Drop the Struggle and Embrace Your Emotions

Society tries to convince us that we can control our internal experiences. We constantly hear messages like Dont worry about it. Relax. Calm down.
Thats dead wrong. Just hearing the words Dont worry can make us anxious.
Telling yourself Dont worry isnt much different. The more often we think, Dont feel anxious you cant feel anxious dont be depressed dont be sad you shouldnt be upset the more anxious, depressed, sad and upset well become.
Lets take a metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, developed by Hayes and Masuda, as an example of how this process works. Imagine that youre hooked up to a very sensitive polygraph machine. This polygraph machine can pick up the slightest physiological changes that occur in your body, including any changes in heartbeat, pulse, muscle tension, sweat, or any type of minor arousal.
Now suppose I say, Whatever you do, dont get anxious while youre hooked up to this highly sensitive device!
What do you imagine might happen?
You guessed it. Youd start getting anxious.
Now suppose I pull out a gun and say, No, seriously, whatever you do as long as you are hooked up to this polygraph machine you cannot get anxious! Otherwise, I shoot!
Youd get extremely anxious.
Now imagine I say, Give me your phone or Ill shoot.
Youd give me your phone.
Or if I say Give me a dollar or Ill shoot.
Youd give me a dollar.
Although society tries to sell us the idea that we can control our internal experiences the same way we do objects in the external world, the truth is that we actually cant. We cant control our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, the way we can control objects in the world. In fact, the more we try to control or change our internal experiences the more out of control we feel. The more we try to get rid of distressing thoughts and feelings the stronger they become.
This is what many of us do to ourselves when we experience uncomfortable feelings. Our minds, like the polygraph machine, pick up sensations in our bodies. Then we pull out the gun against ourselves and tell ourselves not to have certain emotions. We start struggling with trying to control and eliminate certain thoughts and feelings. The more we try get rid of our experience the more they intensify.
What if we dropped the gun and were kind to ourselves instead? Thoughts and feelings shift and change like the weather. They are temporary. They intensify when we bully ourselves, and fade away with acceptance and self-compassion.
Painful feelings such as loneliness, fear, sadness, deprivation, rejection, and disappointment are an unavoidable part of life. They are just a part of being a human being. Although we dont have control over having painful emotions that are a part of being alive, we always have control over our actions. We can always choose to respond in ways that are consistent with our values, regardless of how we feel.
We may sometimes think that our emotions force us to act a certain way. We think our emotions are in charge. Theyre not. We are. We are never ever truly trapped into actions we dont want. We can always choose to respond to our emotions in ways that leave us free.
So, how can we drop the gun and embrace all our internal experiences?

Notice when youre pulling out a gun on yourself judging or struggling with your internal experience.
Drop the struggle. Instead, give the emotion a neutral label. Say to yourself I feel scared or I feel hurt.
Notice the sensations in your body that comes with that emotion. Stay present with the sensations. Notice the size, shape, color, and texture of the sensation.
Drop the story in your head about why youre feeling this way. Focus on sensations and feelings rather than ideas.
Open up to the emotional experience. Practicing self-compassion and loving kindness helps us soften up to our emotional experience without pushing it away. Put your hand on your heart and speak to yourself as you would to someone you love. You might say, This is really difficult or It makes sense that I feel sad now.
Remember we are all in this together. Think of all the people right now in this world who are feeling helpless, lonely, deprived, or rejected. You are not alone. Being human comes with pain.

Those steps are the essence of self-compassionate care. Self-compassion is embracing your humanness.
Choose self-compassion and you will be free to act in line with your values.
For now, please take this message to heart. Much of the time, youre the one with the gun. Dont pull out the gun and you will be free.