All that matters......
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending" - C. S. Lewis.
Often, as parents, we get caught up in what seems like an endless struggle with our children. I know with me, I recognise the internal thought processes that get in my way when I experience these struggles, and find myself caught up in a loop of not so valuable 'thoughts'.
These 'thoughts' can be crushing sometimes. I'm sure many of you have experienced the same internal dialogue - "I'm a bad parent", "I can't do this anymore!", "I don't like my children". An endless loop of self doubt looms over us throughout the day making the role of a parent seem like it's nothing but the most tortuous job on this planet. And, to be honest, it definitely is at times - no doubt about that!
Coyne & Murrell (p.14, 2009) describe this experience as "struggling in quicksand" - the more we struggle with the internal chatter we experience, the worse it gets for us. Honestly, there's no denying it can make us feel horrible at times!! However, when we get caught up in the unhelpful chatter we are missing out on so much.
I have found some relief from those unhelpful thoughts through the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT. The focus of ACT is on the association between human language and cognition - the relationships we construct with our thoughts, and how those relational thoughts control our behaviours. There is a growing body of strong evidence-based research now available to support the effectiveness of ACT.
ACT is a very simple model to use, teaching us how to develop the psychological flexibility to respond differently to those pesky unhelpful thoughts. With ACT we can learn how to discriminate between the helpful and unhelpful internal chatter we experience, and decide on a course of action that will steer us towards more meaningful and fulfilling relationships with our children.
Dr Russ Harris, the best selling author of the 'The Happiness Trap' and a world renowned trainer of ACT, describes the goal of this mindfulness-based training as "maximising human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life by accepting what is out of your personal control, and committing to action that improves and enriches your life". By allowing those pesky thoughts to control our behaviours we are missing out on connecting with things that matter to us. An example of this is when we are telling ourselves that 'I'm a bad parent". When we repeatedly tell ourselves we are a bad parent, it is getting in the way of achieving our full potential of being a 'great parent'.
ACT is about moving towards what we value in our lives. It is about taking committed action. Hayes (2018) describes values as "chosen qualities of being and doing". This could be your relationship with your child, being a better parent, a better partner, or ensuring your family live a healthier lifestyle. Everyone's values are different depending on our circumstances. It's about focussing on and building your life around what matters to you and working towards these values.
I have created my 'the good ship values', as a metaphor to use when I contemplate what truly matters to me. I create values guide my behaviours and how I would like to improve my relationship both with myself and those around me. I also like it because I can steer it away to a new course anytime I like, particularly when those unhelpful thoughts may want to hitch a ride! I can acknowledge and give a nod to those undesirable thoughts chattering away in my head, but they can't come where I'm heading and I wave them goodbye!
Right now, begin the process of thinking about and taking action towards what truly matters to you, and start loading your ship, or boat or yacht of chosen values today!
Hayes, S. (2019). A Liberated Mind: The Essential Guide to ACT. London: Penguin Random House.
Coyne, L. W., & Murrell, A. R. (2009). The joy of parenting: An acceptance and commitment therapy guide to effective parenting in the early years. Oakland, CA, US: New Harbinger Publications.
Harris, R. (2006) Embracing Your Demons: an Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. (2006). Psychotherapy In Australia, 12(4).
Leonard - Curtin, A. and Leonard - Curtin, T. (2019). The Power Of Small.
Dublin: Hachette Books Ireland.