In life, we believe that going forward is equivalent to progress. But I am learning that isn’t necessarily true. Even the famous poem The Road Less Taken by Robert Frost is about choosing to go against the norm.
By forward I mean following the most common paths. If we suffer from an addiction, depression, negative thoughts or overwhelming feelings, we believe we must fight it, confront it, and challenge it. And while that might seem like the most logical response, it actually can be the most harmful.
My T has started teaching me about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). While the concepts seem backwards, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Do you ever wonder why you can’t seem to force yourself to forget something? Take the popular example of the pink elephant in the room. Try not to imagine a pink elephant in your room? What happens? All you seem to think about is the pink elephant. That is because you are constantly reminding yourself about the pink elephant by telling yourself over and over to not imagine it. The same goes for thoughts, feelings, memories, or anything we struggle with.
Traditional therapy has us confront out issues and analyze them. If this method is the most effective treatment, then why do so many people continue to suffer from their issues after years of confronting them? The problem is that you are focusing on your issues so much that your inner world starts to revolve around the issues. You wind up giving them more power over you and your life.
So what do you do? Well, according to what my T is teaching me about ACT, you simply acknowledge the thoughts and feelings. Yep, that’s it. Well, you still use your healthy coping skills too 😛 But instead of focusing on your issues, you acknowledge them.
So for me, I’m constantly plagued by suicidal thoughts. When these thoughts occur, I simply acknowledge them. They are there. I can’t change it, and if I try to fight it they only get worse. If I deny them then they could become out of control. By simply acknowledging them, I am teaching myself that the thoughts can exist and I can still live my life fully. The thoughts won’t kill me, and they don’t have to have power over me. It sucks having suicidal thoughts daily, but they are there whether I like it or not.
This concept can not only be applied to suicidal thoughts but also to things like craving a cigarette, junk food, drugs, gambling, etc. It can be applied to overwhelming emotions. Just acknowledged whatever it is that is bothering you, and realize that you can survive even if you don’t react to them.
My T gave me an example. You’re at a party and someone who you hate, who was not invited shows up. If you fixate on them, you are allowing the presence of that person to affect them which in turn affects your experience at the part. Instead, acknowledge that they are there, but continue to enjoy yourself. As time passes, you’ll soon find that you’re enjoying the party even with that person there.
I have also realized this past week that going against logic can also be applied to other areas. There is a saying that the things we avoid the most are often the exact things we need. This week I didn’t want to go to therapy. I have been struggling a lot lately and have been depending on my T’s support more in between sessions. I feel like I’m overwhelming her. My idea was to cancel my session in order to give her a break. But after talking to some people, I realized that is exactly the thing I shouldn’t do. My T will ask for a break if she needs one. But a true break for her is to know that I’m safe and healthy. If I canceled my session, it would only make my T worry more. So in reality, giving her a break is not a break at all. Once again, what I thought was logical was actually the worst thing I could have done. I did go to session and it was very productive and rewarding for both me and my T.