Examining Potential Mechanisms for Increasing Emotional Willingness

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Research has demonstrated that women who have experienced a rape are at an increased risk for developing subsequent psychological and behavioral consequences (e.g., mood disturbances, anxiety symptoms, substance abuse). More recently, it has been suggested that an unwillingness to experience negative emotions may contribute to these adverse consequences. One proposed strategy for increasing emotional willingness, and thereby decreasing these psychological and behavioral consequences, is to increase acceptance of one's emotional experiences. This investigation examined whether an experimental manipulation designed to increase emotional acceptance resulted in greater emotional willingness among rape survivors. Participants consisted of 38 women who experienced a rape since the age of 18. Participants were assigned to one of three conditions (acceptance, distraction, time control) and instructed to practice the skills provided during the session and record their experiences for a week. At the end of this week, participants' emotional willingness and ability to engage in functional behaviors when distressed were assessed by a trauma-relevant, distressing behavioral task. Participants also completed a self-report measure to assess for emotional willingness. Although group conditions did not differ in emotional willingness as assessed by the behavioral task, the acceptance and the time control conditions reported significantly greater increase in emotional willingness as compared to the distraction condition. Furthermore, findings suggested that differences in emotional willingness may be partially mediated by self-report non-reactivity to emotional experiences for the acceptance condition. Time control condition demonstrated decreased ability to engage in a goal-directed behavior when distressed whereas the acceptance and distraction condition did not. Finally, results suggest that distraction skills may be perceived as less tolerable based on greater non-completer rates and lower rated agreement with provided skills as compared to acceptance skills. Implications and future directions are further discussed.