Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Self as Context

Self as Context, also known as the Observing Self, is a key concept in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It refers to the part of you that is capable of stepping back, observing, and experiencing without becoming entangled in thoughts, emotions, or sensations.

Understanding Self as Context

In ACT, there are two distinct ways of understanding the concept of ‘self’: the ‘conceptualized self’ and ‘self as context’. The conceptualized self is based on self-evaluations and descriptions, while ‘self as context’ is the aspect of self that is able to observe these thoughts and feelings without being defined by them.

Importance of Self as Context

The importance of ‘self as context’ lies in its ability to facilitate psychological flexibility. When people identify too closely with their conceptualized self, it can lead to rigid behavior patterns that can be psychologically harmful. Recognizing the observing self can help individuals notice their experiences without attachment or judgment, allowing for more adaptive responses.

Practicing Self as Context

Developing a sense of ‘self as context’ often involves mindfulness and defusion techniques. Mindfulness helps individuals to become more aware of their inner experiences, while defusion techniques teach individuals to see their thoughts as just thoughts, not absolute truths.

Self as Context vs. Conceptualized Self

While the conceptualized self is based on self-judgment and comparisons with others, ‘self as context’ is impartial and unchanging. It’s the part of you that remains constant and consistent, regardless of changing thoughts, feelings, or roles.

The Role of Self as Context in ACT

In ACT, ‘self as context’ is one of the six core processes that contribute to psychological flexibility. By developing a sense of self that is separate from one’s thoughts and feelings, individuals can gain perspective, reduce their struggle with negative internal experiences, and behave in ways that are consistent with their values.

Self as Context and Values

Understanding ‘self as context’ can also help individuals to clarify their values. By observing their thoughts and feelings from a distance, they can gain insight into what is truly important to them, guiding their actions and decisions in a more authentic way.


In summary, ‘self as context’ in ACT is about cultivating an observing perspective that can witness thoughts, emotions, and sensations without becoming entangled in them. This perspective can lead to increased psychological flexibility, reduced struggle with negative experiences, and a life lived more in line with personal values.

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