The metaphor of waves on the beach is a tool used in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). This current within psychology belongs to third generation therapies. In a clinical context, this tool serves to downplay negative thoughts and emotions.
In this article we will see exactly what the metaphor of the waves consists of. In addition, you will learn to use it for your day to day in an easy and simple way. To do this, however, you first need to understand exactly what acceptance and commitment therapy is. Let’s go deeper.
What is ACT?
The acceptance and commitment therapy (also known as ACT for short) is a therapeutic approach developed in recent years. It arises from the cognitive-behavioral branch of psychology. Therefore, consider that thoughts have enormous power over the way we feel.
However, contrary to what happens in cognitive behavioral therapy, ACT does not try to change what goes through our minds. The main idea of this clinical practice is that what we think has no more power than what we want to give it.
Thus, one of the postulates of acceptance and commitment therapy is that negative thoughts and emotions cannot harm us. Its creators think that it is something that is simply there. Therefore, if we learn to accept them, our suffering will be greatly reduced.
To achieve this goal, this therapy often makes use of tools in which you have to use your imagination. One of them is precisely the metaphor of the waves on the beach.
What is the metaphor of waves on the beach?
This tool tries to make us realize that our thoughts and feelings cannot harm us. Therefore, it is very suitable for people with anxiety.
The way it works is as follows. Imagine a large white sand beach. On its shore, waves of all sizes are constantly breaking. Some of them are small, and make you want to take a bath to play with them. Others, on the contrary, are very large and threatening-looking. However, when they reach the shore, they all end up disappearing without causing damage.
Now imagine that someone decided to fight the waves. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it? After all, the water cannot cause any damage to the beach. The only thing that person would achieve would be to get tired and frustrated.
Well, in this metaphor the beach is a representation of yourself. Like her, you can resist just about anything that happens to you. The waves, which represent your thoughts and emotions, cannot harm you.
It is true that some of the waves that crash on the beach will be very scary. They may make you feel bad momentarily. It may even seem like they will never go away. However, in the end, all of them will end up dissolving in the sand.
The goal of the waves on the beach metaphor is to provide the possibility of considering acceptance as an alternative to the need for control.
How to use this tool
According to acceptance and commitment therapy, our mind has two parts. One of them is the one in charge of thinking and feeling. The content you create can appear very threatening. However, the other party, the “observer”, can never be harmed.
Your observing mind is like the beach of metaphor. Thoughts and emotions come and go; but in the end, they will disappear and only the sand will remain. So what is the point of caring about them? Why are we going to fight our uncontrolled feelings or thoughts?
The metaphor of the waves on the beach can help us distance ourselves from our mental creations. On many occasions, our suffering does not come from what happens to us. Rather, it arises from what we say to ourselves. When we give too much importance to our stories and concerns, we tend to end up having a really bad time.
It is up to you to see what you tell yourself for what it is, that is, to observe without judging or letting yourself be impregnated. Your thoughts and emotions have no more power over you than what you give them. In the end, the waves will disappear and the sea will be calm again. Think about it.