The Struggle Switch

Do you struggle with difficult, painful thoughts and feelings on a regular basis?  Do you try with all of your strength to get rid of or avoid them?  If so, you are definitely not alone!

In his book, The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris explains a reason why we tend to struggle with painful thoughts, feelings, memories, etc.  His explanation is called “the struggle switch” (Harris, 2008).  Harris proposes that when a difficult feeling appears (e.g., anxiety), the struggle switch in our minds turns ON and we start to struggle with and attempt to push our anxiety away.

On top of these efforts, we develop emotions about our anxiety (e.g., anger, sadness, guilt, etc.).  We start to battle with these unpleasant emotions too, resulting in the cycle continuing and the struggle switch remaining ON.

When the struggle switch stays ON, many of us turn to external sources to alleviate our distress about our unpleasant thoughts, emotions, memories, etc.  Some of these sources include alcohol and drugs, shopping, video games, etc.

Harris (2008) notes that “most of these…strategies are no big deal, as long as they’re used in moderation” (p. 87).  Moderation is the key term; when these strategies are used to avoid or get rid of unwanted, unpleasant thoughts, feelings, memories, etc., new problems can develop such as alcoholism and financial issues.

In other words, the strategies are creating new struggles as opposed to addressing directly what had been troublesome in the first place.  Furthermore, the strategies only create a temporary distraction; the difficult thoughts and feelings will reappear soon enough and the cycle to avoid/get rid of them will restart.

Sounds exhausting, right?  What if there was different way?  What if the struggle switch could be turned OFF?

The good news is the struggle switch can be turned OFF!  With the struggle switch off, our emotional experiences are no longer amplified.

Yes, we will still experience the whole range of emotions, from happiness to sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, etc., but the emotions “are free to rise and fall as the situation dictates.

Sometimes they’ll be high, sometimes low, and sometimes there will be no [unpleasant emotions] at all.  But more importantly, we’re not wasting our time and energy struggling with it” (Harris, 2008, p. 87).

So, how do you turn off the struggle switch?

Through learning and practicing such skills as mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion; all of these skills, and more, are taught in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Here at The Refuge Center for Counseling, we are committed to assisting you with past and present pain, anger, anxiety, depression, etc. that have turned your struggle switch ON.

Our aim is to walk with you on the journey towards healing and building confidence to face life’s current and future challenges with your struggle switch OFF.

Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc.