Evening lads and lassies!
I just recently discovered Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) through the book The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. When I first heard of it, I was like “Meh, it sounds very AA. I can’t accept my negative thoughts. I refuse!” But then I thought about it. I’ve tried many medications, CBT and Law Of Attraction, and they didn’t do jack for me, so who knows? Maybe this lesser known approach could work! I assumed I’d have to force myself to accept my thoughts, which sounded really hard, but really, I only need to notice them and play around with them.
I’ve decided to try all the techniques in the book, and document one in particular each day. It’ll keep me motivated and hopefully help others. The first thing we are told to do is learn to notice when we’re going through a process called cognitive fusion. Cognitive fusion is hard to explain, but it’s when you can’t see a thought as what it is – a thought. Having anxiety I know too well that this affects my life. Cognitive fusion happens and I freak out like the world is ending and engage in a variety of control strategies. For example:
There’s a group of loud teenage boys coming towards me. My mind flashes back to the times I have been publicly humiliated and I get scared (cognitive fusion), so I put my headphones in and on full volume. That way if I hear anything that rhymes with an insult, I won’t assume it’s aimed at me. (control strategy).
The headphones are like my life support, so don’t expect me to give them up any time soon. I’m nowhere near brave enough for that yet, nor will I be for a long time.
I’m taking baby steps. I’ve come to be dependent on control strategies. I literally feel like my life depends on avoiding being publicly humiliated. So this will be far from easy!
By the way, ACT won’t get rid of these negative thoughts, or avoid them, but will help you react to them better.
Now, on to technique number 1 – I’m having the thought that….
We need to remind ourselves that thoughts are just thoughts. Many times I have found myself saying “I’m as ugly as sin”. Today I had to put the words “I’m having the thought that…” in front of it. So “I’m having the thought that I’m as ugly as sin.” It reminded me that it’s just a thought, not fact. The only problem with this is, what if someone else calls you a horrible name? I don’t know if I’d believe it’s just a thought then. Any ideas?
I tried this technique on a few occasions today. I felt intense rage over something stupid (like really stupid – i couldn’t find something) and freaked out for a good half hour, so I failed at cognitive defusion. I really hope I learn something useful for anger management. I’m certain I scare the neighbours. At one point in the day my dog was barking really loud, so I was like “I’m having the thought that the dog is an asshole”. It reminded me it was just a thought and the dog wasn’t being an asshole. Probably just chatting with his hearing impaired friends.
So far this technique has half worked for me, but it’s still my first day!
Next time: Musical Thoughts