Assumptions About Effective Living
Almost all things have the capacity to be both helpful and unhelpful depending on their intensity, context and timing – Connecting with feelings can be helpful when touching a loved one, but unhelpful at tax time when focussing on how you feel would distract you from getting an important job done. Thinking about the future is not helpful when at the theatre or movies, however is helpful when making a decisions at the grocery store about what food to buy for the week etc. This assumption also applies to all of the strategies outlined in this guide.
Knowing what strategies and response to apply in a particular situation requires a clear understanding of your objective
Often our responses to situations are not governed by what is important to us. This happens when we get stuck in the ‘small picture’ of our lives and lose focus or forget what we really, really, really want. Take, for example, the ending of a bad relationship. Most people accept that we will most likely need to have at least a few relationship experiences before you meet somebody who we appraise through experience and reflection to be suitable to invest in a long-term relationship with. Knowing when to end something is a very important skill, how do you know when the right time is to end a relationship? The answer to this question lies in your ability to connect to the ‘bigger picture’ of your life and the grounded understanding of what you want to achieve. When the behaviour of a partner clearly conflicts with your values and future objectives it may be time to end the relationship. This is a decision driven by our ‘big picture’ perspective regarding what actions are required in your present life to maintain alignment with personal values and future objectives.
Having a wide range of ways to respond to feelings, thoughts, and situations is only half the story, being able to determine which strategy to apply and when to apply it is also important
Having a clear understanding of what our values and ‘big picture’ objectives are and using them to inform our choices about what strategies to select and how to apply them is the whole picture. So therapy is about helping you develop a clearer understanding of your ‘big picture’ and to learn and apply strategies that assist you to stay in alignment with it. It is the orientation to values and the big picture that sits across both therapy and coaching.
The experience of psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress is not abnormal
You are truly not alone in your experience of pain and suffering. In 1997, a sample of the Australian general population was surveyed about their mental health and wellbeing (survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics). It was estimated that around 1 in 6 people in this survey (18%) had experienced one or more mental disorders in the past 12 months, with 1 in 10 experiencing an anxiety disorder and 1 in 17 experiencing depression of some kind. Lifetime prevalence rates for any kind of psychological disorder have been estimated to affect nearly half the population and are steadily rising.
Bear in mind that in addition to those who have a diagnosable mental illness, many Australians may experience a mental health problem. For example, they might feel very down without having the full range of symptoms which would lead to a diagnosis. Thus, based on this information it would seem reasonable to conclude that the experience of significant psychological distress is more common than not.
Dynamic factors account for much of our psychological pain and suffering
While our genetics and history are certainly contribute to the psychological pain and suffering we experience (static factors), there is growing evidence to suggest that the way we interact and manage distress in the ‘here and now’ (dynamic factors) may be the primary source of human suffering. Take happiness for example, genetic science has concluded that how happy we are is 50% determined by our genes, 20% by our circumstances (eg, walking on a beach versus working in the office) and 30% determined by our orientation or outlook. So when it comes happiness it is true that some have to do less to achieve it but that regardless of our set point for happiness we can all influence our orientation and to some extent our circumstances.
It is our use of language that exacerbates pain and suffering
Special properties of human language generate suffering among humans over and above the suffering of nonhuman species. The possession of language alone will produce suffering. It is language that enables humans to engage and learn from our experiences in far more sophisticated ways than any other species on the planet. It is for this reason that, despite our limited physical attributes, we have, as a species, been able to dominate the planet. Because of language we do not need to learn from concrete experience alone.
I can learn to avoid a certain street in my neighbourhood because of an experience somebody else shared with me about something bad that happened to them on that street. Because of language I can then extrapolate further and avoid other streets that have similar properties to the one in the story (no street lights, a long way from the centre of the city, etc.). In this story my behaviour has been influenced by language (the story itself) and then by the linguistic skills that enabled me to use the information contained in the story to avoid other streets with similar properties. Unlike other species, I did not have to experience the negative event in order to learn from it.
Due to our unique capacity to establish events in our mind with language, we are capable of generating a negative emotional experience without a physical cue. Take death for example, people and animals take action every day to avoid this eventuality. However, it is only humans that are inclined to avoid thoughts of death. Language is a double-edged sword, on the one hand it has provided us with a unique capacity that separates us form all other life on the planet and has enabled us to rise to position of ultimate supremacy, on the other, it drastically exacerbates our suffering and pain. Removal of suffering from human experience would only be possible if the our capacity for language was removed (Hayes, 2004).
Patterns of avoidance are highly problematic
Continued efforts to avoid experiencing thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that result from our experience keep us stuck and unable to move forward. The management of aversive private events can consume our lives. In order to live with purpose and meaning we need to learn to accept and manage the pain and suffering that is an inevitable part of life.