You May Be ‘Stuck’, But You Are Not ‘Broken’

If you ever find yourself wondering ‘Am I Broken?’ with regards to your mental health, try a new perspective: maybe you’re ‘stuck’ instead. Perhaps you find yourself falling into the same patterns of behaviours time and time again, questioning if you will find a way to ‘fix’ this.

Back To Basics

There are certain things that are basic to our psychological wellbeing. The UK National Health Service (2016) recommends your ‘five a day’ to maintain good metal health and wellbeing. This comprises:

The pace and demands of modern life makes it more and more challenging to meet these requirements. It’s much easier to imagine one of our stone-age ancestors regularly checking off these items on a list than it is for many of us today.

Disconnection from these things is not good for us, and nor is moving away from the values associated with their pursuit. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be a helpful approach to help you reconnect with these.

When people experience difficulties or engage in problematic behaviours, it is often due to loss of contact with these fundamentals.

Keeping Connected

This is not unique to humans. In addiction research by Hari (2015), it has been observed that a socially isolated rat in a cage will opt to drink water laced with heroin rather than regular water, given the choice. The rat will continue until it overdoses and dies. If the same choice is offered to a rat in a stimulating environment with lots of other rats, it will not touch the heroin water. This is because it has been provided with the social connection that it requires.

This demonstrates the debilitating effects of social isolation that are well known to be maintaining factors of many mental health difficulties. Simply put, if we cannot meet the human requirement of social connection, we will very often see our wellbeing markedly suffer and/or we will engage in harmful behaviours.

How Does This Apply To Depression?

Consider somebody that may be struggling with low mood. They may be experiencing persistent thoughts about worthlessness when they socialise with others. If that person sees the thoughts as evidence of being ‘broken’, one possible solution would be to withdraw from social situations or avoid others, in the hope of reducing their thoughts and negative experience.

However, this is a trap! Social withdrawal will likely exacerbate low mood and self-critical thoughts. This is because social interaction provides opportunities for reinforcement that are invaluable to our mental health and wellbeing. This person would be ‘stuck’ and needing to move differently, rather than ‘broken’ and needing to be fixed.

Language Matters

Loss of contact with the basic requirements of our wellbeing is not in itself an illness or disease. This is why ACT therapists tend to talk in terms of you being ‘stuck’ rather than ‘broken’. This subtle use of language is extremely important for encouraging a different attitude towards your current situation, and the desired direction of travel.

Referring to your current patterns of thinking and behaviour as ‘stuck’ promotes movement and change, rather than a fixed state of mind and circumstance (according to Relational Frame Theory, or RFT).

Who Can Help?

An ACT Therapist can be a very helpful person to discuss how you can try different things to get different results, and can help you understand the workability of your current behaviour patterns.

If you are unsure how to navigate reconnecting with the basics, or how to become ‘un-stuck’ in your movement towards what matters, then please get in touch.