The 5 Steps of Radical Emotional Acceptance

By Mary Maxey
October 24, 2019

In today’s episode, our guest is Dr. Alex Wills. He is the owner and a psychiatrist at PERMA Mental Health. He is a native Idahoan but has also lived and spent time in over 30 countries, which gives him a well-rounded approach to his patients. He is happy to be serving the community of Boise. He has seen patients in Sun Valley and his hometown of Twin Falls, and he continues to see people via telepsychiatry, no matter where they are.

He has experience treating all forms of mental health concerns including Depression, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, Schizophrenia, PTSD, ADHD, ODD, Addictions, Personality and Eating Disorders, etc.

[3:38] Why should I listen to you?

Wow, that is a great question. I definitely like to go deeper in conversations with people. I’m not really a big fan of this kind of surface stuff. I get bored pretty easily, which is a great job for me in psychiatry because I meet people and they go really deep and tell you stuff they’ve never told anybody before. So I guess I kind of like that level of engagement.

[4:35] So where do you develop the skill to even have those conversations, let alone the desire to have them?

Yeah, I guess I’ve always had an interest in psychology since I was a kid. I’ve always just been fascinated with the way people act. It’s always been this great mystery, and the deeper you get, the more mysterious it becomes. So it’s like a gift that never stops being interesting.  

[5:30]  Are there any studies that show that the depth of my ability to be vulnerable creates a depth of connection to a human?

Yes, there is Brene Brown material available. Emotionally Focused Therapy is available for couples, and the research is so compelling that if we choose to be vulnerable rather than defensive and raise our shields, we can disarm the other person as if we were tapping into neurons. This physical level is where we can actually elicit empathy from others for those of us who have empathy.  

[6:35] Is there something people should worry about? 

Yes. That hits on a core concept that I talked about, which is that all of the emotions we have are good. For example, if you are afraid of being vulnerable to someone, they may use that against you. Then that’s a very valid threat to be aware of. As a result, we don’t want to go around throwing our deep personal stuff around at random. We want to make sure that we have someone we can trust with whom we can discuss something. 

[7:30] What’s the best way to enter new situations and conversations with people? Do you listen to their conversation and add to it? 

I think the approach I take with my patients is to test the waters. You don’t have to plunge in right away. You could share something vulnerable or personal with them and observe how they handle and respond. If they respond in a way that develops more trust, then you might take another risk, but you’re right, it is scary, and that’s part of life. Although it is scary, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. But we should be aware that, while there is some risk, it may be worthwhile. It might be worth it to take the risk. I think that at this point in my life, I’ve realized I can survive worse situations. I can get around, but it’s scary for a lot of people. That, I believe, has become a barrier. People put their feet up and walk around all day long. 

[9:15] What comes from something you don’t want to hear? How does somebody give you an “F,” you know, in that space without actually damaging your relationship?

The concept is that we don’t need to think of our emotions as a problem. If we realize that all of our emotions—the scary ones, the painful ones, the happy ones, and the disappointing ones—are all trying to help us, then we can make the best decision based on our emotional wisdom. So sometimes the correct choice is to maybe not say anything and not act. Or perhaps it’s to be daring and say something too, but you’re going to make the best choice if you’re tuned into your emotional wisdom.  

[10:40] How can somebody in today’s world show up in ways that make it clear they give f actually about somebody?

Yeah, I think it can be big things and small things, and making someone else aware of what your emotions are is very powerful. Perhaps you’re at work and, for whatever reason, you’re not having the best day, and you decide to let your coworker know that, and with that, you might feel more drawn and more human to him. Because I believe something similar occurs frequently, man, and people simply say, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” and I think that that leads to vastly more. I think enjoyment, connection, and fulfillment. Even at work, I believe there is some space because people are constantly surrounded by others. If I’m not connected to them, they end up saying, didn’t know, you were like that outside of work. 

[10:50] So how does somebody dive into that? 

When you first start living a life that’s not emotionally suppressed, you’re probably going to feel a bit awkward. It’s going to be weird and different, and you’re going to get different responses from people. It’s like learning to walk again. There might be some stumbles; there might be some regrets. But then, after you start to gain more confidence, you can allow people to know where you are and what your emotions are when it might not be the right person or the right situation. But it doesn’t have to be a daunting thing. It can be a little bit of a game. You can have fun with it

[13:05]  Is that related to what you’re talking about, that wall she put up to keep that kind of boundary between people?

Yeah, so the F shield That’s the first step in the five steps of radical emotional acceptance. And so a typical emotional shield is anger. You know, anger is a very easy emotion to get in touch with because when you’re angry, nobody’s going to mess with you because you’re going to kill them. So it’s very empowering. But behind that shield are these more vulnerable emotions: you might be scared; you might be hurt; you might be disappointed. You might be fearful of abandonment or something else going on. So the first step is to recognize when you are using a shield emotion and then be brave enough to drop it and see what’s going on, at least for yourself, underneath there. 

[15:48] How does somebody handle the feedback from people who are showing up they may gauge it as an angry F shield

It’s very applicable and powerful to make your kids aware of your emotional state. You know, if we come across as kind of hard, we have, of course, good intentions. They may become defensive or feel threatened, but if we approach them and say, “Hey, buddy, I’m a little nervous,” they may become less defensive or threatened. I’m worried about you because I don’t want the kids at school to mock you or give you a bad reputation. 

What is step two of the five steps of radical acceptance?

The five radical emotional acceptance steps Yeah, I nicknamed it Ria. So, my daughter Rhea is launching herself into the world. Like, thanks. Thanks. Yeah. So the second step is that try to keep them simple. So it’s just listening, or, sorry, I skipped ahead. I don’t even know my second step. is actually to name the letter F. Name your emotion. Yeah, just identify what it is. And I’m scared. I’m afraid I’m disappointed. I feel I have the emotion of hate, disgust, or joy. Just name them, use those emoji charts, you know, and just kind of pick a face that represents what your emotional state is at the moment.

[19:35] What is step three?

So step three is to listen to the emotion. Realizing that all of our emotions are only there to help us—we wouldn’t be having them if they weren’t there to help us—we can learn to control them. So we want to become curious and we want to listen; we want to figure out what the emotion is telling us about our relationship and our situation. And, you know, Ria kind of flips everything on its head because we’re going to start with emotion and then try to learn from it rather than starting with our thoughts, rationalizations, and stories.

[20:35] How do you kind of unravel it now that you’ve listened to it, as we’ll call it?

You just want to spend some time, you know, being curious and listening. Understanding what your emotional truth is telling you You may think you have a great relationship going on with someone, but maybe this emotion that comes up lets you know something’s not quite right. And, to really validate something like, “Okay, I’m going to pay attention,” that might spur you on to ask more questions or kind of search deeper for other related emotions.

[23:58]  Is there some consistency between those who navigate emotions and then climb ladders in life to certain pieces, 

Absolutely. In my own life, I’ve reached a plateau several times, sometimes for years, and I feel like I was able to kind of get to the next level. Only by improving my relationship with my emotions and utilizing the wisdom of my emotional intelligence will I be able to navigate some pretty tricky waters, so to speak.

[27:04]  What’s the fourth step in the five steps of radically emotional acceptance?

Yes, it is to act or not act on the F. So based on your emotional wisdom, and your emotional intelligence, after sort of getting centered and validating your emotional experience, you get to decide that sometimes the right answer is to do nothing at all. Sometimes the right answer might be to fly off the handle. I mean, there are situations where that is necessary, but you can make the most emotionally informed decision using the full wisdom of your emotional intelligence, and there are other better ways, like 36 strategies to use for how to actually process that because it is up to me to act on it. I’m just explaining how, when you’re a kid, you hit them back so that those sudden things, like someone cutting you off in traffic, it cuts them out of them, you know, flip them off at this point, I can process it, and I don’t want anyone shooting me in my car. 

[28:20] How do you get to the point where you are completely unbothered by stuff?

Yeah, to answer the first part, I think it comes from practicing, from leaving that emotional door to your heart opens all the time. So no F spilled; you know, little apps, big apps, came and went; I’m not saying you’re reactive or doing whatever you want impulsively, but you’re very present and aware of what emotions are flowing. However, you know, the goal may not be to feel good all the time or not have things get to us. Instead, the goal might be to learn how to feel good. In other words, we have to be at one with our emotions because, just like the waves of the ocean, they’re always going to be coming and going. That’s part of life. That’s not a bad thing. So, if we can accept that, life becomes a different experience; it can become quite enjoyable regardless of the emotional storm. 

[31:00] So what is Step Five?

Step five is to think the F or find gratitude for whatever emotions are coming up, and this is my favorite step. This is similar to the magic part. If you can find true, sincere gratitude for a disappointing emotion, a sad emotion, or a scary emotion, then there’s no longer a problem, because you realize that that emotion is just part of yourself, and it’s trying to help you. You can end the war with yourself, and then you will be whole enough to make the best decisions going forward.

[32:05] Is there a way you can trigger yourself to remember to do that in real-time?

Well, I like to think about, you know, what if the opposite were true; for example, you could use the example of losing a big sale or something and having extreme anger and disappointment come up about that. Well, imagine if you’re the kind of guy who doesn’t have any anger or disappointment. a You would not be the guy that’s going to go out there and get the next sale. So being thankful is like, “Hey, these emotions are telling me a pretty crummy thing happened, and it hurts because it’s not good.” It’s not the outcome I wanted, and so I should have these emotions because they’re reflecting reality, and that’s going to help me do better the next time and get my head screwed on straight so that I don’t mess it up or I can figure out what went wrong so I can have a better performance.

[44:18] What promise did God make to the world when he created you?

When i was a kid, my mother told me she named me Alexander because i’m the hope of mankind. 

Key Quotes

[24:08-24:12]The higher you go, the more stressed you are and the more emotions you may experience.

[22:18-22:22] You don’t control the wave, but you go with it, and you become curious about what it’s trying to tell you or where it’s trying to take you. [31:20-31-25] If you can find a true sincere gratitude for a disappointing moment, then there is no longer a problem.


How to connect with Dr. Alex Wills



Written by: [email protected]

Back To Podcasts