Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)
What is ACT?
ACT wants to help you increase your flexibility... psychological flexibility that is (not to diminish the amazing feat of touching your toes or doing the splits!)
What is psychological flexibility?
Having the capacity to bend and move with all life's curve balls. How to stay in the flow. Just when we think we have life figured out, maybe start to settle into a routine that feels familiar and comfortable, it seems as if the universe sees this and thinks its an invitation to shake it up. Being psychologically flexible means being open to the constant change... maybe even enjoying the twists and turns life sends. Staying curious about the uncertainty.
How do we get to this space of psychological splits and back bends?
Basically, ACT has 6 different, but complimentary paths you can take. You can hop on any path at any time and head towards the same goal, psychological flexibility. The more paths you travel, the more concrete your sense of wholeness and healing.
The path I spend a lot of time on myself, and most of my clients hang out there too -- is the path of defusion. Unhooking from these emotions that try to rag doll us around is a PRACTICE. Wouldn't it be fantastic to experience anger once, meet it head on, say 'I see you anger, but you cannot drive this car,' and then know that every time anger showed up, he would cooperatively buckle his seat belt in the backseat?? Unfortunately, hot headed, red faced anger doesn't seem to understand cooperation... So he shows up, again and again and again, doing all he can to push you out of the driver's seat begging to act out some road rage. As we practice creating space around anger, or whatever the emotion of the moment is, we learn to live with these feelings and experiences beside us, not all over and on us. Our emotions and feelings will always be arising, they are our human-ness. They don't need to be controlled, and truly cannot be. This invites us to hop over to another path, the path of acceptance.
Now we have arrived at path number three, self-as-context path. I personally love this path. This is the path of soul work. The journey to understanding how very vast you are. You are more than your emotions, you are more than your stories, you are so much more than words can describe. I read a beautiful metaphor attempting to describe this by Gary Zukav.
"Picture a cup, a gallon, and a water tank. The water tank is the soul. An aspect of the soul becomes a gallon. That gallon is still soul, but not the fullness of the soul. It is the part of the soul that is on mission, so to speak. The personality is the cup. The cup contacts the gallon, the higher self soul, but not the full-bodied water tank." - Gary Zukav, Seat of the Soul
To take this further I would say that your emotions are a drop of water in the cup. One drop in comparison to a water tank. They sure want us to think they are so much bigger than that. So how do we keep these loud mouthed emotions to scale?
Can we accept that we will always have anger, or anxiety or depression? Acceptance is choosing to stop avoiding and controlling our feelings, but rather seeing them and staying open to the experience understanding that they are just a small part of who we are as a whole. Acceptance is not saying that the trauma you have experienced is ok, but rather acknowledging that it just is. It is a neutral stance. Not trying to change it, and not trying to avoid it.
By hopping onto path number four, the path of contact with present moment. Staying present. Using your breath and mindfulness to be where you are at, when you are there. Not stirring the shame pot ruminating over past events, and not biting all your nails off in an anxious fit attempting to predict the future. As you might have started to suspect, these paths do a lot of crossing over each other. Contacting the present moment sure helps us to unhook from our emotions, accept our emotions and tap into the perspective that we are not our emotions.
Why would we even begin this journey, on any of these previously mentioned paths? Because something is happening that is keeping us from living a life we desire. Something is not working. This brings us to path five, the path of values. Values are our beacons of light that dance out in front of the storm. They guide us, sometimes without our knowing. When we are living in line with our values, we head in a direction that feels like 'the way.' Values are individual to each of us, but the more clear we become on our values, the more psychologically flexible we are when life gets crazy. We know and see the beacons out in front of us and we stay the course because it's worth it.
If you've read this far, than you are committed... that pun was too easy. The remaining path is called committed action. Living from your feet, not your mind. What are some small steps you can take that can keep you pointed towards your values? For one person that might mean getting enough sleep, for another that might mean getting less sleep because maybe they use sleep to avoid experiences. Finding ways to chose to turn towards your value beacons rather than away.
And there we have it, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. If this information resonated with you on any level, there's a good chance ACT would be a great way for you to get on track living a life you love with purpose and meaning. We can navigate these paths together on your healing journey.
Click here to read a non-technical article about ACT.