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Acceptance of Emotions Meditation

 Coping Meditation 5-10 min Client

Many clients employ control-based strategies to deal with emotions. Control-based strategies, like suppression, aim to decrease the frequency and intensity of unwanted emotions. However, deliberate suppression of emotions is conceptualized as experiential avoidance (Hayes et al., 1999), and it has been found to contribute to a great diversity of negative outcomes (see Hayes, Wilson, Gifford, Follette, & Strosahl, 1996, for a review).

A different way of dealing with emotions is through acceptance. In contrast, to control-based strategies, the individual accepts and experiences the emotion fully, without attempting to alter, avoid, or control it (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999).

Acceptance involves a non-judgmental attitude toward emotions and requires a willingness to stay in contact with the uncomfortable, often negative feelings that accompany them. By intentionally focusing on the experience of the emotion in a non-judgmental way, the “observing self” is strengthened. This allows one to detach from the emotion, thereby decreasing the chance that behavior will be guided by emotion. In other words, mindful awareness prevents individuals from getting immersed in or identifying with the experience of the emotion, enabling a more flexible response (Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, & Freedman, 2006).

Goal

The goal of acceptance of emotions is not to get rid of the emotion. The idea behind acceptance is that over time, the relationship with the emotion can change. Through the repeated practice of this technique, a person may cultivate a different relationship with difficult emotions. Instead of perceiving them as unwanted, which will trigger attempts to avoid or suppress the emotion, one can accept them as an inevitable but transient part of the human experience. Consequently, clients can realize those negative emotions are not that threatening and that they will fade away naturally when they allow them to be.

At a deeper level, acceptance of emotions can also enhance self-knowledge. By denying or avoiding our experiences, we also prevent ourselves from extracting useful information from our experiences. Fear, for instance, can provide insight into our values. After all, when we do not care, we often do not experience fear. In some cases, fear can make us aware of things that we find important in life. By suppressing fear, we also prevent ourselves from learning from it.

Advice

  • Rather than giving clients instructions to apply acceptance at home, it is very important to practice it with a practitioner first. In this way, the practitioner can help the client address questions and accept difficult experiences that emerge as a result of the practice. In addition, after clients have a taste of what acceptance means and how it feels, it is easier for them to practice and explore the concept more deeply on their
  • If, at any point, your client realizes that the meditation is too much, inform him/her that he/she has the option to open his/her eyes at any time and
  • When practicing meditation for the first time, some clients may find it difficult or impossible to experience emotions while visualizing.  Even if a client is not able to elicit emotion, doing the meditation together can still be valuable; doing rather than talking about acceptance makes it more concrete and understandable.
  • As stated before, the goal of acceptance of emotions is not to get rid of the For many clients, this sounds very confusing. After all, what is the purpose of emotion regulation if the goal to feel better is not achieved? As a practitioner, it is important to address the paradoxical nature of avoidance and control. There are several ways to do this.
    • It is possible to let clients experience control. You can ask clients to do The Consequences of Experiential Avoidance exercise and/or Don’t Think About Your Thoughts exercise presented in this
    • Many problems that clients experience may stem from their tendency to control emotions and avoid difficulties. You can ask clients to continue controlling and avoiding their experiences as they used to do and report their observations during the next session. Although this option is quite extreme, it can generate the willingness to give up control and be open to new
    • Metaphors can help explain that the goal of acceptance is not to get rid of emotions but to cultivate a different relationship with them (see, for instance, The Unwanted Guest metaphor presented in this toolkit).
  • In some cases, after clients have successfully learned to accept these difficult emotions, they start to notice that by allowing emotions to be present, the painful emotions fade away relatively As this happens, a new challenge is introduced. Some clients may start to apply acceptance to get rid of emotions. In this case, acceptance is not true acceptance anymore, as true acceptance means allowing every experience to be present, even if one does not start to feel better. By introducing a goal to acceptance (i.e., feeling better), the focus is not on the present moment anymore; therefore, the acceptance becomes “conditional” acceptance; “I will allow these emotions to be present, but they must go away.” This process is the same as that for avoidance, where one is not truly willing to experience reality as it unfolds. It is important to explain this to clients.
  • Note that learning to apply acceptance can be a very challenging task for many clients, especially when control-based strategies and avoidance are the default way of coping with difficult The reason why many people use control strategies is that in the short term, they work. For example, if I try to suppress my emotions, the immediate consequence is that I don’t feel them. However, after a while, the suppressed emotion is likely to backfire (see, for example, Alberts et al., 2011), and, over time, a negative relationship is cultivated by difficult experiences. To train acceptance-based coping, time and patience are required. For clients who are finding this approach extremely difficult, they may wish to break the process down into smaller steps. For instance, start by allowing emotions to be present for a moment and switch back to the default strategy again. Over time, clients may extend the amount of time they allow emotions to be present.

Acceptance of Emotions Meditation

Instructions

The pre-meditation instructions can be used for practicing purposes. For instance, when introducing acceptance to a client. Clients who wish to use the meditation when they encounter difficult emotions in real-time may skip steps 2, 3, and 4and end with step 12.

Pre-meditation:

Try to think of something that is bothering you. It may be a scenario that worries you. It can be a scenario that has happened in the past or something that may happen in the future. Try to think of a scenario that elicits an emotional reaction. In this meditation, you will imagine yourself in your chosen scenario.

If, at any point, you feel that the meditation is too much, you have the option to open your eyes and/or wiggle your fingers and toes, which will help reground you in the present. You can also try bringing the focus of your attention back to your breath. If this does not help and you do not wish to continue the meditation, then respect yourself by stopping. You may always choose to do this exercise again later and improve your emotional acceptance through smaller steps.

The meditation:

  1. Begin by closing your eyes, if that feels comfortable for If you choose to leave your eyes open, then focus your attention on your feet and let your gaze softly rest and remain there for the duration of the meditation.
  2. Start to notice your breath, each inhale and after at least five breaths, notice where your body is making contact: feet touching the floor, back on the ground, sit bones on a chair, etc.
  3. Now, bring the challenging scenario you’ve chosen to the forefront of your mind. Imagine yourself as vividly as possible in the scenario; what happened or may happen?
  4. As a result of this scenario that you have recalled, you may notice that certain emotions [You can ask your client to raise his/her hand if he/she experiences an emotion. If not, you may give your client more time or continue anyway.]
  5. What emotions are you experiencing? What thoughts are going through your mind?
  6. Now focus on your body. Often, emotions are represented in our bodies. What feelings arise in your body? Observe what you feel in your body. Maybe you feel tension or other sensations. Perhaps you experience tightness in your stomach around your heart or whatever your experience, try to stay with the sensations and be gentle on yourself.
  7. Use your breath as a vehicle to stay with those sensations and be gentle on yourself. Direct your awareness to the part of the body where those sensations are the ‘Breathe into’ that part of the body on the in-breath.
  1. Rather than pushing this experience away, try to let it be. In silence, you can say to the feeling: “it is ok; you are allowed to be ” “Whatever it is, it’s ok. Let me feel it”. See what happens if you allow yourself to experience whatever you experience at this moment. Just stay with the awareness of these bodily sensations and your relationship to them, breathing with them, accepting them, letting them be. You can repeat, “It’s ok. Whatever it is, it’s ok”.
  2. Perhaps you notice that the feeling gets more Maybe it will stay the same or diminish. It may also move into your body. Whatever happens, it is ok. Allow it to be. Observe what happens. Remember to stay with the experience with curiosity and kindness. You are experiencing sensations without reacting.
  3. Often, thoughts can distract us from the present moment Maybe you have thoughts about the scenario or this exercise. That’s ok. Notice when your attention is focused on thoughts, and then kindly direct your attention back to your experience in the present moment.
  4. Continue to discover what happens within your body and mind without tightening or resisting it. Try holding both the sensations in your body and the sense of your breath together, being aware of breathing with the When you notice that your bodily sensations are no longer pulling for your attention, return 100% to your breath and continue with that as your primary object of attention.
  5. If, in the next few minutes, no powerful sensations in your body arise, try this exercise with any bodily sensations that you
  6. Now, slowly let your chosen scenario leave the focus of your attention. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Slowly open your eyes and return your attention to the present