DBT Skill--Mindfulness for Radical Acceptance with Borderline

February 25, 2018 Whitney Easton

DBT skills like mindfulness and radical acceptance help those of us with borderline to tolerate what is instead of to fight what should be. Visit HealthyPlace to learn how to use these DBT skills and stop suffering today.

The dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skill of mindfulness helps people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) practice radical acceptance of reality. Learning to tolerate life, exactly as it is in this moment, is a difficult struggle for any sufferer of BPD. At its core, BPD is fundamentally an attempt to escape intense pain and frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined fears of abandonment. We get ourselves into trouble trying to run away from reality and the uncomfortable feelings associated with living in reality. The DBT skill of mindfulness and radical acceptance work together to help me accept reality.

Part of the human experience is learning to cope with life as it unfolds: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. Prior to undergoing treatment for borderline personality disorder, my ability to accept the terms life threw at me was close to impossible and I found myself in cycles of suffering. I'm going to share two powerful tools I've learned to help me accept (and appreciate) reality.

The DBT Skills of Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance Is a Powerful Coping Skill in Tolerating Distress

Radical acceptance means wholeheartedly accepting something from the depths of our souls, bodies, and minds. It’s an important part of DBT, one of the primary treatments for BPD. It's taken me years to learn this and my ability to accept things as they come ebbs and flows. It means learning to accept that everything is unfolding just as it is supposed to.

Those of us suffering from borderline personality disorder are almost stuck in a perpetual state of fighting, in fight or flight mode. I spent a lot of time actively fighting everyone or everything. I’d manipulate people to get my way thinking that would make the feelings go away, but I usually created more misery and chaos in the process.

Meditation, breath work, and prayer (if it fits your spiritual and/or religious system) play an enormous part of my ability to “radically” accept life, just as it is, in this moment. Developing spiritual practices, whatever these look like for you, have been a critical part of my journey to accept things as they unfold. It’s probably why 12-step recovery groups love the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I’ve learned I don’t have to love everything that comes my way in life, but I don’t have to get wrapped up in the borderline drama anymore by running away from myself or taking it out on someone else.

DBT Mindfulness Skills Reinforce Radical Acceptance

Mindfulness is a buzzword when it comes to borderline personality disorder treatment. It is one of the four pillars of DBT and there are a thousand different coping skills that come under the umbrella of “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is really just about coming back to the present through a process of noticing and observing this very moment, which brings us out of obsession about that past (what’s already happened and we can’t change) or the future (which we have zero control over). We are usually not accepting reality when we are reliving past or present scenarios and punishing ourselves for them or wishing things were different.

A simple Google search on “mindfulness exercises” can be a starting place for finding practices that can work for you in distressing moments. Mindfulness does not mean you have to be able to sit still for 30 minutes and meditate like a monk or that you will never have feelings that disturb you ever again (Types of Meditation: A Guide for People with BPD). Sometimes, mindfulness for me is just engaging all five senses by noticing how green the trees are, how cool the wind feels, and listening to the sounds of the birds.

Another favorite mindfulness trick of mine involves an ice cube. Taking a frozen piece of ice into your hand and focusing on the sensations until it melts takes my mind out of self-destructive chatter and into one thing only: how painfully cold the ice cube is. This can be helpful if you are struggling with self-harm, which I used to escape reality. I’d often hold the ice cube until the urge to harm myself had passed.

The Great Thing About DBT Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance

When I start to observe the simple things around me in a given moment, I focus less on how I think things should be and more on how they really are. The beautiful thing about acceptance is we're always practicing it. It’s a lifelong journey of coming back to right here, right now, and seeing what good we can find.

APA Reference
Easton, W. (2018, February 25). DBT Skill--Mindfulness for Radical Acceptance with Borderline, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Whitney Easton

October, 31 2019 at 5:34 pm

Thank Whitney! Great, really helpful reinforcement!!

Terry Allard
August, 27 2019 at 7:22 pm

Thankyou ,my daughter disassociates and struggles to stay in the moment . She's so fragile
right now. I pray for healing and that she finds herself the way you did. Your inspiring . Thankyou

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