Self as Context Files

Who are you? Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) draws a distinction between two senses of self – self as content and self as context. Self as content, or our conceptualized self, refers to who we ordinarily think we are. Our self concept includes all the identities we take on, such as friend, student, son or daughter, and spouse. It also includes our self evaluations, such as “smart” or “dumb”, “friendly” or “mean,” “useless” or “productive.” Whenever we hold our identities too tightly, we cause difficulties for ourselves. However, contact with the other sense of self, self as context, or the observing self, helps to free us from the labels we and others place upon us. Even though our experiences are constantly changing, there is always a “you” that is able to notice these changes. When we are able to contact that sense of “pure awareness,” we are able to observe our experiences without getting caught up in the content. We are freed from the evaluations, beliefs, ideas, and judgments that we place on ourselves.

The purpose of the exercise below is to help you contact the observer self, a self that is free of the labels you place on it. This exercise was recorded by Randy Burgess.

Here’s a brief observer self exercise:

Below is an observer self worksheet that may help you notice your different senses of self:

Chessboard Metaphor:

Return to main Exercises and Audio Files page.

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Portland Psychotherapy is a clinic, research & training center with a unique business model that funds scientific research. This results in a team of therapists who are exceptionally well-trained and knowledgeable about their areas of specialty.