Isn’t that a great title?
I’m reading a book by Dr. Henry Cloud about how failing to end something blocks businesses from creating something new and better, whether that ending is a way of doing business, or discontinuing a product line that is no longer selling, or letting an employee go when they are not receptive to going in a new direction.
Applying this idea to a more personal and global context about living a life, I think about how our fears of letting something or someone go, often without a clear sense of what’s next, can keep us from trying something new and better for us.
The idea of needing to let go of the brass ring for the chance to catch the gold one comes to mind here.
But there’s risk you say. Of course there is!
But there is risk, while not as obvious, to holding on to what is not working too.
Not ending something that deep down you know is no longer working for you, leaving a job or a relationship or a way of doing something, is scary. And, often it is the only way to clear the space for something new and better to come forward.
“Each experience in your life was absolutely necessary
in order to have gotten you to the next place….
up to this very moment.”
Continuing on the theme of gratitude, for what we have and what we don’t have…..
In the last post, I wrote about being grateful for the things I wanted that didn’t work out. Here’s another quote related to that. I like this idea of seeing our life experiences as beads on a necklace, links on a chain. Seeing all that has happened as necessary steps to put me on the path to the life I have now. I wouldn’t have my today without the yesterday.
Even the suffering.
Not that those experiences weren’t difficult, but that they were creating the way for what lay ahead.
How about you? Do you find this to be true in your own life?
“Remember to be grateful for what you never received.”
I read this today and couldn’t find the author but decided to post it anyway.
So much here to think about, all the things I have wanted that I didn’t get, and only afterwards to realize that thank goodness, I didn’t get it.
Or the relationships that didn’t work out that I mourned, only in retrospect to feel grateful, so grateful, that they didn’t.
Allowing space to be created for what I do have. And treasure.
So be grateful today for what you do have. And take a moment to appreciate what you don’t.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.”
"When we recognize that we don’t have all the time in the world,
we see our priorities most clearly."
~ Laura Carstensen
I’m posting this video that is available on youtube that captures one of the main concepts of ACT in a humorous way. The video is just over 4 minutes long.
Making room for all of us, even the parts of ourselves we’re not so keen on, and moving forward with what matters to us, that’s the key. What do you think?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is the newest addition to how I think about my work. As with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), I am learning how powerful this approach is through my work with clients and also with myself.
In a similar way to Bowen’s family systems theory, ACT believes that there is much to be gained by establishing some degree of objectivity of self, that is, being able to stand beside yourself and observe, of seeing your thoughts, feelings and behaviors with some neutral stance. In ACT language, this is known as defusion, that is, recognizing that you are not your thoughts and feelings.
ACT uses metaphors a lot and I like that. One metaphor to illustrate defusion is that you are the sky and your moods/thoughts/feelings are the clouds. Even on the cloudiest day, we know that there is sky behind the clouds. Translating that metaphor, no matter what your mood is in the moment, your self is constant.
We get into trouble when we fuse our thoughts/feelings/moods with our sense of self. In ACT terms, “I am a bad person” would be “I am having the thought that I am a bad person”. Read those out loud, can you feel the difference? Now I know that the second sentence sounds clumsy and not natural. And that’s the point! The ACT way of describing the experience creates just a bit of space between you and the thought. That space creates enough objectivity that you have room to work on decreasing the power of those negative thoughts, to be reminded that you are not your thoughts.
Another defining feature of ACT is the idea of psychological flexibility. ACT believes that suffering is created by inflexibility, of thoughts, actions, beliefs. Like in DBT, ACT theory is based on the idea that resisting the world as it is creates unnecessary suffering. ACT principles and techniques offer a different way of thinking, a different way to approach what life puts in front of us.
If you want to read more about ACT, I would suggest “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living” by Russ Harris and Steven Hayes. Or see this article that summarizes ACT from the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science website.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy, DBT, is another theory that serves as a part of the foundation of how I approach my work.
First things first, what’s dialectical? How I think of dialectic is the ability to hold the tension of both sides of something, opposing thoughts, opposing feelings. For example, to hold the tension of seeing an event as being both positive and negative, of a relationship that feels both satisfying and dissatisfying, of being able to accept yourself at the same time you are asking yourself to change. Related to this idea in DBT is the working towards acceptance, of self, of the present moment, of reality, of life. Acceptance doesn’t mean agreement, it does mean you start with what is.
DBT training is divided into several modules, including mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. Threaded throughout the skills is an emphasis on regulation, of feelings, of thoughts, of behaviors. It seems to me that so much of human suffering is based in dis-regulation. Dysregulation of thinking, feeling and behaving.
At the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating (I’m not), DBT changed my life, personally and professionally. For me, DBT was a missing link in my approach to my work and to my own life. DBT provided me with a rich framework for teaching clients tools and strategies to learn to better manage their thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships.
Learning to take into account what DBT calls “reason mind” and “emotion mind” to come to “wise mind”, meaning making the choices and decisions that are not right for everyone but are right for me is such a simplifying framework for how to approach life. Once you identify your core values, your primary goals, what you like and don’t like, what works for you and what doesn’t, figuring out the next steps come more smoothly.
If you want to read more about DBT, Google it. The first articles listed are going to give you a nice overview. One thing before you read, remember that while it was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT principles are applicable to a wide range of behaviors. I teach them to my clients and I personally use these skills every single day!
I thought I’d write the first few posts telling you about a few of the more important influences in how I approach my work as a psychologist. While I (like most therapists) describe my style as “eclectic”, there are several layers of theory that I primarily rely on.
The theory that I think of as the foundation of how I view human behavior and relationships is Murray Bowen’s Structural Family Systems Theory.
According to Bowen, the family, not the individual, is the basic emotional unit. Each family system tends to have its’ own baseline of anxiety.
Anxiety is seen as being triggered by external events or internal states. One example of an external trigger might be the job loss of a family member. The anxiety of the person that lost the job gets added to the collective emotional field. In addition, each family member reacts to this news in some way, adding their own anxiety to the mix.
For the internal state, almost like a set point of anxiety, each person and the entire family system can be influenced by temperament, genetic or biological influences or from events that happened in past generations.
Intense emotions, like anxiety, are highly contagious within the family unit and are also passed down through the generations. The more anxious the system, the more individual family members rely on ineffective ways to manage anxiety, e.g., conflict, cutoffs and triangulating.
What to do?
The general approach from Bowen’s theory is to step back and cultivate objectivity from the system before you plan your action.
The first step is to observe what’s going on, what you’ve gotten tangled up in, therefore gaining objectivity from the emotional field, stepping just enough outside the intensity to allow thoughtfulness to mesh with the emotions to take a more measured position while maintaining the connection to the family unit. This process can be done by any individual in the family system on their own.
The goal is to learn to manage your own anxiety by stepping back a bit from the anxiety field, all the while maintaining the vibrant connection to the rest of the family system.
If you’re interested in reading more about systems theory, check out wikipedia’s entry on Murray Bowen. I would also highly recommend anything written by Harriet Lerner. She starts with Bowen’s framework and, writing in an accepting, nonjudgmental (and female) voice, makes it easy to see how these ideas can work in real relationships.
And stay tuned! I’ll write more in future posts about how I apply this way of thinking to systems in general, not just family systems, but other systems you are a part of, such as your relationship with your partner, your workplace, and other groups you belong to.
My name is Carol J. Tadeusik. I am a licensed psychologist in Durham, North Carolina. I invite you to read my blog and get to know me and a bit about how I think. And by the way, I love comments!
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