How much control do we have over our thoughts and feelings?
As children we were taught that we should be able to control our thoughts; some of us would have heard “don’t cry”, “stop feeling sorry for yourself" or “don’t be afraid”. The adults around us sent out messages that we are supposed to control our feelings.
At school as well, you would have heard teachers say “boys don’t cry” or “don’t be like that".
The fact is, that most people are not open in terms of their feelings and thoughts and the struggle they go through. They put on a brave face. The degree we control our thoughts and feelings depends on how intense they are and the situations we are in.
If we are feeling stressed after a difficult day at work, a simple relaxation technique can makes us feels calmer. However, the more difficult the situation is and the more intense our thoughts and feelings are, the less effective our attempt to control these will be.
We would also have more control over our thoughts and feelings when things we avoid are not too important such cleaning your home or lawn your garden.
Our control strategies are helping us to feel better, because the things we avoid are not too important and the thoughts and feelings we have are not too intense. This may creates a false belief that to be happy we need to control our feelings and thoughts.
Psychology calls this “experiential avoidance", meaning the constant attitude of attempting to escape from or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings
But when you do things because these are deeply important to you and they matter you, these are called values guided actions; ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) defines these values guided actions that would be expected to improve your life. Your values are helping you to connect to what is important to you, the person you want to be, the direction you want to take in life; ACT teaches us that connecting with your values is the first step to make a meaningful and enriching life.
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About Gherardo Della Marta
Gherardo Della Marta counsellor in private practice.