There is an assumption that emotional pain and suffering is a deviation from a default happy baseline. However, it's incorrect. Psychological pain is everywhere.
Research indicates that one in two adults will meet the criteria for a mental health problem at some time in their lives. Instead of turning our focus on what makes us happy, we should focus on achieving a sense of meaning, regardless of how we're feeling.
The goal of ACT is not necessarily to reduce one's problematic thoughts and emotions. It is to help people effectively function while they are distressed and to promote more flexible and value-driven behaviors.
In other words, the primary goal is to promote 'valued living.'
Valued living is going about your daily life in the service of values you find important. Engaging in these actions creates a sense of meaning and purpose.
The symptoms of psychological suffering are problematic when they are linked to behaviors that draw us away from valued living.
We might not have any control over the pain we experience, but we exert some control over how we respond to that suffering.
Common responses to difficult emotions include avoidance, substance abuse and aggression and lead to long-term damage in our relationships, jobs and our personal growth. Letting go of trying to minimize pain and moving toward a value-driven agenda can help us focus on who we want to be instead of how we want to feel.
You will find if you try to push the pain away, you will drive the meaningful stuff away too. So, if you want to do the things that are important to you, you have to make room for the painful stuff.
Sometimes it is hard to engage with your struggles. That it is the crux of the work in ACT - to look at your judgments and suffering, in order to move toward that which is meaningful.
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