When it comes to counselling and therapeutic modalities, I really like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT has developed since 1986 by American Psychology Professor Steven Hayes (and others). The idea behind ACT is that “it is ok to not be ok”, and that it is also ok to -despite not being ok- keep committing to actions that enrich our lives. So, on the one hand, ACT is about Acceptance of “what is”, while it on the other hand also is about Commitment to what seems to be more effective, and what serves us better.
Pain and suffering seem to be unavoidable parts of our lives, unfortunately. Despite that, ACT says, we can still focus on creating a rich, meaningful existence. ACT is a very practical, here and now focused modality that looks at how we live our lives in the context we find ourselves in: work, relationships, money, health, spirituality, etc. I will be discussing ACT more often in my articles, because it seems so “simple” (and I like simple!), yet can be profound in its results.
To kick things off, let’s first look at some of the reasons why we could find ourselves “stuck”, according to ACT. Well, six “core yearnings” – deep seated reasons that motivate us to do things, to behave in certain ways- can both lead to our greatest triumphs, and our deepest pits of misery. These yearnings are so basic, that we all share them. When the yearnings are satisfied, we generally feel good; when they’re not, no so much! I’ll discuss three of these desires, these yearnings, in this article; the remaining three will be discussed in next month’s contribution.
Yearning for Belonging
This is probably the first and foremost important desire we have: we want to belong. It’s built into our DNA, our survival-neurology. If we are left alone and isolated, there is a chance we will not survive. When we are part of a group, we’re good and feel safe. It is when we think our group is rejecting us; when we don’t feel accepted; when we run the risk of being alone, that we suffer. “I don’t belong; I am alone”, or “I am not good enough” can trigger deep suffering in people.
Yearning for Coherence
We all want life to make sense, somehow. As long as things, experiences and people are predictable, as long as we can trust them to be consistent, we are generally doing ok. We can then “rely” on them. As soon as our sense of coherence is blown to pieces (look at the last two years, for instance; the dobbing in of people who do the “wrong thing”; the “new world order”, etc.), we tend to suffer. “How could this have happened?” “This is not right.” “Why did this happen to me?” “What is going on with that person?” are questions that come up. Traumatic experiences, for instance, severely hammer our yearning for coherence.
Yearning for Orientation
There is an inner drive in us to “know ourselves” in relation to our past, our present, and future. When we know what direction life has taken and will be taking; where we came from; where we are, and where we think we are going, life is ok. When things are not “as they were/are supposed to be”, or we don’t know “how to get back” or “how to move forward”, we nearly literally become dis-oriented in time and space, which can cause major problems. Mid-life crises are an example of this; the uncertain modern world is another.
Do you recognise one (or all) of these three deep drivers in your life? When we feel alone, when life doesn’t seem to make sense, and when we have no idea where we’re going from here, life can get tricky. This has definitely been my experience, and the experience my clients report over the last 18 months, or so. The three yearnings I will cover in my next article (Feeling; Self-directed meaning and Competence) add their own flavour to this, and the end result can feel quite uncomfortable. The good news is that we, despite feeling that way, can keep heading in more promising directions. And research results show that, usually, that will lead to better outcomes in the medium to long term. I’ll touch on this next time, when I discuss the last thee of the core yearnings.
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