Radical Acceptance and Bowen Theory

By December 16, 2023March 25th, 2024Uncategorized
Radical Acceptance and Bowen Theory

Radical acceptance and Bowen theory

A family system perspective can make all the difference in adopting radical acceptance of a situation. For many people, the shift from an individual model perspective to a family emotional systems perspective is a radical thing to accept. But the core of radical acceptance theory is understanding and acknowledging “what is”. What Dr. Bowen observed, understood and acknowledged was that families operate as an emotional unit.  The system is “what is”.

Radical acceptance works

To the degree that Bowen theory and radical acceptance work for clients means they are describing similar processes. I think radical acceptance sees the individual mountain tops while Bowen Theory sees the mountain range. The mountains are connected.

Non-judgemental acceptance of reality

Accepting reality in a non-judgmental way can be hard. Especially if one’s perspective is cause and effect, blame and victim. A system perspective removes cause and effect, blaming, and the idea of victim and perpetrator. There are “symptoms” that emerge in the functioning of a system. But to see substance use as a multi-generation process that emerged with this level of functioning is radically different. It is also easy to be less judgemental and more accepting (understanding) of the situation us a system perspective.

Accept emotions as information

Accepting one’s feelings is part of radical acceptance. Emotions just are. A feeling is information. Accepting that one is feeling a particular emotion can be useful. Asking system-oriented questions can be helpful. How it came about, what increases or decreases the intensity, and when and with whom it arises are all ways to usefully “accept” the emotion and “deal” with it.

Radical control

Letting go of trying to control is another component of radical acceptance. There is good news and bad news for control and systems. The bad news is that it’s impossible to control an emotional system unless one uses force. This is not recommended! The good news is that I am a part of the system and I can work on controlling myself. This will affect the system, mostly in predictable ways. But the radical thing to accept here is that I am controlling myself for myself and NOT to change others. You can’t cheat a system. It will radically push back! Focus on self is a key system idea.

Radical acceptance isn’t radical approval

As I have written in other posts, acceptance isn’t approval or agreement. Accepting that it is raining doesn’t mean you have to approve of the rain or agree with any aspect of the rain. But if one doesn’t accept that it is rainy, then they will get wet. It’s no one’s fault, really. It’s just what happens with rain if you try to deny its existence. Getting mad isn’t hard on the rain, it’s only hard on you. You don’t have to like the rain, just don’t get mad and blame it for anything.

Radical acceptance of defining self

Let’s continue with the rain analogy. I accept that it’s raining. I don’t like it. But rain “happens”. So the question is, how do I want to show up? My immature self would pout and whine about the weather. My mature self says: “Your call – what do you want to do?” So I decide what I’m willing to do and not willing to do and get on with my day.

Defining self is similar. I have to develop my beliefs and convictions about how I want to be in specific situations. This can take time. Then I have to lean into living those beliefs with conviction. I’m not “right” and I don’t have “the truth”. I simply, radically, have what I believe and how I want to live by that belief.

It’s a radical idea to believe that I’m the product of a multigenerational process that creates a level of sensitivity, in me, to what others think of me. It’s a radical shift to accept that rather than operate based on what others think I should feel, think and do, I can operate based on what I believe is right for me.

It is a lot to accept that I play a part in my system and that my part is the only part I can change. It’s a lot to accept that cause and effect is a less useful way to think about how we function. Or to think about how one functions instead of how one is broken or sick.

Maybe the most radical acceptance is accepting a system perspective on human functioning. And the personal freedom and responsibility that comes with that.

Thank you for your interest in family systems.

Send comments to dave.galloway@livingsystems.ca

For a good summary of radical acceptance theory, just ask ChatGPT: “describe the key aspects of radical acceptance theory”

For a good read on Radical Acceptance Theory, see Radical Acceptance Theory