For those of us who have spent a lifetime rejecting our inner experiences, it’s not easy to change. When we form long-term habits of doing that, it can seem like a Sisyphean task to change and start practicing healthier responses.
But experts in the field have found effective ways to accomplish this. Countless people have done it, and with practice, there’s no reason you can’t break the cycle of self-rejection.
Psychology researcher Dr. Michael Twohig teaches that the place to start is to simply agree to be willing to try another way. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy cofounder Dr. Steven Hayes teaches that the next step, once the willingness is established, is to identify ways in which your old responses are attempts to reduce suffering by avoiding certain internal experiences.
The third step, according to researcher Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz, is to identify ways in which these entrenched and automatic responses have the paradoxical effect of increasing suffering. Once we understand this process, says Dr. Hayes, we have good motivation to practice acceptance.
Following are some acceptance practices.
- Set an intention to consciously practice acceptance in your daily life—acceptance of your thoughts, your emotional state, your physical condition, and any other elements of your life you may be tempted to reject.
- When you’re feeling anxious or becoming aware of self-deprecating thoughts, put your hand over your heart area, accept the fact that these thoughts and feelings are occurring, and extend compassion to yourself.
- A method that works well for some people is to start a journal of negative self-talk. The healing value is in the writing; it’s not important to ever read the journal.
- Apologize to yourself. We commonly apologize to others for any negative, judgmental criticisms we may express; doing so helps maintain good relationships. Apologizing to ourselves makes for a healthy, nurturing relationship with ourselves.
- Make an agreement with yourself to be more accepting, appreciative, and understanding of yourself.
- Change your relationship to unpleasant thoughts and feelings by learning to see them as clouds floating across the sky—completely harmless. This can only be learned through a dedicated mindfulness practice, which takes time, so until you develop that skill it’s important to practice self-compassion by noting your experience. For example, you might say to yourself, “I’m really suffering right now as a result of that thought and this feeling.”
- Build your mindfulness skills. Practice mindful awareness of thoughts, beliefs, images, feelings, emotions, and sensations, including all sensory experiences regardless of whether they are based in the present environment—internal or external—or in a memory of a past sensory experience.
- Practice mindful awareness of the attributions or interpretations you put on what you’re thinking and feeling.
- Self-acceptance is best developed by being in relationships with individuals who are accepting and respectful of others. This applies to romantic relationships as well as work and play relationships. Make sure your relationships are healthy and supportive.
Vidyamala Burch, author of Living Well with Pain and Illness, who teaches mindfulness practices for those living with chronic pain, suggests “using the breath to ride these waves of change. Living with life’s continual changes instead of fighting against them creates strength and stability. And all the time the practice is held by the kindly breath, soothing and caressing all of your experience.” Her approach of gently living in harmony with natural processes builds acceptance.
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