March 08, 2023 By Leah Malone

Do I Struggle With Psychological Inflexibility?


The ability to persevere beyond life’s stressors and adapt to unexpected life challenges as they occur are necessary skills for well-being. Unfortunately, however, many people struggle to be flexible and adaptive. This can be especially true for those struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders. If this describes you, it may mean you are experiencing psychological inflexibility.

Grace Recovery offers transitional living homes for women seeking recovery from SUD, trauma, and other mental health disorders. We can help you better understand the source of your psychological inflexibility and associated behavioral concerns to help you achieve a prosperous and joyful life.

Psychological Flexibility vs. Psychological Inflexibility

A research paper published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review highlights psychological wellness as one of the central goals of human existence. Likewise, many different theories seek to determine what psychological health entails. The authors of the Clinical Psychology Review research paper argue that psychological flexibility is one of the critical ingredients for achieving psychological health and wellness. It explains that “a healthy person is someone who can manage themselves in the uncertain, unpredictable world around them, where novelty and change are the norm rather than the exception.”

In other words, psychological flexibility is the ability to be open to new thoughts, experiences, and emotions as they unfold in the present moment. This flexibility requires you to be mindful of welcoming the inevitable change in life.

On the other hand, psychological inflexibility is the experience of being rigid in your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, especially during times of hardship. According to a study published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, psychological inflexibility is “a pattern in which behavior is excessively controlled by one’s thoughts, feeling and other internal experiences, or to avoid these experiences, at the expense of more effective and meaningful actions.” You may struggle with psychological inflexibility if you go to great lengths to avoid experiencing unwanted external or internal events.

The Psychological Elements of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Act)

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a psychological intervention incorporating mindfulness and acceptance elements to enhance behavior change and promote psychological flexibility. While many behavioral approaches seek to change problematic thought and behavior patterns, ACT encourages the use of acceptance and then commitment to motivating behavior change.

Six Core Processes of Psychological Flexibility

Six core processes are used in ACT to support individuals as they learn how to be in tune with the present moment. The Journal of Clinical Medicine highlights the following six processes for psychological flexibility:

  1. Acceptance
  2. Cognitive defusion
  3. Present moment awareness
  4. Self-as-context
  5. Values
  6. Committed action

The Six Core Processes of Psychological Inflexibility

The journal also mentions six processes for psychological inflexibility, which are the opposite of the six abovementioned processes. The six processes for psychological inflexibility include:

  1. Experiential avoidance
  2. Cognitive fusion
  3. Dominance of the conceptualized past and feared future
  4. Attachment to the conceptualized self
  5. Lack of values clarity
  6. Inaction, impulsivity, and avoidance persistence

If you are questioning whether or not you struggle with psychological inflexibility, try to become more familiar with the six processes mentioned above. Likewise, utilizing professional treatment and approaches such as ACT can help you improve your psychological flexibility and allow you to better flow through life’s challenges.

Additional Signs of Psychological Inflexibility

Even after becoming familiar with how psychological flexibility and inflexibility present themselves, it can still be challenging to identify psychological inflexibility in yourself and others. If you suspect you struggle with psychological inflexibility, you probably are. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Once a plan is made, do I struggle to adapt to new changes?
  • Do I turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, when I experience unwanted thoughts or emotions?
  • Do I ask myself, “What if?” in an unhealthy attempt to rewrite history?
  • Am I overly critical of myself or others?
  • Do I blame myself for situations outside of my control?
  • Do I fear judgment from others?
  • Does procrastination get the best of me?
  • Do I, at times, feel helpless or hopeless?
  • Am I emotionally reactive when something does not go how I want it to?

If you answer “yes” to some or most of these questions, it may indicate that you are struggling with psychological inflexibility. Understand that you are not alone in what you are experiencing; it is prevalent. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your psychological flexibility.

How to Improve Psychological Flexibility

In addition to utilizing professional treatment, there are many things that you can do to improve your psychological flexibility. Consider incorporating the following suggestions:

  • Make small changes to your daily routine. As you slowly condition yourself out of the same routine, you will also experience greater openness to new life experiences. Change is inevitable; learning how to flow with it is vital.
  • Step out of your comfort zone. Learn something new, such as taking a new class or attempting a new skill. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be especially valuable for improving psychological flexibility.
  • Find stillness. Allow yourself to be still for a few minutes every day. Mindfulness meditation, for example, can help you learn to accept your thoughts and emotions as they surface rather than reacting to them.
  • Incorporate exercise into your schedule. Physical exercise offers a plethora of physical and mental health benefits. Moderate exercise can be a healthy coping mechanism for stress and can encourage mindfulness in the present moment.
  • Take a deep breath or step away for a few minutes. Especially in times of conflict or stress, it can be helpful to practice slowing your breath. If tensions are high, you can step away from the situation and return to it when you are no longer in a reactive state.

Psychological inflexibility is characterized by rigidity in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. You may experience increased stress and anxiety during change due to psychological inflexibility. Conversely, psychological flexibility is connecting with and adapting to life as it unfolds. As it plays a central role in your psychological health, improving psychological flexibility is instrumental for your mental and emotional well-being. Grace Recovery offers transitional living homes for women in recovery from substance use disorder, mental health disorders, and various types of trauma. We offer a variety of treatment programs and services that are individualized to meet your needs. If you or a loved one could benefit from treatment, call us at (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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