Rumi was a smart poet from 13 century who was quite aware what is important to preserve the mental health. So he compared: ”a joy, a depression, meanness” to “unexpected visitors.” He also advises people to accept these emotions with laughter but people often choose to hide them and pretend they don’t exist. They want to look nice and polite, hiding the anger and sadness somewhere deep inside.
In this modern society where everyone prefers positivity, the pressure of hiding all the negative emotions is sometimes unbearable.
The truth is that by accepting your negative emotions you will find peace. You can try with the help of ancient Eastern philosophers or with some popular treatments like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy. Whatever you choose you must be aware that by accepting your darkest emotions you will protect yourself from anxiety and depression.
There are a very few studies on why acceptance is so important for mental health. Brett Ford, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto says: “acceptance involves not trying to change how we are feeling, but staying in touch with your feelings and taking them for what they are.” She wanted to know how by accepting the darkest feelings we actually keep our mind healthy.
So when she was PhD student at University of California, Berkeley she made a research together with three other colleagues. It was a three-part study which was later published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The results showed that the acceptance is important especially when we face some stressful situations. The team also showed that this mechanism is linked with positive psychological health and happiness. To clarify better, by accepting rage or anxiety, you won’t feel worse and it won’t intensify your experience.
Ford explains: “You always interpret null effects very cautiously,” and she adds: “but to us, it appears that acceptance uniquely affects negative emotions, and isn’t interfering with positive emotions.”
Furthermore, acceptance improves your mental health when it is linked with negative emotions not with positive ones.
The good news is that acceptance is effective in all people. The studies proved that it is the same with all socioeconomic and racial groups. The studies also showed to be effective in people who deal with serious problems as well as in people who face some minor inconveniences.
Ford says: “You need to pay attention to your internal experience,” and “but acceptance, non-judging acceptance, seems to be the key ingredient to mindfulness.”
Three tests of acceptance
In the first study, there were 1,000 answered questionnaires on emotional and psychological health which were sent to undergraduate students at University of California, Berkeley. Researchers analyzed the answers and they concluded that negative emotions not only reduce the negative feelings but they also improve the mental well-being.
To conclude –by accepting your negative emotions you will feel much better.
In the second study, the psychologists exposed 156 volunteers from the San Francisco Bay to standardized universal stressor. They were told that they will speak before public. Ford says: “We had people show up and we told them, ‘By the way, you’re going to give a three-minute speech pretending you’re at a job interview and you have to talk about your verbal and written communication skills,’” It was proven that those participants who were dealing better with their negative emotions, were less stressed than others. The researchers also tested robustness of the accepting method on the participants who had some really bad experience like losing their job or someone close several months before the study.
For the third study, the psychologists asked 222 people from Denver to keep a diary and write down their negative and stressful experiences every day for two weeks. These participants were of different ethnicity and socioeconomic status. They were tested before writing the diary and six months after. Participants who accepted their negative emotions whether they were caused by something quite serious or by some minor incidents had better results than the participants who didn’t.
Resist the need to struggle for happiness
Buddhist teachers explain that “acceptance” doesn’t mean that a person is willingly accepting negative, stressful situations, especially those which cannot be controlled. Accepting is something more complex and depends from many factors. For example, we need to accept death, but we don’t need to accept some unfair treatment from an employer which can worsen our mental health.
We all have negative emotions; they are normal and every person feels bad from time to time. A psychology professor at Denmark’s Aalborg University told Quartz’s philosophy reporter Olivia Goldhill: “Life is wonderful from time to time, but it’s also tragic,” and also added: “People die in our lives, we lose them, if we have only been accustomed to being allowed to have positive thoughts, then these realities can strike us even more intensely when they happen—and they will happen.”
Ford claims that people are under great pressure to feel and think positively which is quite stressful so they cannot feel comfortable completely.
Ford also believes that her studies can help further researches on this thesis. She also says: “When something happens and you try to reframe it like, ‘Oh it’s not of such a big deal,’ or ‘I’m going to learn and grow from that that,’ it doesn’t necessarily work,”
Acceptance is quite mysterious as it is not explained yet why some people are able to accept their negative emotions despite the pressure of being positive. It is also unclear whether people can stop accepting their feelings or whether people who hide their darker emotions are able to change without the help of a zen teacher or therapist.
Ford says: “My hunch is that it’d be a challenge,” and she adds: “Some companies want their customers and employees to be delighted all the time. That’s unreasonable, and when we’re faced with unreasonable expectations, it’s natural for us to start applying judgment to the negative mental experiences that we have.”
Acceptance is a skill that can be developed just like any other cognitive habits. Ford also explains that older people accept their negative emotions better than the young ones. This is probably because of life experience so eventually we will all learn how when we get there.