It’s not what you feel, it’s how you feel it.

Instead of trying to change or avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, try to change how you feel about your experiences.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
The Yellow Birds

‘I had less and less control over my own history each day. I suppose I could have made some kind of effort. It should have been easy to trace: this happened, I was here, that happened next, all of which led inevitably to the present moment. I could have picked up a handful of dirt from the street outside, some wax from a candle on the altarpiece, ash from the incense as it swung past. I could have wrung it out, hoping I might find an essential thing that would give meaning to this place or that time. I did not. Certainty had surrendered all its territory in my mind. I’d have just been left with a mess in my hands anyway, no more. I realized, as I stood there in the church, that there was a sharp distinction between what was remembered, what was told, and what was true.’

Kevin Powers. The Yellow Birds.

‘Finding a way to transcend the content of thoughts and other internal events may be the most useful strategy for being able to start living life after surviving a traumatic experience. Because of the power of language, we know that initially you may start avoiding one or two things that remind you of your trauma, but, over time, a wider circle of events will start having the same impact on you. Chances are, you’ve already noticed this impact of an ever-widening circle of things that cannot happen, places that you can’t go, people you feel you shouldn’t see, or things you cannot talk about. Eventually, you may simply be wracked with tension and no longer able to trace it all the way back to the original trauma. That’s the impact of language: Events, including mental events such as thoughts and feelings, start having the same impact on you as the trauma itself.

‘Your life can become about something other than trying to get away from a big part of yourself: your memories, your feelings, your thoughts, your own bodily sensations—basically, the passengers on your bus. In ACT, instead of changing what you experience (thoughts, feelings, memories), we focus on changing how you experience them. If you can experience all aspects of yourself with awareness and without all the pitfalls associated with language, you can begin to move forward in ways that are consistent with values and goals in your life.’

Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello. Finding Life Beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-Traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems.

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