What is psychological flexibility?
Psychological flexibility is the ability to stay in contact with the present moment, regardless of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and choosing behavior based on the situation and personal values. The term originates from an analysis done by Todd Kashdan and Jonathan Rotterburg that was published in Clinical Psychology Review in 2010.
They defined four different main measures of psychological flexibility:
- How much someone is able to adapt to fluctuating situational demands;
- Reconfigure their mental resources;
- Shift their perspective, and;
- Balance competing desires, needs, and life domains.
They discovered that those who were the most able to access these skills had improved quality of life and better mental wellbeing.
There are three different pillars that make up the process of being psychologically flexible:
- Have acceptance. This is often misunderstood as being passive or giving up, but in the model, acceptance is defined as “an action of taking or receiving what is offered” with willingness and making choices.
- Defusion: the ability to identify the content of your inner experience and separate it from yourself (opposite of fusion).
- Contact with the present moment, or nonjudgmental awareness of inside and outside experience in the present moment, even when it’s uncomfortable.
- Self as context: Being able to tap into the “observer self” who can see the changing content of the thoughts, feelings, sensations, roles, and identities contained inside of you.
Do what matters.
- Defined as your awareness of values. Values clarify what’s important to you, and they act like a compass direction instead of a concrete goal.
- Committed action: Taking concrete steps or actions towards particular goals that are guided by your values and carrying through even when the experience is unpleasant.
A meta-analysis study from the University of Rochester found that psychological flexibility/inflexibility had greatest correlations with:
- Relationship satisfaction.
- Sexual satisfaction.
- Social support.
- Attachment anxiety and avoidance.
Application to non-monogamy
- Rules vs. agreements, actions, or compromises that support our shared and individual values.
- Handling inevitable ups and downs and change, and remembering that it is inevitable that someone will make a mistake and figuring out how to weather it.
- Bringing ourselves to the present in order to support a partner going through a tough time.
- Handling unexpected negative emotions such as jealousy, envy, sadness, anger, loneliness, or certain PTSD triggers.