Tag Archives: Experiential Avoidance

面对焦虑

焦虑就像一只老虎,你为了避开它,减少它可能对你造成的伤害,你给了它一块肉,希望它吃了肉可以离开。是的,它可能离开一会儿,可是,猜一猜,给了它那块肉以后,它真的不再回来了吗?可能一两个小时,可能一两天,这回它又饿了,可能更饿了,更强大,要更多更大块的肉。

焦虑也一样,你越是逃避它害怕它,越是为了它作出不必要的牺牲(害怕在社交场合被拒绝,干脆不去参加舞会;担心无法把工作做好,花更多的时间在担心而不是完成工作,甚至最后真的无法完成),它下一次再出现,只会变得更强烈,让你更不舒服、更恐惧、更害怕。

可是如果你选择和焦虑处在一起,它固然让你感到不舒服,但它并不危险,一段时间后,你的焦虑感会开始下降,下次再面临一样的处境,你也不再那么焦虑,即使还是有一定程度的焦虑,你的头脑也能告诉你,基于上次相处的经验,其实这个焦虑感可能让你感到不舒服,但它并不危险,你并不用逃避它。

那不逃避,就是怎么做呢?如何直接面对它呢?如何接受情绪呢?首先告诉自己,这感觉可能让你感到不舒服,但是它不会对你造成伤害。你可以感受一下它处于身体的哪个部分,比如胸口闷闷地,颈项后方有点紧、心跳有点快、或肚子有些不舒服等,识别它们,并容许、允许它们存在于那里,就像一个朋友带了一个你不太喜欢的客人来到你家一起聚餐,但你并不因此把他赶走,或者为了他一个人,不去招待其他客人,你还是允许他的存在,继续享受你的聚餐、继续做你想做的事。对任何情绪,其实都一样,都可以这么做。

Let it go or Chuck it away?

I was looking at some psychotherapy worksheets and came across some exercises on “learning to let go“. Here are some of the exercises:

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, describe a problem that has been making you feel depressed lately. Write about it in as much detail as you can. Choose one of the methods below to physically let go of what you have written, and then do it. As you destroy your problem, tell yourself, “I am letting go of this. I will not let it depress me anymore.”

  • Rip up your paper into tiny pieces and throw it into the garbage.
  • Put your paper through a shredder.
  • Read what you have written to someone else and then give that person the paper and ask him or her to rip it up in front of you.
  • With permission and in the presence of an adult, burn your paper in a fireplace.
  • Write your problem on bathroom tissue instead of regular paper and flush it down the toilet.

Exercise 2

Sit quietly and comfortably where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes and picture yourself in vivid detail doing one of the following:
You wrap your problem in a box and seal it very securely with strong tape and rope. Then you attach the box to a very powerful rocket. You take the rocket to an outdoor area where there are no houses, trees, or other obstructions. You light the rocket and stand back. You watch as the rocket blasts off into the sky with great speed and force. You watch it carry your problem quickly and powerfully away from you. You watch until it is completely out of sight, far off beyond the pull of Earth’s gravity, continuing to travel farther into space. As you watch it go, you say to yourself, “I am letting go of this. I will not let it depress me anymore.”


What do you think about these exercises?

According to thefreedictionary.com, to let (something) go has the meaning of

  1. to stop having something
  2. to stop trying to control something
  3. to not take action

Whereas to chuck (something) away has the meaning of

  1. to push or shove something out of the way quickly and roughly
  2. to throw something away
  3. to dispose of something

I think the person designing the exercises of “learning to let go” wasn’t quite able to differentiate between letting go and chucking away. By letting go, you don’t push things away, sometimes the thing that upsets you might even still be there, with you in the same room, but you just let go of the struggle, stopping the control… Because pushing it away, throwing it away involve a lot of control too. And most people do find that the more they try to get rid of something off their mind, the more likely the thing returns (have you tried the “try not to think of a pink elephant” exercise?).

In other words, let’s say you were holding on to your problems, if you want to let go, you open up your palm, whether or not the problems leave you, it’s not up to you, but at least you stop the struggle of holding on to it. So no, I don’t think the above exercises are helping people to let go, even if they succeed, the upsetting events are likely to bounce back (still, it works for the short terms, sometimes for the long terms). A good way of practicing letting go is being mindful, being in the here and now (you may learn how by reading this book). You may also try leaves on the stream (remember not to chuck your problems into the stream, but just let them go, let them flow down gently).

Introducing “The Happiness Trap”

by Russ Harris

by Dr. Russ Harris

I completed this book in 2014. It was bought at Popular Bookstore at the price of RM34.90 (before 10% off for members). Just thought it’s really a good basic and entry book to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that I’ve been mentioning everywhere in my blog, also an easy read, and the chapters are really short. It definitely gives a grasp and basic concepts of ACT, using metaphors (so it can be a bit like reading stories!).

I’ve introduced and lent it to non-psychology backgrounds readers. What I realized is that they can usually get the ideas and benefit from them, but they don’t really know how to practice these concepts in real life (how to accept? how to defuse from my thought? etc). So if you get the ideas and are liking ACT after reading this book (just like me), you shall take a look at “Getting out of your mind and into your life: The new ACT.”

Experience of Attempted Robbery: Overly Positive Thinking?

After writing so many posts about others’ life and experience (see all clinical case studies here), I’ve decided to share my encounter of attempted robbery last weekend.

In Malaysia it’s not uncommon at all to hear about robbery, snatch thief, pick pocket, house/car break in etc, and it’s really worsening in the past few years. Last weekend as I was walking back home alone (it’s really just a 4-5 minutes short journey from a mall nearby), two men, riding their motorcycle attempted to grab my little sling bag (which contains only my house keys; due to the crime rates I’m always told by parents to keep all my possessions in my pockets if I have to walk; but my pockets were too full so I had to bring a small bag for the keys).

I screamed. And I noticed that they had no knife so I tried to defend, at the same time trying to walk nearer to the house nearby – I had a feeling that there were people standing in the yard and I was proven right later on. The strap of the bag was broken and he thought he got it. As he realized the bag was still in my hands and hesitated whether to grab again, the people were all rushing out from the house. We all looked at each other! Yes, I mean I looked at the people from the house, at the robbers, and the robbers looked at me and them too. Then they left. I saw a lot of motorcycles around after they left. The family from the house spoke to me for a little, before two other couples on their motorcycles came to ask me about the robbers and whether I was ok, they even walked me home upon request by me.

I came home feeling kind of excited, more excited that frightened, and told my parents what just happened. I didn’t try to look calm, I was really calm, I felt calm! I didn’t think it was a big deal, though I did realize how lucky I was that I wasn’t hurt and nothing was taken off me, also the snatch thieves seemed quite amateur.

That night I spent some time to think about it. I realized I had so much internal dialogues during the incident. I saw them coming from the front, I was still thinking how to react (if I run they might bang me etc). I also recalled that I said “fuck!” out loud, then thought why I would say that (no I don’t usually use the word). I also thought why the family who came out didn’t shout at them to scare them away (to protect themselves just in case the thieves return to revenge?!); etc.

I  felt like I’m finally a Malaysian. Because it seems to happen to almost everyone, to their house, car or family. I was even able to joke about it.

I really think I’m just a positive, optimistic person. I knew this all the while. When we were young, my sis would say “Oh no! We have only 4 hours left till we have to wake up”; and I’d say “Wow! We still have 4 hours to sleep!” I think the incident has made me stronger and braver.

On the next morning as I was taking a shower. I realized I have a bruise on the back of my left upper arm. I couldn’t remember how I got it, but I didn’t link it to the thief. I even told my mum, “they didn’t touch me!” Then this morning, I found another bruise at the front of my upper arm. Then I realized it’s a trace of someone holding my arm really tightly. So it has to be the snatch thief, and I must have struggled, hence the bruises caused by the fingers and thumb of his.

Now I’ve slowly recalled (is this false memory?!?!) that he grabbed my arm so that I couldn’t run. And on the first night after this had happened, I never remembered this, as I was telling my parents, then siblings and in law, my friends, this piece of information never came to my consciousness at all.

Have I been overly positive from the very beginning (before I left home)? Have I focused too much on the positive sides of things? Just as the author of the book that I mentioned (see here), have I missed out the whole picture because I’m overly positive? Was I too busy feeling positive, thinking positive (what I had gained & learnt from the experience) that I overlooked how dangerous it could have been, before, during and after the incident? That I could have met a more violent robber? That he grabbed me, he could have hurt me even badly…? etc.

I know some people would say that I was traumatised hence I couldn’t recall every details during the snatching incident. Perhaps they are right. But when you’re able to think more realistically and accurately, seeing the full picture and knowing what to expect, perhaps you wouldn’t even be traumatised in the first place, I think.

Do correct me!

N.B. The incident took place in early October, and was written 2-3 days later. 

Learning Psychological Flexibility since Young

Our education taught us to work so hard to​ score 96 on maths, 95 on Chinese, 100 on moral, 90 on science etc. On top of that, it’s very common in Asian countries that children are​ sent to tuition classes, music, art​, martial art​ classes etc.

We’re a generation with blessings​(?)​, nothing much to worry about, parents,​ teachers, or the government will plan the route and do the worries for us, what’s better, problems are solved before we even​ realised it.

But what if we fall? Fall so badly​?​ ​Being in big trouble? Facing major life challenges?

​Sometimes we read in the news – A teenager of 17 years old committed suicide because “my girlfriend wants to breakup with me, life is meaningless”, the other one because she is one A short to make it a straight As in SPM. We see depression, mood swing, anxiety-related problems, OCD, insomnia in younger and younger age. We thought they are supposed to be having fun at that age​, but they don’t seem to be able to have fun?!

​Why never we learnt psychological flexibility since young? Why the environment was never created to learn that since young? Why English, Maths, Science, (even) Moral, Volley ball, etc, but never about how to bounce back, how to be emotionally resilient? ​Or in other words, how to stand up when we fall? Why for over 10 years we’ve been attending schools and universities, but the educational system never taught us this?

Prevention is better than cure, but we aren’t even preventing the happening of mental disorders, quite often people only start to learn about resilience after they suffer (like our patients who wished that they knew this and that long time ago).

How do we create that kind of environment for our next generations? Where (whether positive or negative) thoughts and feelings are taken lightly; where we understand negative and positive events, thoughts, feelings are just equally likely to happen as the positive ones, so we face them all and accept them all; where we allow children to explore their feelings and thoughts during difficult times; where even a young child understand what value is and changing or persisting his/her behaviour in serving of the values; where we are able to adapt to changing environmental and situational demands and get the balance in them?

Can you control your thoughts and feelings?

Many of the self-help books out there teach people how to change their thoughts, physical sensations, feelings etc in order to feel better (including traditional CBT which targets automatic negative thoughts), if you’re one of those who have tried many of these techniques, how workable do you think they are? Do you think you really have so much control over your thoughts and feelings?

Try these:

(1) Try to recall something happened in the past week, anything — a dinner you had, a movie you went, a talk etc. [continue when you've got one] Now try to remove it completely from your memory, get rid of it so you will never think about it again in your life… Can you do it?

(2) Now, do not think about chocolate. As you read this, do not think about how a chocolate tastes, smells; do not think about its colour and texture; do not imagine how it feels when it melts in your mouth and how it feels when your tongue and teeth contact with it. Is it possible? Try again with honey maybe?

(3) Think about past experiences, whether when you have to give a public talks and feel very nervous; when a loved ones passes away and you feel really depressed; when your results doesn’t come out as good as expected and you feel disappointed etc etc. You hope you aren’t that nervous, depressed, disappointed, you try to get rid of these negative emotions as how they’re labelled, was the attempt successful? Did trying to control your emotions make it even stronger, ironically? So you’re more nervous trying not to be nervous?

So why ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)? Because in ACT, we understand in life negative emotions, thoughts, experience, sensations are all just as likely to happen as the positive ones, they are all part of our life, they are what make our lives meaningful, educational and contented. So in ACT, people learn to accept them, to live with them, instead of struggling with them, challenging them, changing them, getting rid of them.