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Leaning Into the Negative: The Surprising Benefits of Embracing Difficult Emotions

By Niku Sedarat

 

In life, it is only human to encounter those days when a wave of negative emotions crashes over us. It's almost second nature to try and push these feelings aside. Besides, who willingly embraces stress, anger, overwhelm, or anxiety?


Yet, intriguingly, research suggests that our instinct to shun these emotions may be counterproductive. The wisdom of Carl Jung, the renowned psychologist, echoes this idea: "What you resist not only persists but will grow in size." This concept aligns with the ironic process theory, which reveals that deliberately suppressing a thought or emotion tends to make it resurface with even greater force.


It's evident that our negative emotions won't simply fade away if we ignore them. So, what's the alternative?


Despite the inherently undesirable nature of these emotions, acknowledging and embracing them with an attitude free of judgment and full of acceptance can be surprisingly beneficial. In doing so, mindfulness provides a powerful avenue to sit with these emotions, allowing them to exist without resistance. Though this may seem lackluster, meta-analyses have indicated that acceptance significantly reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety (Cavanagh et al., 2014).


Engaging in meditative practices can also facilitate this acceptance. For example, Tara Brach's R.A.I.N. meditation acronym has proven to be an effective tool in cultivating acceptance of negative emotions. Here's how it works: 


When you are feeling a negative emotion walk yourself through this acronym...


R: Recognize what is happening. Identify and name the specific emotions you're experiencing.

A: Allow the feeling to exist as it is. You don't need to embrace it; simply let it be.

I: Investigate the emotion. What does it feel like? What impulses does it trigger? Instead of acting on these impulses, grant your mind the freedom to explore the nuances of your emotions.

N: Nurture yourself. Practicing self-compassion becomes essential at this stage.


Adopting acceptance strategies, like R.A.I.N., can arm us with proven and effective strategies, enabling us to accept our negative emotions with more ease and self-compassion. It's crucial to remember that accepting what doesn't feel good is no easy feat. However, it is indispensable in preventing these emotions from persisting. With these strategies in mind, remember that no negative feeling is permanent.


If you or a loved one is in need of support, do not hesitate to reference Unité's resources: https://www.uniteyouthmentalhealth.com/resources!













 

Sources:


Cavanagh K, Strauss C, Forder L, Jones F. Can mindfulness and acceptance be learnt by self-help?: a systematic review and meta-analysis of mindfulness and acceptance-based self-help interventions. Clin Psychol Rev. 2014 Mar;34(2):118-29. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2014.01.001. Epub 2014 Jan 10. PMID: 24487343.


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