How Accepting Emotions Can Improve Emotional Health

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It’s very hard to deal with painful, extreme, and sometimes even scary emotions. However, accepting your emotions can actually help improve your emotion regulation, lead to fewer mood swings, and improve emotional balance.

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and other psychiatric disorders that involve intense emotional experiences have trouble accepting emotions. They may engage in unhelpful behaviors to avoid experiencing those painful feelings.

This article discusses emotional acceptance and why it can be so difficult for some people. It also explores why accepting emotions is so important to mental well-being.

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What Is Emotional Acceptance?

Often when you have an uncomfortable feeling, such as sadness, fear, or shame, your first reaction is to reject that feeling. If it feels like a "bad" feeling, you might tell yourself that you don't want to experience it. As a result, you may then do something to get rid of the feeling. This might involve trying to push it away or using drugs or alcohol to feel better.

No one wants to walk around feeling emotional pain all the time, but when you reject your emotions, you may make things worse. Emotions serve various purposes, including providing helpful information about the world. This means that getting rid of or pushing away emotions is not the best idea.

An alternative to pushing away or stifling your emotions is learning to accept your emotional experiences. This is known as emotional acceptance.

What Emotional Acceptance Means?

Accepting means that you practice allowing your feelings to be what they are without judging them or trying to change them. It involves being aware of your emotions and accepting that these feelings exist without trying to suppress or push them away.

Certainly no one wants to walk around feeling emotional pain all the time, but when you reject your emotions, you may actually make things worse. Emotions serve a variety of purposes, including providing helpful information about the world. This means that getting rid of or pushing away emotions is not the best idea.

An alternative to pushing away or stifling your emotions is learning to accept your emotional experiences. Accepting means that you practice allowing your emotions to be what they are without judging them or trying to change them.

Recap

Acceptance means letting go of attempts to control your emotions and learning that emotions themselves cannot harm you, although the things you may do to try to get rid of emotions, such as misusing alcohol, can harm you.

Accepting Emotions Is Not Resigning Yourself to Pain

It is essential to make the distinction between acceptance and resignation. Accepting emotions does not mean that you resign yourself to constantly feeling terrible or wallowing in pain. It also doesn't mean that you hold on to painful emotions or try to push yourself to experience emotional distress.

Acceptance simply means being aware of your emotions and accepting them for what they are right now, knowing that they won't last.

As a metaphor for acceptance, imagine that you are a soldier who has fought a long battle with your emotions. Acceptance is the act of putting down your weapons and walking away from the fight. You are not resigning yourself to be beaten up by your feelings. Instead, you are simply letting go of the struggle.

In some ways, accepting emotions means also accepting that emotions will change. When you are happy, you have to accept that happiness is a short-term condition—you will not always be happy. This goes for every emotion, from fear to anxiety to sadness. Feelings are fleeting and usually go away within seconds, minutes, or hours.

Why Do People With BPD Have Trouble Accepting Emotions?

There are a few reasons why people with BPD, in particular, have trouble accepting emotions, although it is important to note that everyone has trouble accepting emotions sometimes.

People with BPD are often raised in emotionally invalidating environments. These are environments where feelings are not accepted. Sometimes people with BPD were punished for expressing feelings, or sometimes they were told that they were weak for having feelings. This can lead a person with BPD to have trouble accepting their own emotions in adult life.

People with BPD experience very intense emotions, making it harder to accept these feelings. People with BPD will often describe feeling that they are afraid their emotions will “overwhelm” or “destroy” them. As a result, many people with BPD feel very afraid of their emotions and are convinced they cannot tolerate their feelings.

Recap

Certain mental health conditions such as BPD can make emotional acceptance more difficult. When people experience emotional invalidation and intense emotions, they may be afraid of allowing themselves to experience these feelings.

Why Accepting Emotions Is Helpful

Why is accepting your emotions helpful? What is the point of trying to accept your emotions, and wouldn’t it be easier to simply get rid of them? Well, no, it isn’t easy to get rid of emotions.

In fact, many people have tried to get rid of their emotions with little success. What they have learned, and what research supports, is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to simply get rid of an emotion.

You have emotions for a reason, so you shouldn't want to get rid of them completely. Emotions are part of a complex system that helps you decide what you should stay away from and what you should approach. Emotions also help you maintain lasting relationships with other people.

Ignoring emotions leads to poor decision-making. Therefore, accepting emotions is helpful because you can learn important information when listening to what you are feeling.

How to Practice Accepting Emotions

Fortunately, you can learn to get better at accepting your emotions. This doesn't mean that this process is always easy. Difficult or intense emotions don't feel very good, so your instincts may tell you to avoid them.

With persistent practice, though, you can learn how to be more accepting of your emotions. Strategies that can help you become better at understanding and accepting your emotions include:

  • Mindfulness is a practice that focuses on becoming more aware of the present moment. A core component of mindfulness is learning to observe your thoughts and emotions completely and non-judgmentally.
  • Meditation can also be helpful for building awareness and acceptance of emotional experiences. Mindfulness meditation, or the practice of being aware of both your internal and external experiences, can be tremendously useful as you are learning how to accept your emotions. You can try a sitting meditation and mindful breathing exercises.
  • Psychotherapy can also be helpful if you have trouble accepting emotions. Talk to your doctor or consult a mental health professional for further advice and treatment. Some types of therapy that can be particularly helpful include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Recap

Self-help techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can build your abilities to accept emotions. If you are still struggling, psychotherapy can also be beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is emotional health?

    Emotional health refers to a person's ability to manage and understand both positive and negative emotions. It is a key aspect of overall mental health. Important aspects of emotional health include self-awareness and emotional coping skills. When people are emotionally healthy, they are more resilient and better able to handle life's stresses.

  • What are some examples of emotional avoidance?

    Emotional avoidance refers to behaviors designed to prevent or escape a difficult or uncomfortable emotion such as anger, guilt, shame, or fear. Examples of emotional avoidance include using alcohol or drugs, dissociating, avoiding certain situations or settings, or withdrawing from people.

  • Is there such a thing as toxic positivity?

    Toxic positivity suggests that people should deny or hide difficult emotions in order to maintain a positive outlook. Instead of acknowledging and accepting emotions, even the difficult ones, toxic positivity tries to simply deny negative experiences. It is a harmful outlook that can cause feelings of shame and guilt while preventing people from getting the support that they need.

A Word From Verywell

While you might feel tempted to simply avoid feeling negative emotions, doing so tends to make things worse in the long run. It can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms that can hurt your health and well-being.

When you learn how to accept emotions, you take away their power to hurt you. Building this skill can be challenging, but it can result in better emotional regulation over time. If you are struggling with emotional avoidance, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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