Objectives: Current theoretical and clinical approaches conceive the avoidance and acceptance of emotions as critical factors in the maintenance and alleviation of psychological problems. This study investigates the role of mindfulness, experiential avoidance (EA), and positive and negative meta-emotions (emotional reactions towards the emotional self) on the symptoms and psychological well-being of inpatients.
Method: Changes of mindfulness measured during a 6-week stay at a psychosomatic clinic were explored in a sample of 293 inpatients with diverse psychological problems. Multivariate analyses were performed to determine the predictive power of mindfulness and acceptance on symptoms and psychological well-being.
Results: Staying on an inpatient ward was associated with reductions in EA and negative meta-emotions as well as improvements in mindful awareness and positive meta-emotions, i.e., participants reported greater acceptance of their own emotional reactions. These aspects were associated with a reduction in symptom severity and greater psychological well-being. A differentiation of meta-emotions allowed the meaningful identification of possible processes of change.
Conclusions: Anger and contempt seem to have distinctive functions in self-regulation. Reducing the amount of contempt/shame for one's own emotions and generating greater interest were associated with symptom reduction and greater psychological well-being. Self-compassion was negatively associated with symptoms, though it had no association with psychological well-being. The theoretical implications are discussed.