The Unwelcome Party Guest


Perhaps you’ve been there: You’ve hosted a party or have attended a party in which someone arrives that perhaps would not have made your list of top people to invite. Maybe someone brought them along, your spouse said you couldn’t not invite them, or better yet, they invited themselves. 

Do you try to ignore them? Tolerate them? Leave?

You may recall from yesterday’s post that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a third-wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach that centers mindfulness, and perhaps above all, personal values. The “Unwelcome Party Guest” is an ACT metaphor that can be used to symbolize those unwelcome, inconvenient, or even unwanted “guests” that visit us in our daily lives. 

An unwelcome party guest in the lives of many these days of uncertainty is anxiety. Some individuals live with higher levels of anxiety in their day to day lives, such as those with anxiety disorders or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). For them, much of what we are all experiencing these days is their every day.

When anxiety shows up, the experience can be much like having an unwelcome party guest arrive: they may be rude, intrusive, bossy, arrogant, they may make you feel uncomfortable, embarrass you in front of your friends, and may even make you want to skip out of important events. 

So what choices do you have?

You can try to keep the door locked, stand by it to ensure it is shut…

…and yet may find that the unwelcome guest persistently rings the doorbell and sneaks in through the windows or backdoor anyhow.

You can try to supervise or monitor the unwelcome guest in attempts to reduce the harm they can do around your friends…

…and yet may find that they go about their business as usual anyway…

You may gather all your mental strength to even try to ignore or tolerate them…

…and yet find that the more effort you put towards that, the less you are able to be fully present and in-the-moment to enjoy the party.

In summary, you would likely find that any of these ineffective strategies (e.g., suppressing/blocking, supervising/monitoring, ignoring/tolerating) would ultimately result in you missing out of the “party”– in other words, that important event, or even life! 

As such, ACT encourages us to truly and fully accept even unwanted experiences, including thoughts and feelings. In other words, as an alternative to avoidance or even tolerance, which only get us so far, we are encouraged to make the proactive choice to not only allow, but to embrace or welcome, unpleasant or undesired experiences, without attempting to reject, suppress, ignore, or even change them.

In short, by practicing acceptance in the service of living values-consistent lives, or lives more line with what is truly important to us, we are better able to enjoy the “party.”