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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Part 7: Making Room for Difficult Emotions

by jussiecatwriter (follow)
Life Skills (422)      Acceptance (108)      Emotions (84)      Mindfulness (59)      Awareness (28)      Observation (4)      Negative Feelings (2)      Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (1)      Positive Feelings (1)      Misconceptions (1)     


a beachball
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), difficult or painful feelings are like a beachball - pushing them down only increases the urgeny with which they arise again. Image courtesy of smarnad at freedigitalphotos.net


Many people carry with them misconceptions about painful or negative emotions.

Some of them are : Negative emotions are
shameful
dangerous
illogical
a failing
they indicate psychological problems or that something in your life is wrong
they are unhealthy
should be hidden
they indicate a lack of control
they should be kept under wraps (or something bad might occur)
that women shouldn’t get angry
that men shouldn’t get scared

Common messages given to us when we were kids is that negative feelings could be
pushed down
if allowed to be expressed, they could be scary

The view of Acceptance Commitment Therapy is that emotions
manifest themselves as sensations continually changing and felt moving through your body
that no emotion is ‘good’ or bad
an emotion may be felt as ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’. %%However if we fuse with the thought that an emotion is ‘negative’ we ‘struggle’ with it and we make it worse.

With unpleasant emotions, you can use defusion techniques to less their impact: So instead of thinking “I hate this feeling” you modify this to “I’m having the thought that I hate this feeling”. Or instead of making the judgement “sadness is awful”, you can say to yourself
“I’m noticing the judgement that sadness is awful”. You will notice a psychological lessening of the impact of the negative emotion or judgement.
It is important to remember that the things that we do to avoid or get rid of painful feelings in the short-term decreases our quality of life in the long-term – for example alcohol in the short-term may lead you to behave in aggressive ways, leave a drain on your finances or set a bad example for your kids and give you a hangover!

An alternative effective method of dealing with negative painful feelings is known as Expansion. or MaMany people carry with them misconceptions** about painful or negative emotions.
Some of them are : Negative emotions are
shameful
dangerous
illogical
a failing
they indicate psychological problems or that something in your life is wrong
they are unhealthy
should be hidden
they indicate a lack of control
they should be kept under wraps (or something bad might occur)
that women shouldn’t get angry
that men shouldn’t get scared
Common messages given to us when we were kids is that negative feelings could be
pushed down
if allowed to be expressed, they could be scary
The view of Acceptance Commitment Therapy is that emotions
manifest themselves as sensations continually changing and felt moving through your body
that no emotion is ‘good’ or bad
an emotion may be felt as ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’. %%However if we fuse with the thought that an emotion is ‘negative’ we ‘struggle’ with it and we make it worse.
With unpleasant emotions, you can use defusion techniques to less their impact: So instead of thinking “I hate this feeling” you modify this to “I’m having the thought that I hate this feeling”. Or instead of making the judgement “sadness is awful”, you can say to yourself
“I’m noticing the judgement that sadness is awful”. You will notice a psychological lessening of the impact of the negative emotion or judgement.
It is important to remember that the things that we do to avoid or get rid of painful feelings in the short-term decreases our quality of life in the long-term – for example alcohol in the short-term may lead you to behave in aggressive ways, leave a drain on your finances or set a bad example for your kids and give you a hangover!

An alternative effective method of dealing with negative painful feelings is known as Expansion.

%%Recall that the “Thinking self” involves your thoughts, images and memories, and the “Observing Self” involves awareness, attention and focus.
Here is a useful exercise to prime yourself to get ready to use “Expansion” to deal with unpleasant feelings and thoughts. Use your “observing self” to pay attention to what is happening in your body and notice your thoughts pass by like cars going passed in the street down below.
Ask yourself
How deep is your breathing
How does your mouth feel? Warm, dry?
What is the position of your arms? Your legs?
How much tension is there in your neck and shoulders?
Do you feel hot or cold anywhere?
Is your spine straight?
Can you see that noticing your body is different to thinking about it? Your thinking self provides the commentary, whereas the observing self just notices the sensations. (Page 96 “The Happiness Trap Pocketbook “ by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett). Notice that when you are aware of the sensations in your body, your mind begins to still and for moments, even becomes silent!

”In Expansion, we sidestep our thoughts and connect with our emotions through the Observing Self. In doing so, we experience emotions as they are rather than as the Thinking self says they are. That is we notice rather than think.” Page 96 “The Happiness Trap Pocketbook” by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett. The best way of explaining Expansion is as Harris does page 97 “The Happiness Trap Pocketbook”: In expansion you let your thoughts come and go in the background and keep your attention on the sensations in your body.:%%

Here is another exercise : try imagining your thoughts as passing cars. Just as you don’t look at every car on the street outside you don’t have to ‘check out’ every thought that passes through your head.

It helps to recall that emotions come from physical changes in the body - therefore focus on their physical sensations

In Summary, here is how to practice expansion with painful emotions.
STEP 1:
Scan your body for uncomfortable feelings
Ask yourself
Are they moving or stationary. Where do they start and end?
Find the sensation that bothers you the most, and observe it from a distance, that is, with openness and curiousity.
How deep are they?
Where are they most intense? Least intense?
STEP 2:
Take slow deep breathes into and around the sensations and “make room for them”: It’s like you are making room around your feelings.
STEP 3:
Acknowledge and allow the thoughts and sensations to be there, even if you don’t like them.
By dropping the struggle with unwanted sensations, thoughts and feelings and making room for them, you can use your energy instead for becoming involved in activities that move your life forward toward a rich, full and meaningful life.






# Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
# Acceptance
# Awareness
# Mindfulness
# Observation
# Emotions
# Positive Feelings
# Negative Feelings
# Misconceptions
# Life Skills
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