We often try to control our thoughts and feelings, by engaging in behaviours that alleviate any discomfort in the short term, however, in the long term are not so helpful. The truth is that we cannot control our thoughts and feelings.

We can, however, lessen the unpleasant impact of them upon our behaviour by accepting they exist. By acceptance, I mean allowing them to be there and making room for them, rather than suppressing them or pushing them away. When you are accepting, you don’t have to like or want these unpleasant thoughts and feelings, however, you can be at peace with them and let them be.

By allowing your unpleasant thoughts and feelings to be there, you can put your energy and attention into positive actions that can improve your situation and life.

Below are some skills and exercises that can help you to accept what you are experiencing, without getting caught up in the struggle. You may find that the thoughts and feelings move on quicker and don’t bother you as much.

Expansion

Expansion allows you to accept difficult feelings. With expansion, we are connecting with our emotions through observing them, while letting our thoughts fade into the background. Follow these steps below to practice accepting difficult feelings:

  • Observe your body from head to toe, and find the feeling that bothers you the most. Now like a scientist observe it with curiosity – for example, where does it start and stop? Does it have a colour? Is it hot old cold, moving or still. Is it light or heavy?
  • Take a few slow deeps breaths and imagine breathing in and around the feeling.
  • Create space around the feeling/sensation to give it space to move, opening up and around it
  • Allow the feeling to be there, willingly feel it, observing any judgments from your mind and allow them to come and go, like clouds in a sky or passing cars (see below on strategies to help you let go of thoughts). Then bring yourself back to observing the feeling. If you feel an urge to push it away or fight it, simply acknowledge it.

You may also like to say to yourself something like, “This feeling is unpleasant but I can accept it”, “I’m having the feeling of…”, “I don’t like, want, or approve of it, however, right now I accept it”. This can help to guide you with acceptance.

Defusion

Defusion strategies allow you to accept and unhook from difficult thoughts. By doing this you can see them for what they are, allowing them to be there without fighting them. Once you have noticed an unpleasant thought, some ways of defusing and letting go are:

  • Thanking you mind (say ‘thanks mind!’ and bring yourself back to the present moment)
  • Observe your thought by saying “I notice I am having the thought that…”
  • Label your thoughts (e.g., useful, not useful, judgement, fear, worrying). You can also do this with your feelings (e.g., here is a feeling of guilt)

It may take some time to give up the struggle with difficult thoughts and feelings, so be patient. Remember, the aim is not to get rid of or change the thoughts and feelings, but rather accepting they are there. This reduces the struggle, making them less threatening and having less influence over you. And like everything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

If you would like to learn more about these strategies and how acceptance of difficult thoughts and feelings could assist you to flourish and thrive, please contact us on 6381 0071.

Krystle Pavalache

Krystle Pavalache is Clinical Psychologist (registrar) at Prosper Health Collective. She works with children, adolescents, families, and adults, and has a particular passion for helping those experiencing anxiety, depression, anger, trauma, attachment issues, and emotion regulation and behavioural difficulties. She draws from evidence-based practices such as cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness and attachment-based therapies.
Krystle Pavalache