Acceptance is the emotional outcome of habituation.
When I talk to tinnitus sufferers, people often tell me, “If I could just accept my tinnitus, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
I know exactly what they’re trying to say, but it’s not helpful to think about tinnitus in those terms, because severe tinnitus isn’t something you can just magically accept.
To be clear, I’m not saying that acceptance isn’t possible – it definitely is – and it’s important.
It’s just not something that you can force. Acceptance happens automatically as you habituate. You could even say that acceptance is the emotional state of habituation.
How you think about tinnitus matters:
Part of the problem here is that many people habituate naturally over time but don’t understand why or what actually happened.
When you hear someone say, “I just accepted my tinnitus and it isn’t so bad anymore”, they most likely habituated naturally but don’t understand what happened well enough to explain it in those terms.
And when you’re suffering, it doesn’t help to hear people speak like this. It can make you feel like you’re failing in some way, like you’re struggling to grasp some obvious answer.
But these people didn’t figure something out that you haven’t discovered yet. They habituated naturally, possibly without trying. They’re the lucky ones. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone. It wasn’t for me. I had to work very hard to habituate.
Acceptance happens automatically:
The other problem with this type of acceptance-oriented thinking is that conscious control of tinnitus is impossible, even for someone who has fully habituated.
People who habituate naturally often believe that their acceptance was a deliberate choice – one that resulted in relief. But this type of thinking is usually based on a misunderstanding of what has actually occurred.
They didn’t simply choose to accept their tinnitus. They habituated somehow, their nervous system stopped reacting to the sound so it stopped bothering them, and their brain started tuning it out. Acceptance was the result of the process, not the process itself.
This is important, because spikes are possible even after you habituate. And if you don’t understand how you actually found relief, you are going to have a much tougher time.
When my tinnitus fluctuates in some way, whether because of stress or if I accidentally expose myself to loud noise, I can’t just flip a mental “acceptance” switch in my brain to turn the volume back down or force my attention away.
Acceptance can be fleeting:
The experience of habituation is a lot like happiness or the feeling of being in the zone – that feeling when you’re enjoying yourself so much that time speeds up or slows down, where you are totally immersed in the present moment, enjoying some activity to the fullest extent possible.
When you’re experiencing that level of happiness or enjoyment, it’s happening automatically. You can’t choose to feel that way. And more often than not, as soon as you start thinking about how good you feel, you lose the feeling because you’re no longer in the present moment, just going with the flow.
Habituation is similar in the sense that you can’t simply choose to accept your tinnitus and tune out the sound. That happens as your nervous system stops reacting to your tinnitus as the sound of something dangerous. You just start tuning it out automatically, more and more of the time.
And when it spikes, or starts bothering you again, you won’t be able to flip a switch in your brain to instantly tune it out. There are many things you can do to create the environment necessary for this to happen quickly, but you need to understand what is actually happening for this to work.
Otherwise, you will feel powerless when it spikes because acceptance alone is a bad strategy for relief.
If you’re suffering and struggling to accept your tinnitus, you’re not doing it wrong. Acceptance will happen automatically when you’re on the right track with habituation. It can’t be forced.
And just because you haven’t habituated yet, doesn’t mean that it’s not possible for you. Habituation is entirely possible with the right strategy, a bit of hard work, and time.
That’s all from me for today. Thanks everyone!