interdependent and need each other.
Together, they free us from the vicious cycle of reactions. As an example, this is what the author says:

If we are rejected by someone we love, the trance of unworthiness may ensnare us in obsessive thinking, blaming the one who hurt us and at the same time believing that we were jilted because we are defective. We may feel caught in a relentless swing between explosive anger and wrenching grief and shame.

Mindfulness alone would allow us to sit with the pain of our heart, to clearly see the stories we are telling ourselves—that we are a victim, that we will always be alone and without love.
But we might compound our suffering with self-accusations and self-blaming. This is where the wing of compassion joins mindfulness for genuinely healing presence, says the author.
Rather than pushing away, judging our anger, or turning it against others or ourselves, compassion enables us to be softly and kindly present with our open wounds.

If that sounds a bit woo-woo… It is :).

Healthy Striving to Improvement Must Be Grounded Into Self-Acceptance

This is an important concept:

When we strive to impress or outdo others, we strengthen the underlying belief that we are not good enough as we are. This doesn’t mean that we can’t compete in a healthy way (…) nut when our efforts are driven by the fear that we are flawed, we deepen the trance of unworthiness.

Same goes for confronting failures.
When we hide failures from ourselves, we often do so based on the fear that we are not enough, and we reinforce that fear and belief.
So any effort of self-development without the foundation of self-acceptance is also ineffective, because we are not free to give it our best shot, accept our mistakes, and learn from them.

Also see:

Accept Yourself to Avoid Making Up Enemies (Including Making Yourself An Enemy)

out of fear, we turn on ourselves and make ourselves the enemy, the source of the problem. We also project these feelings outward and make others the enemy. The greater the fear, the more intense our hostility.
(…) Directing anger at an enemy temporarily reduces our feelings of fear and vulnerability.

Misconceptions Around Radical Acceptance

  • It’s not resignation, instead, the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change
  • Does not mean defining ourselves by our limitations. While there may be some truth in our assessments of limitations, Radical Acceptance means we can accept it without giving our fear-based stories the power to shut down our lives. And to also accept the endless creativity and possibility that exist in living. By accepting the truth of change, accepting that we don’t know how our life will unfold, we open ourselves to hope so that we can move forward with vitality and will
  • It’s not self-indulgence. It doesn’t mean that because you discover and accept a lust or drive, you act on it. If we are addicted to nicotine, for example, Radical Acceptance doesn’t mean that each time we feel like having a cigarette, we go ahead and light up
  • Does not make us passive, instead, by accepting rather than denying or reacting to our suffering, we free ourselves to work without bitterness or self-pity
  • It doesn’t mean accepting a “self”. This is a note for the Buddhist who prefer to see themselves as “part of a whole”. So the author says that when we say, “I accept myself as I am,” we are not accepting a story about a good or bad self. Rather, we are accepting the immediate mental and sensory experiences we interpret as self.

Master The “Art of The Pause”

Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal.

When do you pause?
Any time. Especially any time you feel you’re too stressed, reactive, angry, or at the mercy of your (negative) emotions:

The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.
We may take a pause from our ongoing responsibilities by sitting down to meditate (…) We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we’re about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person. (…) We may pause when we feel suddenly moved or delighted or saddened, allowing the feelings to play through our heart.

And, as we mentioned, pausing is even better when we’re being overwhelmed:

Often the moment when we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so. Pausing in a fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by sorrow or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do.

Let Go And “Chill” More

It is easy to feel that something bad will happen if we don’t maintain our habitual vigilance by thinking, judging, planning. Yet this is the very habit that keeps us trapped in resisting life. Only when we realize we can’t hold on to anything can we begin to relax our efforts to control our experience.

Work Out of Love, Rather Than Out of Fear

Talking about her own work, and the experience of doing it out of love for the work and for sharing it, VS the “need for approval”:

But sometimes that voice of insecurity and unworthiness arises, and I listen to it. Suddenly writing or preparing a presentation is linked to winning or losing love and respect and my entire experience of working shifts. The wanting self takes over. While I always intend to give a wholehearted effort, now that effort is wrapped in fear. I’m anxiously striving to be “good enough” and to reap the rewards. My love for what I do is clouded over when working becomes a strategy to prove my worth.

This is linked to what we call here “judge power dynamics“.

Prevent Your Biases From Stopping Empathy & Connection

I truly appreciated this passage in which the author frankly talks about her own biases as a more left-learning person.

First, she says that “we all have our own complex and largely unconscious system of classifying others”.
For her, it’s the rich and “white”, and she comes clean on it:

When I read the newspaper or watch the news, I regularly run into my own anger and dislike toward public figures who are rich, Caucasian, usually male, powerful and conservative. As I hold tightly to my views of right and wrong, I type these senators, corporate executives and editors-in-chief as the “bad guys,” as part of the problem. They become characters in an upsetting movie, not living, breathing humans.

Later on, she talks about working with one, and finding him a human being, just like everyone else.

Medications Have Their Place, But Don’t Rush to Them

The author is not an extremist against medications.

She says that whenever fear is too overwhelming, or when our physical body can improve via medication, then that may be the most compassionate course of action.
However, you want to avoid the mentality of “needing a drug” every time something aches.
This is something that our Western culture pushes on us, to “need” a medication as a fix for every ache or pain, rather than, maybe, accepting it or going through it:

Mistrusting our bodies, we try to control them in the same way that we try to manage the natural world. We use painkillers, assuming that whatever removes pain is the right thing to do. This includes all pain—the pains of childbirth and menstruating, the common cold and disease, aging and death. In our society’s cultural trance, rather than a natural phenomenon, pain is regarded as the enemy. Pain is the messenger we try to kill, not something we allow and embrace.

Says the author about her experience of accepting the pain of childbirth (the midwife speaks first):

“Nothing’s wrong, honey . . . it’s all completely natural, it’s just painful.”
She had to say this several times before I could let it begin to sink in and, in the midst of the burning pain, the explosive pressure, the tearing and exhaustion, remember again to breathe deeply and relax. It was just pain, not wrong, and I could open up and accept it.

radical acceptance book cover


We forgive also for ourselves

We maintain the intention to forgive because we understand that not forgiving hardens and imprisons our heart. If we feel hatred toward anyone, we remain chained to the sufferings of the past and cannot find genuine peace. We forgive for the freedom of our own heart.


When you hurt someone, listen and apologize sincerely

The key elements are: taking responsibility for causing pain to another, listening deeply to understand the person’s suffering, sincerely apologizing and renewing our resolve to act with compassion toward this person and all beings.

We agree.
Whenever I see some person avoiding apologies at all costs, I get an important red flag of someone who’s too hang up on power, dominance, and fragile ego defensiveness to truly connect with others.

Give the critic a chance: sometimes, he’s hurting

In one of her sessions, a guy called Tom was imposing on others and creating resentment in both the group, and the author.

Tom was more the guy who goes for solutions like TPM, telling men to be more confident if they wanted more respect from their wives.

That annoyed the author to no end.
But when Tom stayed longer to talk to her, she paused, and relating kindly to her own anger enabled her to open and pay attention to what Tom was feeling, and she asked herself “what do you (Tom) really need”?
She stopped seeing him as a nuisance, and even stopped seeing him as a “client”, since she had used the “therapist/client” roles to distance herself from him.
She now instead saw two people sitting together, both vulnerable and suffering human beings.

She listened attentively, and also gave him feedback about his role in the group.

Long story short, she felt better about Tom, their relationships, and herself.
And Tom improved, and his behavior in the group also U-turned.
He opened up in the group, saying that he wanted to help but had failed at it just like he had failed with his son. And, the author says, it turned out that the person she tagged as “most unwanted other” ended up playing a key role in opening up everyone in the group.

Note: Higher power beavior + radical acceptance
Please notice that this is not to say that his initial suggestion of “being more confident” was wrong. It was, indeed, correct.
But both approaches of self-awareness, vulnerable acceptance, AND higher power behavior are valid.


On the tragic ignorance of “Us-Them” parochialism (really touching):

In the summer of 1991, I was flying across the country, talking with the woman sitting next to me.
She told me her son was in the air force and had safely returned from Desert Storm, the war with Iraq.
Then she leaned toward me with a smile and spoke softly: “You know, it went really well. Only a few of our boys died.”
My heart sank. Only a few of our boys.
What about all the Iraqi boys and women and children? What about the millions who were yet to die from radioactive contaminants, or from starvation and disease during the economic embargo that followed the war? Our boys.


Naive & potentially dangerous self-help: watch out for the mistaken view of “no bad people exist”

Says the author:

in sharp contrast to our cultural conditioning as heirs of Adam and Eve, the Buddhist perspective holds that there is no such thing as a sinful or evil person. When we harm ourselves or others, it is not because we are bad but because we are ignorant.

This is just wrong, unluckily.
People may not be evil, but many people can ACT evil, and that’s pretty much the same to you.
Plus, it is pretty much a fact that some people are more likely to harm others.

And she goes on to say:

To recognize this basic goodness in everyone takes courage. Trungpa calls this the task of the spiritual warrior, and says that the essence of human bravery is “refusing to give up on anyone or anything.”

Yeah, that may be true in a way.
But it’s also freaking stupid and potentially harmful in another.
It can take a lot of stupidity to trust someone who gives off red flags left and right because you’re putting yourself -and possibly others- in the path of harm.

Please go through this article on naive self-help, especially the section on “seeing the goodness in people”:

Naive self-help: sometimes simplistic, confuses self-doubt with legitimate innate drives to “appear better”

Sometimes self-help books like Radical Acceptance have an underlying assumption that “the way most people are is sub-optimal” or “wrong”.
They may never say so, but that’s the assumption.

However, that assumption is not correct.
It’s simply that our brain isn’t built to maximize good feelings, but to attain certain goals and benefits in life.

For example:

The belief that we are deficient and unworthy makes it difficult to trust that we are truly loved (…) We fear that if they realize we are boring or stupid, selfish or insecure, they’ll reject us. If we’re not attractive enough, we may never be loved in an intimate, romantic way.

Yes, she’s right, in part, and accepting her point of view can be helpful for some, in some circumstances.
But it’s also wrong. If people think you’re boring or stupid or selfish or insecure, they may reject you. And they may have a good reason to.
And it’s also more likely to be loved if you can make yourself into a more attractive person.

This same there is spread across the book: the author never acknowledges that many of the drives and wants she’s rejecting are ingrained into humans, and are as natural to being human as what she calls radical acceptance.
Actually, those drives, needs and wants are far more natural than radical acceptance.

Read more on naive self-help literature:

Not Very “Radically Accepting” The Human Nature She Dislikes (Ie.: His Son Played “Violent Videogames”)

While the author exhorts us to radically accept everything, it sometimes feels like the “radical acceptance” is more for what the author likes and endorses.

For example, says the author:

My aversion to his testosterone-driven attraction to violent video games and movies had created a gulf between us.

I bet she’d have radically accepted his behavior, her feelings about him, and their relationship if he was instead playing guitar and writing songs about world peace and love :).
Instead, she wanted to change him, and changing someone is all about influence and power.

Tara Brach: How About Radically Accepting Our Will to Power?

Tara Brach wanted to influence his son’s behavior.

Totally normal.

Yet, she glosses over that only to focus on the part where she tries to accept, rather than change.
But I bet that she if had found an easy way to make her son’s behavior more to her liking, she’d have done it, and been far happier and fare more “accepting” of that new behavior.

It feels to me pretentious to pretend not to be interested in influence and power and talk at length about radical acceptance… While at the same time denying very human drives such as “shaping the world around us as we like”, which is about power.

And attention, we’re not saying here that radical acceptance is invalid: it is extremely valid. Even for those interested in power.
But BOTH are important, and neither one denies the other.


Radical Acceptance is a really good book on “spiritual growth” and self-acceptance.

Sometimes if you come from a more scientific background and inclination, including “acceptance of human nature” from a more scientifically informed point of view, you may see the author as more of a left-leaning, peace-and-love, hippy type of person.
But that is our own bias. And, as the author herself did and described in this same book, it’s up to use to see beyond our own biases and find the human we have in front when in real life, and the wisdom they have when we’re learning.

Here, we take a stance that both approaches of acceptance & vulnerability WITH power intelligence and higher power behavior as interdependent, not as opposed or as “one better than the other”.

So whether you’re a more spiritual person, or a more “logical/scientific” one, you can only gain and grow with “Radical Acceptance”.

Check the best books collection or get the book on Amazon.

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