Escaping the Emotional Roller Coaster: ACT for the Emotionally Sensitive by Dr. Patricia Zurita Ona draws upon acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) techniques to help “super-feelers” work with their emotions more effectively.
What is a super-feeler? It’s a term the author uses to describe people who struggle with emotional regulation, meaning they experience intense emotions and have strong emotional reactions to situations. The book focuses on emotional sensitivity, which differs from the concept of the highly sensitive person, which is more about sensitivity to external stimuli. While people with borderline personality disorders would certainly fall into the category of super-feelers, the book didn’t make any sort of reference to diagnoses.
The book has short chapters (which I always appreciate), and it’s concise and to the point. Research findings are occasionally cited, but the book isn’t theory-heavy. There are plenty of exercises for the reader to try, and short vignettes help to illustrate the concepts covered.
The author explains that emotions only last seconds, but they can last longer through rumination. Emotions don’t arise alone; they come with attached thoughts, bodily sensations, and urges to act. Emotions serve several functions: communication and connection with others, figuring out what’s happening inside of us, handling dangerous situations, and motivating us to take action.
The book presents a range of skills that are grouped into the categories of: noticing/naming, defusing, checking, acceptance, awareness, body-based, and interpersonal skills.
The ACT process begins by clarifying the values you have chosen, and living those values, using them like a GPS to guide you. In a given situation, you should be checking in with yourself what your values are, and then check if your action urges are workable in the short-term and long-term with those values. The author cautions that gut feelings are overrated, and may be a form of emotional noise from an overactive amygdala.
Chapters cover a number of challenging emotions like anger, guilt, shame, and abandonment. There is a focus throughout on evaluating the workability of action-urges arising with emotions, and the consistency of those action-urges with your values. Mindfulness is emphasized as a way to keep from getting too caught up in emotions.
The book also covers how we can get fused with sticky thoughts in relation to our emotions. These thoughts are made up by our inner voice, and include things like I feel it so it must be true; I feel X, which means I am X; and I feel X, therefore I must act on it. Our inner voices create rules and labels, and the author explains that it’s important to recognize that these aren’t true and examine whether they move us closer to or further away from our values. By defusing from these thoughts, we can decrease the pain we experience related to them.
The author asked the perhaps rhetorical question of whether you would choose to give up bad feelings if it also meant you would lose your capacity for positive feelings. My response was sign me on up for that, since the second half of that has already happened, but I don’t imagine that was the point of the question.
Overall, to be honest somehow the book just didn’t really grab me. It wasn’t the subject matter, because I’m actually a big fan of the principles of ACT. I also don’t think it was poorly written. It just didn’t quite click with me, yet at the same time I don’t think that has any bearing on how likely other people are to connect with it. It was certainly a factor that my concentration was pretty poor while I was reading it, so I think others should probably take my non-clicking with a grain of salt. If you’re not familiar with acceptance and commitment therapy, I think this would make a good introduction.
I received a reviewer copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
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