Topic for Discussion

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) the acceptance of emotional experience, especially negative emotional experience, is a central activity. For instance, if I am anxious or in physical pain, how much do I make efforts to end these experiences, or to escape from them? At first it might seem like a good idea to get away from an uncomfortable or painful experience. Life is about maximizing pleasure and reducing pain, right?

However, there are times when the solution is more of a problem than the problem by itself. This “solution-worse-than-the-problem” situation can be especially true if I have ongoing negative experiences and I establish habits for escaping or preventing them. For instance, I could attempt to suppress the negative experience, or use substances excessively, or escape into fantasy, or attempt to avoid the situations that give rise to the negative experience. As a result of these “solutions” I can damage or limit my life, and not live the life I would be living if my values, rather than avoidance, was foremost on my mind.

Acceptance in itself can be uncomfortable or even painful. However, with acceptance we do not establish “solutions” that in the long run could be even worse than the negative experience. With acceptance we establish a foundation for living a life based on our values, rather than a life constantly on the lookout for what needs to be escaped or avoided.

Tom Horvath, PhD


Which negative experiences are you most tempted to escape or avoid?

What negative experiences from childhood are you still on the lookout not to repeat?

Do you recall a time when your solution had become more of a problem than the problem?

Do you recall a time when your avoidance of a negative experience interfered with living life based on your values?

To what extent was your addictive problem in response to a negative emotional experience?

If you were utterly fearless, what might be different in your life?