Psychological Flexibility

I first came across the term 'Psychological Flexibility' when I was researching ACT 'Acceptance & Commitment Therapy,' which was developed in the US by psychologists Dr Steve Hayes, Dr Kirk Strosahl and Dr Kelly Wilson. The basis of ACT is that we are most likely to suffer when we are being psychologically inflexible and of course it is normal to experience this from time to time. However it is when we get stuck in psychological inflexibility that it can become a problem. We might have heard the terms 'tunnel vision' and 'black and white thinking', Both these terms certainly applied to me, and I certainly felt stuck and for a long time. With psychological inflexibility we might experience behaviours such as 'perfectionism' or 'being overly judgmental.'

The 3 fundamental principles of ACT are:

  1. Be Present

  2. Open Up

  3. Do What Matters

1. Being Present - connecting with the present moment, that is engaging fully and totally with whatever is happening in the moment, wherever you are and whom ever you are with. It is being conscious of our here-and-now experience instead of drifting into the past or the future, it is accepting our thoughts, feelings and other sensations as they are.

2. Open Up - we open up and make room for whatever is appearing in our inner and outer world. It is being accepting of whatever is happing for us. It doesn't mean we need to like it or want it, but rather we simply give it the space to be there, it is a letting go, a surrendering to what is. Through this we learn to let go of the tension from fighting, resisting or being overwhelmed by our thoughts, feelings and sensations.

3. Do What Matters - to create a meaningful life that deep down we all yearn for, we need to clarify, embody and follow our values. Values are the guiding qualities that give meaning to our life, they represent what is important to us, what we stand for, and they connect us to our life purpose, a truly important aspect to live if we are to truly heal and become whole.

These principles reflect the key 3 principles of Sophrology and why Sophrology can really start to help us reduce anxiety and minimise the impact of stress:

  1. Body Awareness (being present)

  2. Positive Action (doing what matters)

  3. Objective Reality - non-judgment, acceptance (opening up)

Within both methods we are developing pure awareness, or as ACT describe it 'Self-as-context,' and spirituality it might be known as 'Self' with a capital S, that aspect of us that observes, witnesses, without judgment, without the being incumbered by the baggage of socialisation and conditioning, it is a place of safety, of deep rest, the place of peace that passes all understanding and total unconditional love. It is the aspect of our psyche that is designed to lead all our other parts, so that we develop Self-leadership and meet our fullest potential.

We can start to build a place of safety inside by using mindfulness type practices that allow us to develop the Self, this then becomes the place of refuge, a place where we can develop our resilience to meet the challenges of life more effectively, including our inner challenges, that of overcoming the effects of trauma or adverse childhood conditions.

"Developing an inner refuge where we feel loved and safe enables us to reduce the intensity of traumatic fear when it arises." Tara Brach

When we begin the practice of psychological flexibility we may come up against resistance, often the developed identity, the ego, does not want to change, to experience the peace and happiness that is there. This may sound crazy but it can be true for some people, including me. Change can be very scary, even if it is good change and is leading us onto experiencing a better life.

It is however worth continuing to develop, taking small steps to move towards psychological flexibility, as the cost of psychological inflexibility can be quite high and can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and also have a far reaching impact on our wider life, even rob us of the happiness that is our birth right.

For more information about ACT I can recommend Russ Harris's 'ACT made simple - and easy to read primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.' The book has been written for therapists and life couches but it is an easy to read and accessible book for anyone who would like to develop their psychological flexibility. And of course there is a book from the developers of ACT 'Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change' by Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, and Kelly G. Wilson which would be a good place to start. Other resources include books on Sophrology:

  1. The Sophrology Method by Florence Parot

  2. The Life-changing Power of Sophrology by Dominique Antiglio

  3. Empower your life with Sophrology by Philip Carr-Gomm

Wishing you well on your journey back to your Self.


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