Another way you might start to see your emotions differently is to recognise that
your emotions are not permanent. Instead you might start to consider your
emotions as changing experiences that are always fluctuating but eventually pass.
When we feel distressed it can seem like the distress is going to go on and on
forever, just getting worse and worse, until we emotionally combust. But we know
this isn’t how emotions work. Instead emotions act more like a wave, at times
increasing and becoming more intense, but inevitably always reaching some plateau,
subsiding and finally passing. Some times the emotion may rear up again, setting off
another wave or smaller ripple. But the key is that emotions move and change, they are
not permanent. This is particularly so when you don’t fight against and try to block the
emotion. Sometimes just being able to remind yourself that emotions pass like a wave,
may allow you to better tolerate whatever upsetting feelings you are experiencing.
What Is Acceptance?
First, let’s consider what the effect is of urgently needing to get rid of your distress? If you were following
Module 1 closely, you may now be realising that it just ends up making your distress worse. The alternative
to urgently trying to rid yourself of your distress, may well be adopting an attitude of willingly accepting the
distress. A radical concept we know given the likely long history you have with pushing your distress away.
If you are still a little concerned about this notion of accepting distress, another question to ask yourself is
whether pushing your distress away has worked for you so far? It is likely that you are saying “of course it
hasn’t worked or I wouldn’t be reading this module!” So it might be time to try something quite
Accepting distress is not about having to like emotional discomfort, or being resigned to feeling miserable,
or wallowing in negative emotions. Instead, accepting distress is about seeing the negative emotion for
what it is, and changing how you pay attention to the emotion. Reacting in an accepting way towards your
emotion, often changes the effect the emotion has on you.
This approach is often referred to as learning to watch your emotions “mindfully”. Mindfulness is state of
being where you are in the present moment, watching whatever you happen to be experiencing at that
time, with an attitude of curiosity, and without judging or trying to change your experience. In this way our
emotions are not some tumultuous chaotic vortex we are sucked into and from which we react
impulsively. Instead we become the watcher of our emotions, noticing what is happening to us like a third
person, observing and watching our distress with a sense of distance or detachment. As such we don’t
have to engage with, react to or stop our emotions. Instead we take the stance of just allowing, observing
and making space for the emotion until it passes.
How To Accept Distress
There is no right or wrong when it comes to practicing accepting emotional distress, but below are some
steps or guidelines that might help with the process. We stress that this is just a guide, and at the end of
the day being able to watch and accept your emotions is something you will need to experience via trial
and error practice, rather than something you can read about.
Watch or Observe
Foremost is adopting the stance of watching or observing your emotions, paying attention
like a third person to whatever you are feeling in the present moment. Observing as the
intensity might increase, hold its course, decrease or shift and evolve into a different
feeling. Regardless of what the emotion is doing, you are not your emotions, you are the
watcher of your emotions (Tolle, 2010).
• Psychotherapy • Research • Training
Module 2: Accepting Distress