A REALITY slap happens when life hits you with something that is far from what you want or expect. This may be a job loss, a divorce, a feud with a neighbour or family member, social upheaval, a house fire, a pandemic. The list goes on.
When life slaps you around it’s a struggle to accept the new reality. It doesn’t match with your plans. For older Australians and their families, reality slaps can include but are not limited to, the death of a spouse, parent or dear friend, a terminal diagnosis, admission to residential care, the death of a child or a sibling and financial hardship.
Dr Russ Harris’s revised and updated book, The Reality Slap, is not a positive thinking manual but a guidebook for how to live more comfortably inside your own head when life turns your world upside-down.
The Reality Slap is based on a proven psychological program called ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. (ACT is said as the word act not the initials, by the way).
Do you dwell on resentments? Do anxious thoughts trouble you at night? According to Dr Harris, this is all very normal. Our brains evolved to keep us safe.
The ancestor who was picking flowers and watching the fluffy clouds had less chance of survival than the ancestor who was constantly alert to approaching threats and took action fast.
We are all descended from those survivors, so when your mind gives you things to worry about, it’s actually trying to keep you safe.
Many people find it helpful to thank their mind. “Okay, thank you. I’ve got this.”
This does two things – it acknowledges what your mind is doing and it gives you some distance from your thoughts. Distancing from your thoughts is a major tool in ACT. It does not mean denying them or fighting them, that’s exhausting.
Instead, be a curious scientist and say to yourself, “my mind is having resentful thoughts right now” or “I can see that I am in a loop of fear and anxiety.”
Acknowledging your thoughts is being your own friend. Perhaps you need to say, “I am feeling deep and overwhelming sadness.”
Sometimes our thoughts come in patterns says Dr Harris. You may have the “I’m not good enough” pattern operating in your life. Others may have “I’m a lousy daughter” or “I’m a selfish son” storyline.
Naming the patterns takes away some of their power. The aim in ACT is not to challenge these thought patterns. Just name them and accept they are there.
Another tool in the book is self-compassion. With self-compassion you treat yourself kindly. Instead of berating yourself you can say, “okay, I’m stuck in a cycle of angry thoughts. Be kind.”
With a simple statement like this, you acknowledge your pain. You look at it like a hot rock on the campsite ground rather than a hot rock burning your hand.
It’s still a hot and pain-inducing rock, only you are not clutching it.
Self-compassion also means doing caring acts for yourself like applying handcream, patting the dog or having a doze on the back lawn. It’s up to you.
Over time, small acts of self-care can build up, so you create a supportive relationship with yourself, rather than a critical one.
This was a small sample of the practical tools from The Reality Slap. I encourage you to check it out. It’s clearly written with loads of exercises and examples from real people. Dr Harris writes with compassion. You feel he is speaking to you personally.
Kendall Morton is the Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org