Stop Fighting - Agata Canning Psychoterapist

Struggle switch on or off?

Most clients come to therapy because they want to get rid of their depression, anxiety, addiction, traumatic memories, low self-esteem, fear of rejection, anger, grief and so on. They come in a state of war; they don’t want what is happening to them and what they are experiencing.
In therapy clients slowly learn to stop fighting with their experiences and begin to open up to them, developing acceptance of unwanted feelings, emotions or thoughts which are outside their control. There is recognition that the more you try to get rid of difficult feelings the more they overwhelm you. Russell Harris in his article: ‘Embracing Your Demons: an Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.’ asks his readers to imagine that at the back of our mind there is a ‘struggle switch’. When it’s on, it means we’re going to fight against any physical or emotional pain that comes our way. Let’s say you are experiencing anxiety. If your struggle switch is ON, then that feeling is unacceptable. This means you could feel anger or sadness about our anxiety. You could also feel anxious about your anxiety: ‘What’s wrong with me? This is terrible. This shouldn’t be happening. I’m going to have a panic attack.’
What the struggle adds to the primary emotion is useless, unpleasant, unsupportive, and a drain upon your energy.
What if your struggle switch is OFF? Whatever emotion shows up, no matter how unpleasant, you don’t struggle with it. It’s unpleasant. you don’t like it, or want it, but at the same time, it’s nothing terrible. Without the struggle our anxiety levels are free to rise and fall as the situation dictates. Sometimes they may be high, sometimes low and sometimes there may be no anxiety at all.
Without the struggle, depending on the situation we are in, we get a natural level for us of physical and emotional discomfort.
With the struggle switch ON, not only do you get emotionally upset by your own feelings, you also do whatever you can to avoid or get rid of them. You can end up with anger about your anxiety, anxiety about your anger, depression about your depression, or guilt about your guilt.
Next time you are experiencing a difficult emotion I invite you to notice whether your struggle switch is on or off; and experiment with how it feels when the struggle switch is on and when it’s off.

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