COPING REQUIRES ACCEPTANCE OF EMOTIONS – PART I
One of the hardest things to do is to stop trying to control unwanted and unpleasant thoughts and emotions. But you must or they will torment you. Let those negative feelings go, and accept them as a natural part of being human. They are just thoughts, just emotions. You don’t have to control them, be influenced by them, or get overly attached to them. They are not perfect reflections of reality so why be so obsessed by them. Letting them go will make you less likely to avoid situations that bring you anxiety, fear, and possibly depression.
Gene was sexually abused as a child. Because of this history he cannot comfortably enter into intimate relationships as an adult. He always avoids such relationships. His self-defeating thoughts and anxieties about the past force him to withdraw from life.
Gene needs to let go of his past and stop denying it by trying to control his thoughts and anxieties. He needs to accept the reality of his past and live in the reality of the present. He needs to integrate his values with new actions, goals, and life purposes.
We are all vulnerable to becoming our own worst enemy. We punish ourselves with critical self-evaluations, and we flood ourselves with negative thoughts that increase anxiety, depression, and self-defeating actions. To some extent we must recognize that some level of human suffering is inevitable. When we don’t accept this basic fact, there is an increased risk of dysfunctional consequences.
Of course, we all want to avoid fires, car accidents, and life threatening diseases. However, millions of people won’t get on an airplane, will not go out in public, and will not socialize without alcohol or a prescription medication. These types of avoidance actions are caused by an inability to handle negative thoughts and the emotions that accompany them. Is that the life you want?
Our national health system and the media tell us we need to be strong, happy, rich, and vivacious. Health reports on the nightly news, popular shows, and advertisements on television and in magazines constantly tell us we are not living up to ideal standards. As a result, many of us begin to ask, “What is wrong we me? Why am I not as happy as I should be…more successful…more attractive…?” Can you understand how someone may conclude, “I am a [depressed/unhappy/anxious – choose one!] person”?
How do we get to this point? For one thing we ignore the real reasons for our emotional states, and try to explain our problems as caused by the emotions themselves. We conclude that our thoughts and emotions are the reasons for our dilemmas. “The reason I am coping poorly is because I am [depressed/anxious/angry/afraid/addicted – again, choose one!].
Do you believe your thoughts and feelings are the causes of your problems? Do you see states like depression and anxiety as both your problem and the cause of your problem? Do you see negative emotions as the reason you can’t love, work or play effectively? If so, it’s time to get past focusing on the emotions and focus on the fact that you are troubled because of actions you take like social withdrawal, avoidance of responsibility, conflict with another, an unsatisfying relationship, or putting yourself in situations that cause you to avoid. You are troubled because of the actions you choose to perform, not because of your emotions.
When you believe your emotions and thoughts are the cause of your problems, you will attempt to manage, control, and avoid them. This approach will not work because when you try to control such thoughts and feelings, they actually become more frequent and troublesome. Thought suppression rarely works, and results in frustration, agitation, and demeaning self-talk.
We all must accept our thoughts and feelings for what they are — only thoughts and feelings. When we become negatively affected and bothered by them we treat them as who we are. “I’m too much of an anxious person to deal with this!’ Well, if that’s your perception of yourself, you’re screwed.