16 Jul What Does Acceptance Mean to you?
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) we consider acceptance to mean embracing emotions, thoughts, and other internal experiences without trying to change them. For example, we can accept our anxiety by feeling it in our body, noticing the anxious thoughts, and seeing the anxiety fully, exactly as it is. When we do this we can choose to let go of the thoughts or actions that might cause even more anxiety. By letting the anxiety be just as it is we can choose where we want to spend our energy instead.
The opposite of acceptance is ‘experiential avoidance’. This is when we are unwilling to see, touch, think, or feel our internal experiences; and so we try to change them – even when this causes more psychological harm. We might say ‘I don’t accept anger in my life,’ or ‘I don’t think about the things that make me feel anxious;’ or say to ourselves ‘I’m fine’ even when we spill our coffee down our shirt, while running late to a meeting, after one of the kids wouldn’t let go at the front gate: we’re not fine and we don’t have to be. It’s OK to be irritated at the kids, and feel frantic at running late, and then to feel ‘OF COURSE IT HAD TO HAPPEN NOW!’ when we spill coffee on ourselves.
Trying to squash all those feelings, trying to shove those feelings deep inside us because we don’t have time or it’s a weakness to feel like that – that’s not fine. All the energy it takes to do that squashing and shoving and hiding away (all of that avoidance) – that is a struggle. And that struggle takes energy. Do you want to spend your energy on the struggle to avoid emotions? Or would you prefer to spend the energy acknowledging the emotions, validating them, and then making a choice about how you would prefer to act in this moment. Do you want to act with anger, stomp into the meeting, or apologise profusely for being late (with a million excuses why it wasn’t your fault) while blushing furiously? Or do you want to act with compassion and kindness, find a towel, take a moment, and then enter the meeting and give it your full attention?
- Acceptance begins by noticing what emotions feel like in your body.
- Notice your thoughts.
- Notice how the emotions and thoughts might be related. Are your thoughts building the emotion? Are they struggling to avoid the emotion?
- Choose to allow the emotion. Let it be. Know that the emotions will change in time.
- Breathe and notice. Breathe and accept.
- Now make a choice about your action, because these internal experiences are only part of the picture.
This blog was written by Vida Psychologist Melissa Bourchier. If you would like to book an appointment with Melissa click here.