Emotional Acceptance

Emotional Acceptance

In a previous post, I discussed the integrative communication between the subcortical regions of the brain (associated with emotional responses such as fear and pleasure) and the prefrontal cortex (and its ability to regulate that response). I briefly went on to discuss the means to jump start this internal neuronal dialogue by implementing mindfulness skills. This article (linked above) demonstrates the impact emotional acceptance has on self-control. Going even further, the article suggests that the ability to accept emotions played a larger role than the more cognitive process of mindful awareness (in a study of self-control comparing meditators and non-meditators). While this research is exciting and the emotional acceptance of meditators undoubtedly harnessed the power of the middle prefrontal cortex, I can’t help but wonder…is it possible to engage in acceptance of emotions without mindful awareness? Without the ability to first observe and describe our emotions how can we accept them? I would suggest that we must first identify with awareness before we can accept what we have experienced. This requires a “teflon mind.” We must take note of our experience, blocking nothing and at the same time clinging to nothing. Let it in and let it go. For example, saying to yourself, “I am noticing sadness enveloping me.” Simply by labeling an emotion, we can validate and accept our experience. There are times when this may not be enough. We let an emotion go and continue to experience the rise and fall like waves in the ocean. By turning our mind back to acceptance with each new wave of emotion we allow ourselves the ability to tolerate it and ride the wave. When our experiences are too intense, our mindful awareness and acceptance also allows us to implement effective strategies to change the emotion. As we learn in DBT, acceptance and change are fundamental dialectics: two seemingly opposing ideas that exist at the same time and are both necessary to walk a balanced middle path. Without mindfulness of our internal experience we would not be able to accept our emotions and make the change necessary to control our urges.

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