Radical Self-Acceptance: You Have to Break to Heal

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Radical Acceptance" by Tara Brach. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in your shortcomings? Do you feel like you can only focus on your flaws and the flaws of others?

When we feel like we’ve hit our lowest point, or “hit rock bottom”, it’s the perfect time to open up to Radical Self-Acceptance. We can realize that even if we’re “flawed”, we don’t need to be constantly watching and judging ourselves. We often find that we have to be truly, deeply injured before we can begin to heal. 

Keep reading to learn how you can practice Radical Self-Acceptance to pull yourself out of a rut.

Radical Self-Acceptance Brings Freedom

Feeling unworthy puts us into a sort of trance. We can’t see past our own perceived shortcomings; our self-image becomes twisted and ugly, and we feel unkind both toward ourselves and others. We become like the tiger Mohini, spending our lives pacing one tiny corner of a large, beautiful enclosure. Radical Self-Acceptance can release us from that corner.

Radical Acceptance is how we awaken from the trance. Recognition of, and compassion for, our own moment-to-moment experiences help us to recognize when we’re caught in harmful patterns. We must recognize when we’re stuck in habits of fighting (others or ourselves), judging (again, others or ourselves), and trying to control our pleasures and pains.

With that understanding, we can start to see other ways forward. If we stop being so afraid of unpleasant experiences and demanding people, and learn to forgive ourselves for our own mistakes, we can start taking down the defenses that block out so much of the world. Rather than trying to control life, we can simply live it. 

Buddhists call this clear comprehension: seeing things as they are, including the patterns of our lives and the broader consequences of our thoughts and actions. If Mohini had the capacity for clear comprehension, she’d have realized that she had acres of land to roam.

Radical Acceptance From Suffering

It may seem impossible to embrace Radical Acceptance when we need it most, when we are in our deepest trances of unworthiness. However, you must remember the Buddha nature that lives in all of us. It’s the core of our essence, eternal and unchangeable. The nature of the mind is recognition; the nature of the heart is compassion. The aspects of Radical Acceptance are always with us, no matter how lost we may feel.

In fact, it’s often only when we hit our lowest points that we truly open up to Radical Acceptance. Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-step program says that “rock bottom” is the turning point where one can start to recover from addiction. That’s because rock bottom is when the addict realizes that his or her current lifestyle isn’t working. It often takes some terrible shock for people to realize that they have to make a change, and it’s the same with embracing Radical Acceptance.

Tara Brach’s Journey

Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, shares a deeply personal story about the moment when she first began to truly understand Radical Acceptance. She was living in her ashram with her husband and she became pregnant. At first they were overjoyed, but she suffered a miscarriage and lost the baby. Then, when she needed support the most, her teacher publicly shamed her. He said that the miscarriage had been her own fault; that she was too focused on her professional life outside of the ashram, and the stress had killed her baby.

It was only as Brach grappled with the emotional trauma of those two devastating blows—the loss of her child and being rejected by her teacher—that she started to accept herself as she was. Rather than fighting the pain, she began to embrace it, to allow it to wash over her without changing her. 

She realized that she wanted to love herself, even if she were as flawed as her teacher claimed. She didn’t want to be constantly watching and judging herself, fighting against the voice that said there was something wrong with her. She realized that she was a being of understanding and compassion, and no aspect of her—including those aspects that were “flawed” or not what she thought they should be—could affect that deepest self. 

While the specifics of Brach’s situation were extraordinary, the theme is a common one: We often find that we have to be truly, deeply injured before we can begin to heal. 

Radical Self-Acceptance: You Have to Break to Heal

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Here's what you'll find in our full Radical Acceptance summary :

  • How to live your life fully experiencing everything
  • Why you need to let go of judging yourself or your experiences
  • How you can acknowledge and welcome any experience

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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