Many Eastern traditions and practices provide the opportunity to cultivate this mindset, including yoga, meditation and mindfulness practice.
If you explore these practices and the positive research into their impact you will find they all provide wonderful benefits to mental health.
However, it may also be our attitude towards thoughts and feelings that determine the degree of emotional freedom we experience in our life.
The notion of freedom, from an emotional perspective, can be explained in terms of how much acceptance or struggle we have with our mental internal experience, our thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) describes acceptance and struggle concisely. ACT is a mindfulness-based model developed from research in behavioural psychology.
Here are a couple of definitions to consider:
Acceptance – the capacity to accept and make room for painful thoughts and feelings.
In other words all feelings are ok even the unpleasant ones. Acceptance allows us to self-regulate, self soothe and self empathise when we’re having a tough time.
Struggle – how we avoid, distract or judge painful thoughts and feelings.
Struggle occurs when we respond to our feelings by pushing them away or judging ourselves for having the feelings. This kind of self-judgement includes criticism and self hate. We struggle with ourselves.
When we avoid or distract from our negative feelings these feelings tend to return often bigger and more painful.
The task of emotional freedom therefore may be determined by how much we get caught up in struggling versus how we pay attention to accepting our thoughts and feelings.
A useful measure of emotional freedom is demonstrated in the guide below. It’s an adaptation of a questionnaire* used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
STRUGGLE – Anxiety is bad.
ACCEPTANCE – Anxiety is neither good nor bad. It is merely an uncomfortable feeling.
STRUGGLE – It is not okay to feel anxious. I try hard to avoid it.
ACCEPTANCE – I don’t like anxiety, but it’s okay to feel it.
STRUGGLE – Negative thoughts and feelings are harmful if you don’t control or get rid of them.
ACCEPTANCE – Negative thoughts and feelings won’t harm you even if they feel unpleasant.
STRUGGLE – When negative thoughts and feelings arise, it’s important to reduce or get rid of them as quickly as possible.
ACCEPTANCE – Trying to reduce or get rid of negative thoughts and feelings frequently causes problems. If I simply allow them to be, then they will change as a natural part of living.
STRUGGLE – The best method of managing negative thoughts and feelings is to analyze them; then utilize that knowledge to get rid of them.
ACCEPTANCE – The best method of managing negative thoughts and feelings is to acknowledge their presence and let them be, without having to analyze or judge them.
STRUGGLE – Having negative thoughts and feelings is an indication that I’m psychologically unhealthy or I’ve got problems.
ACCEPTANCE -Having negative thoughts and feelings mean I’m a normal human being.
STRUGGLE – Negative thoughts and feelings are a sign that there is something wrong with my life.
ACCEPTANCE -Negative thoughts and feelings are an inevitable part of life for everyone.
STRUGGLE – I’m afraid of some of my strong feelings.
ACCEPTANCE – I’m not afraid of any feelings, no matter how strong.
STRUGGLE – In order for me to do something important, I have to get rid of all my doubts.
ACCEPTANCE – I can do something important, even when doubts are present.
STRUGGLE – I will become “happy” and “healthy” by improving my ability to avoid, reduce, or get rid of all negative thoughts and feelings.
ACCEPTANCE – I will become “happy” and “healthy” by allowing negative thoughts and feelings to come and go of their own accord and learning to live effectively when they are present.
STRUGGLE – If I can’t suppress or get rid of a negative emotional reaction, it’s a sign of personal failure or weakness.
ACCEPTANCE – The need to control or get rid of a negative emotional reaction is a problem in itself.
STRUGGLE – People who are in control of their lives can generally control how they feel.
ACCEPTANCE -People who are in control of their lives do not need to control their feelings.
STRUGGLE – I have to feel good before I can do something that’s important and challenging.
ACCEPTANCE – I can do something that’s important and challenging even if I’m feeling anxious or depressed.
STRUGGLE – I try to suppress thoughts and feelings that I don’t like by just not thinking about them.
ACCEPTANCE – I don’t try to suppress thoughts and feelings that I don’t like. I just let them come and go of their own accord.
Some people find they are more flexible and accepting of certain mental or emotional experiences than others.
Emotional freedom is an ongoing process of practice.