“The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain.”
Accept vs Resist.
Let’s start with Resistance to our experience.
As Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer explain in their book The Mindful Self Compassion Workbook (2018) “what we resist, persists.”
What does it mean to resist our experience? We run from our emotions. We don’t like our experience. We deny our experience. We avoid, numb and block out what we actually feel. For me, resistance can look like trying to “rationally” or “logically” explain my way out of a feeling. Oftentimes I find myself adding more things than I can count to my schedule and running on “go go go” mode so that I don’t have TIME to stop and feel. I find myself avoiding being alone because when I am alone that means I actually have to be with myself and my feelings. I get irritated, I’m on edge and I find myself getting frustrated with simply having emotion. It’s all resisting.
We resist because feeling is hard. It is incredibly hard. Pain, sadness, hurt, failure, and rejection are some of the most difficult experiences in human life. The emotions and feelings that accompany them can be excruciating.The actual PHYSICAL and somatic experiences that arise in the body are incredibly uncomfortable. I can tell you that with my most recent experience of feeling like I’ve been rejected I have been RUNNING for the hills for a solid three weeks. I think many people resist because they don’t think they can actually HANDLE the experience. I can’t tell you how many times that has been me.
If we resist it’s bound to grow.
Research actually shows that suppression of unwanted thoughts and feelings can lead to the rebound effect (Wenzlaff and Wegner, 2000). In Neff and Germer’s (2018) research they present the equation Suffering = Pain X Resistance. What this means is that if we try to avoid or run from our experience it usually gets worse. The reason being is that if we don’t take the time to see our experience and FEEL our experience clearly we can’t attend to it. As I mentioned in my previous post about processing and feeling emotion, emotions are signals. They are signaling to us that something is “up” and we need to attend to them but we can’t do that if we keep resisting.
So we have to accept it.
But acceptance gets a BAD reputation. Too many believe that if we accept something we become complacent and we simply roll over in defeat. To accept means we like it. To accept means we tolerate it. Many believe that acceptance is a passive act. One of my mentors in my LCSW program has described acceptance as follows:
“Acceptance means we acknowledge our experience exactly as it is and see it clearly in order to then say… Now what?”
I love this. There is NOTHING complacent or passive about it. But we cannot get to “Now What?” if we run from our experience. Acceptance is a very counterintuitive concept that has us LEAN IN to what we are feeling and face it head on. But how do we do this?
Through a lot of personal experience of failure and rejection I have had room to play with this concept. I am also drawing on several interventions such as ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy), DBT(Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and research in Mindfulness and Self Compassion.
For me it comes down to a process that takes repetition. I have had to do this every day for the last several weeks. It looks a little like this:
Step One: Notice resistance and acknowledge that I am RESISTING
What does resistance look like for me? How does this look and feel? This requires me to pay attention and drop the judgment that I MAY be resisting. In my most recent experience of rejection resistance has looked like irritation and stacking my schedule so that I don’t think or feel. I have to notice and acknowledge that without adding extra shame or guilt to my plate.
Step Two: Accept using Mindfulness and Self Talk.
When we are Mindful we have to be present. So this requires the ability to be in my present moment experience instead of ruminating or fortune telling. This takes some practice but generally if I can slow myself down and feel my physical body I open the gateway for my attention and focus to be in the present moment. I then have to use language and self talk to actively accept my experience. This is where various phrases can help:
“I notice I don’t like my experience but I will accept my experience”
“I know its uncomfortable but this is where I am at right now.”
“Right now, its like _____”
“Let it be, let it be”
“Can I open to this with kindness and accept my experience”
“Its OK to feel what I am feeling right now.. I accept this as it is.”
So this concept goes hand in hand with being able to get clear on our emotional experience and continue to process it. But there is a level of acknowledgement and acceptance that must occur and sometimes it is as simple as saying it out loud. You ultimately have to find the language and wording that works for you. This step is HARD. But more often than not when I do this and talk to myself with kindness my resistance and the grip I feel about being rejected or failing softens.
When we are talking specifically about failure and rejection I believe there is a critical and uncomfortable point where we have to plainly look at potentially HOW we failed or HOW we were rejected. We have to see the truth. But I also believe that there is a skillful and unskillful way in doing this. This is where Mindfulness can help. Mindfulness can help us create space from our thoughts and emotions so that they don’t feel so smothering. Mindfulness is what helps us accept, insert space and then pose the question “Now what?”
Step Three: Ask… Now What?
What’s the next best move here? More stillness? Self Care? Speak to someone? How can I attend to myself in a loving way (Self Compassion coming soon). Notice how I am not saying “Now what” and moving towards trying to make this a positive experience (also .. more to come here). I am asking “Now What” as an invitation to attend to the acknowledgement of my pain and suffering. How can I care for myself right here, right now? What is the BEST thing I can do to take care of myself?
This isn’t going to work for everyone but hopefully what you see is that acceptance is a process and a very important one if we are to navigate rejection and failure (or any emotion for that matter) . It is not a one and done. We don’t simply accept our experience and then get up and walk away and everything is fine. We have to consciously and intentionally choose to stick with it because resistance is so ingrained in our mind and our body’s.
If we do accept it, we can deal with what I like to call the “raw data” of our experience. If I accept that in this moment I am very sad and hurt I can deal with my sadness and pain. What I leave behind is the added judgment, irritation or frustration that arise BECAUSE of resistance to my experience. Resistance often shows up as a very restless and uncomfortable feeling for me. So if I move towards acceptance what I find is that this dissipates. Resistance is what keeps us in suffering and compounds our experience. It fogs our mind and our body and keeps us from being able to simply attend to our emotions.
Acceptance is hard and I believe that the more comfortable we get with it the easier it is to access in tough moments. Hopefully what this piece shows is that it is a very important piece to the puzzle when we are navigating rejection and failure.