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Handling Trauma: Accept Your Reactions and Be Present


Pain is inevitable in life; suffering is not.Unnecessary suffering comes from trying to push away or eliminate the original pain. This is called experiential avoidance.

We try to eliminate, control, or suppress thoughts, feelings, memories, and bodily sensations when we forget that these are just private experiences that cannot harm us directly. Feelings of sadness or a thought of “I’m bad”cannot by themselves hurt us—unless we let them.

Language, albeit extremely helpful, has a dark side that allows our minds to construct scary futures, compare ourselves to unmet ideals, and create realities that only exist in our mind’s eye.Mindfulness, a way of focusing our attention on the present moment, whatever it brings, without judgment, can help us develop the ongoing awareness that a thought is just a thought, a feeling is just a feeling, a bodily reaction is just a bodily reaction, a memory is just a memory. This awareness, which has been taught through sitting and guided meditations for hundred of years, allows us to be more open to our own experiences.

Choose a Valued Direction Instead of looking backward to the unchangeable past, ACT guides us to aim toward what we want now and in the future. Life opens up when we turn our attention to what we really want to be about—what we value.Through values clarification, we can choose a life direction, even with the difficult histories we have. The values that most liberate us are not embraced to avoid guilt or to please others but rather because of their intrinsic worth and the vitality they bring to our lives.

Take Action Through a continuous process of bringing acceptance, mindfulness, and values into the present moment, we can reorient our own behavior toward what really works. Creating a vital life is done step-by-step by building larger and larger patterns of committed action. It is a process never completed, but it does not need to be. Life is a process, not an outcome. Life will be asking you the same question over and over again across different situations and times: Are you willing to do what needs to be done, often sitting with some type of internal

discomfort, in order to have a vital life?ACT is about taking a loving stance with oneself and living life as a compassionate expression of your ownwholeness. ACT has been shown scientifically to behelpful with a wide variety of problems, includingdepression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain, andeven psychotic disorders (Hayes and Strosahl 2004).The underlying theory of ACT, which is based on theidea that language leads to experiential avoidance and isresponsible for most forms of human psychological problems, has received support in laboratory studies(Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, and Roche 2001; Hayes et a

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