Working as a psychologist there are plenty of theories and approaches that we come across and whilst there are many, I wanted to reflect upon one that I found resonated with a lot of my clients. The theory comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and it proposes four approaches to problematic situations that we may face in life.
Firstly, the theory suggests that the first option is to leave the situation if at all possible. For some people, this is not a viable option but for others, this could be the step that may need to consider, particularly if they have explored the other three options. The theory asks: would your life be richer, fuller, more meaningful if you left than if you stayed? I also believe that it is important to consider whether our ego is involved. What I mean by this is that our ego can relate to our fears – our ego wants us to remain small, play safe, live within the constraints of what we perceive as ‘right’, especially when relating to societal norms. It would be important to reflect upon and if necessary work through the roots of any fears and to recognise if the ego is at play. Then it makes way to explore what your true self really desires.
This option discusses the importance of reviewing what actions you can take to either improve the situation or prevent it from worsening. It asks you to reflect upon what physical and verbal actions can you take; what strength and skills can you use and what help and resources can you draw on from the people and the world around you. This option highlights the importance of focussing on ourselves and what we can do to influence change. At times when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we can focus on what we want someone/something to do/change, etc where it is important to remember that whilst we cannot control other people or external situations – how we behave can possibly affect another person or situation.
If you have focussed on the option above and tried to influence the situation by your own physical and verbal actions and are deciding to stay then there may be a need to make room for acceptance of what cannot be altered. The theory highlights that acceptance is to acknowledge how the reality is, in this moment. Acknowledge that you do not like it or want it or even approve of it and notice that it may also be very painful emotionally – and yet this is how it is, at this point in time. This can be very challenging for most of us if we find ourselves in this scenario. The theory indicates that what you are facing is called a ‘reality gap’ – the gap between the reality you want and the reality you actually have. To manage this reality gap it is important to practice self-kindness and allow any painful thoughts and feelings flow through you – not pushing the thoughts or feelings away nor letting them overwhelm you. What is essential is to reconnect with your own values – what is important to you – and find ways, however small to act on them in everyday life whilst facing this reality gap.
I know that I have definitely been here and many of us do choose this option when things get really tough. Maybe we have to stay in a particular situation or maybe we are choosing to stay – either way we give up. We give up on taking action to try and change the situation, we give up on living by our values and we get weighed down by a sense of hopelessness/helplessness, it is all too hard. Then we can be prone to do self-defeating things which can make things increasingly complicated such as: drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating, social withdrawal, escape from the reality by watching TV, computer games, etc. Admitting that we are behaving in a non-productive way is the first step towards doing something different. Practicing self-compassion is imperative as well as reviewing the scenario, gaining support, and then choosing a different option.
In my practice I often see a lot of people oscillate between options 2 and 3. I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this theory. I also have a free guided reflection to assist you when you are facing the reality gap.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like me to forward this recording for you.