ACT has much to offer those in recovery from trauma.
We believe that the pain you are experiencing, which may be present in the form of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, feeling numb, excessive alcohol use, or pushing others away, is at least partially the result of your efforts to try to get rid of, escape from, suppress, or avoid any reminders of your trauma or other painful life experiences. ACT provides guidance on how to live a meaningful life without disowning a big part of who you are: your past experiences, both positive and negative.Although we can’t promise that the process will be easy, we think that there is a way to accept your painful past heal from it and lead a more fulfilling life. Judith
Herman has stated in the introduction of her book, Trauma and Recovery,
“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloudis the central dialectic of psychological trauma” (1992,1). Living through trauma involves surviving an experience that is often filled with shame, humiliation, and fear, which in turn, as the quote suggests, leads to a constant ambivalence between sharing the pain or hiding it, or even hiding from it.
We live in a society that has difficulty tolerating other people’s discomfort and actually promotes secrecy, thus reinforcing the idea that we should not talk about what we have experienced and perpetuating a society of avoidance. For example, how many times have you turned the channel when you saw something painful on TV? Maybe you were watching the news and saw a story on war, famine, or some other suffering that you were unable to ease. Because you felt pain and felt helpless to ameliorate it, you chose to click to another channel.
Similarly, many survivors learn to avoid uncomfortable memories, thoughts, and feelings by pushing them away, focusing on a distraction, or using some other method of turning the channel. We believe this is a significant disservice to survivors of trauma.Even though most of us will try using avoidance with some success in the short run, it just doesn’t work in the long haul, particularly when it’s the only or the main tool in our bag. Many of us will try to employ avoidance as our main coping strategy, and usually it only makes things worse. However, if we can look inside ourselves and see what is going on, then and only then do we claim the power to do something different. This awareness of what is going on for yourself is the opposite of experiential avoidance, and we will teach you how to look at your experience throughout the chapters in this book. We hope to show you how to reclaim your experience while also helping you to understand that you are not just what has happened to you.
You are not your traumatic memories, your thoughts, or your feelings. Instead, you are the person who holds all of these things. You may not have created your problems, and you certainly did not choose to experience trauma. Yet, in order to take hold of your life, you will have to deal with these problems.Although there will likely be some pain that accompanies self-awareness, you will also gain a tremendous amount of freedom to choose where to go from here. We hope that the chapters in this book will help you to:Be awake and present for your life now with (and not in spite of) your trauma history, your memories, your fears, and your sadness and grief Find freedom in choosing new and vital life directions, Be able to “walk the talk” in terms of what you would like your life to be about