Psychological Flexibility

As discussed in last week’s article (click here to read full article), Psychological Flexibility can be seen as a continuum of being emotionally flexible and healthy to being emotionally inflexible and unhealthy. The process of developing Psychological Flexibility follows core aspects of how we deal with or interact with life challenges. Our ability to deal with experiences by acceptance versus avoidance is described below:

Daily Experience

Daily Experience

Acceptance – Acceptance is our ability to embrace reality as it happens in real time, even when it’s painful. Ultimately, dealing with reality is our responsibility in this world. When we own this responsibility, we grow emotionally and spiritually.

Experiential Avoidance – happens as we develop habits of ignoring, distorting, or trying to forget unpleasant events and life experiences (Hayes, 2012). The more we try to avoid the problems in our lives, the more dysfunctional and intense our emotional pain becomes. Experiential Avoidance is like living in a fantasy. We naturally avoid because it makes us feel good. Unfortunately, the more we move towards avoidance, the more unrealistic and dysfunctional life becomes.

The scriptureto the left points us toward taking responsibility in whatever we struggle with through a process of acceptance. Acceptance involves the steps of admitting, analyzing, and making life adjustments. Avoidance involves disconnecting from the problem, which feels good in the short term, but leads to repeating the same dysfunctional behaviors over and over again in the long term.

Doubt, unforgiveness, and busyness are behaviors related to avoidance. Exploring these dynamics can be quite difficult. Avoidance patterns can become like habits which are designed to reduce pain. Therefore, avoidance patterns can become like an addiction. For this reason, we often need help discovering and admitting we are avoiding issues in our life.

Listed below are Scriptures that speak to each avoidance category. Our hope is that God’s word will help us identify avoidance habits in everyday life.

Basic Personal Dynamics That Trigger Experiential Avoidance:

Explore this list of Bible references with the dynamic of Doubt to identify areas of avoidance.

Doubt: Jeremiah 29:11-13, Proverbs 3:5-8, Matthew 14:31; 21:21, Mark 11:23, Luke 24:38, John 20:27, James 1:5-8

  • Avoids the responsibility of using our gifts and talents. This is ultimately “self-doubt” leading to paralyzing worry or regret.
  • Avoids the responsibility of trusting others, taking risks, and experiencing the pain of discouragement. Doubt involves fear of failure, and an intolerance of being out of control. Here is the painful reality, we live in a sinful and imperfect world. Despite this, we need to use our gifts to do all that we can and trust that God is in control.
Explore this list of Bible references with the dynamic of Unforgiveness to identify areas of avoidance.

Unforgiveness: – Matthew 18:23-25, Luke 15:20-24, Ephesians 4:31-32, 1 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Galatians 6:1, 1 Peter 4:8

  • Avoids the pain of dealing with hurt and disappointment directly. It also avoids the responsibility to love and care for others, especially for those who have harmed us intentionally or unintentionally. Finally, it may be based in avoiding the reality of an act we have committed toward someone else, and the need to seek amends.
Busyness and Distraction – Psalm 46:10; 127:2, Isaiah 55:1-2, Haggai 1:5-9, Matthew 6:25 -34; 11:28-30, Luke 10:38, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Ephesians 5:15-17.
  • Avoids listening to the Lord who speaks to our heart. Primary sign of this type of avoidance is a lack of prayer life and spiritual connection with God. Attending to our relationship with God can be humbling, and therefore painful. Sometimes we spend time in prayer speaking to the Lord, but lack time listening for the Lord’s guidance. These types of dynamics point to subtle avoidance patterns in distraction.

Other areas that signal problems with avoidance include failure to take responsibilities in our marriage, family, and the church. It can also be evident in our lack of caring for our neighbors and the community.

Avoidance patterns in life can be prevalent. Therefore, use the scriptures above to start an honest exploration of places that point to emotional avoidance patterns. It is also helpful to share your reflections below with a trusted friend, or your counselor.

Here are some questions to help explore the dynamic of Doubt, Unforgiveness, Busyness and Distraction. The goal here is to dig deep, and open up to as many examples of avoidance as possible.

  • In what way has Doubt, Unforgiveness, Busyness and Distraction given me an excuse to blame others instead of taking responsibility for my life?
  • In what way has Doubt, Unforgiveness, Busyness and Distraction allowed me to live in a fantasy instead of dealing with reality?
  • In what way has Doubt, Unforgiveness, Busyness and Distraction cut me off from God?
  • In what way has Doubt, Unforgiveness, Busyness and Distraction cut me off from my marriage and/or family?
  • In what way has Doubt, Unforgiveness, Busyness and Distraction cut me off from friendship and connection in the church?

In our next article we will focus on the biblical account of Jonah, a prophet who ran in the opposite direction of God’s will. The story of Jonah gives us insight into how we often blame others first and resist acceptance of God’s call on our life. Acceptance of God’s word and our purpose in life is vital in developing Psychological Flexibility. Join us next time for how the story of Jonah reveals how we can overcome the struggle with avoidance and on the path of developing Psychological Flexibility!

God Bless!

Richard Hoffman Ph.D.

Clinical Director
Christian Counseling Associates

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