Your perception of your self can be a barrier to practicing Acceptance. We conflate our fears with our identity. It’s known as “cognitive fusion”. We say things like, “I’m not good with people,” or “I don’t like people,” when it’s simply that we experience many fears and uncertainties around people. That leads us to invent myths about our identity so that we have an excuse to avoid situations that make us anxious.
I used to say I didn’t like people. But I desperately needed people and was starved for feedback and emotional connections. I hadn’t learned how to make those connections in a healthy way so interacting with people was frustrating and anxiety-inducing. I was constantly trying to control social situations to eliminate the uncertainty in them, which only caused more uncertainty. Since I thought anxiety was something to eliminate, I withdrew. I avoided experiences that I actually wanted, but I told myself that I couldn’t do them, that I couldn’t be successful at them, that I wasn’t that “type of person”. Which wasn’t true at all. I just needed to stop listening to myself. I was an extrovert trapped in a cage built out of social anxiety that I’d constructed trying to protect myself.
In practicing Acceptance, be prepared to do things you don’t think you do.
Another way this manifested itself for me was with mathematics. I used to say I wasn’t good at math. It was my excuse for avoiding it. I wouldn’t put any energy into doing math and when I got bad marks in school I would say, “Oh, well, I’m just not a math person.” I avoided it because I could be wrong. I associated being wrong with not being liked. And I wanted to be liked. So I would put all of my energy into subjects that rewarded hard work and didn’t have wrong answers, like art or English.
One of the great things about overcoming my anxiety disorders was that I began to do math. I took a hard look at everything I thought about myself and there just wasn’t any reason (outside of the reasons my brain would think up) that I couldn’t do math. So I downloaded some math apps to my phone and started playing math games whenever I had a spare moment. It helped me get used to being wrong and seeing that it wasn’t a terrible thing.
This was an excerpt from The Acceptance Field Guide: Navigating anxiety and depression in an uncertain world, which explores how to practically apply the concepts of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to overcome anxiety and compulsive behaviors in your daily life.
The Acceptance Field Guide is available for $2.99 on Amazon: www.amazon.com/Acceptance-Field-Guide-Navigating-ebook/dp/B006W950CG/