ACT: A for Compassion and C for Meaningful Purpose
The name “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” does not do justice to the depth and distinctly empathic nature of this psychological therapy. The very words “Acceptance” and “Commitment” do rebuff some people. Both these terms can sound clinical, insensitive and somehow dismissive. Yet, “Love isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” says Steven Hayes, the ACT founder, in a TED Talk at the University of Nevada, in which he gives a compelling personal account of his own journey living with anxiety, and how he came to approach his suffering in a radically different way from what he had done all his life.
So, what does Acceptance mean?
Acceptance in ACT does not mean to put up with, acquiesce, endure, swallow, approve, go along with or get over. Acceptance is about self-compassion. It’s about acknowledging the full extent of our suffering with kindness. It’s about paying attention to and observing our internal experiences with understanding, and appreciating the functions of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.
From an ACT perspective, feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, emptiness, shame, guilt, remorse and so on, are all normal and natural and are not seen as either positive or negative. Some of them can become extremely uncomfortable to experience, but they are not the problem in itself. It is the avoidance of these feelings that keeps us stuck with unworkable ways of being.
Acceptance is like attending a child who is crying or scared, and saying “I can see you’re upset”, “I can see you’re scared”. “If what happened to you had happened to me, I would most probably feel the same. I hear you. I love you no matter what”. Accepting feelings and thoughts from an ACT perspective, means stopping challenging them, or try to prove ourselves that we should not feel or think a particular way. Acceptance is compassion.
Although it can critically restrict how we experience life, wanting to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings is normal and natural. One needs a very good reason to pluck up the courage to experience them just as they are. The word “courage” derives from “cor” in Latin, which means “heart”. Showing courage is to speak and act from the heart, to do what really matters to us. Together with an Acceptance and Commitment therapist you commit to learn how to act from the heart. You commit to work through challenging thoughts and feelings towards a life in line with your values and the kind of person you really want to be for yourself and others. Commitment is meaningful purpose.
©2016 Sophie Coutand-Marin