Creating Distance From Your Thoughts With Defusion

Defusion can help us learn to live alongside difficult thoughts and feelings, rather than getting hooked by them.

Why is Defusion Important?

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), we use the term ‘fusion’ to refer to the times that we can become hooked by our feelings and thoughts.

Fusion itself refers to becoming joined or interconnected. In the context of psychology, we’re talking about times that we might become ‘fused’ with the content of our thoughts. We might have our thoughts, but our thoughts do not have us.

Certain thoughts can be particularly ‘sticky’, and as a result it’s very easy to get caught up in the content of what our minds are telling us to be true . When this happens, our mood and behaviour can be impacted as a result, and we may find ourselves avoiding important things as a result.

What is Defusion?

For a moment, I invite you to acknowledge the self-critical voice that many of us experience or can relate to some extent. It might be telling you that ‘you’re not enough’, ‘you’re unlovable’ or that you ‘should try harder or else you’ll fail’ at work or school.

These harsh judgements about ourselves can lead us to avoid starting important assignments, or disconnecting from our family and friends. We ultimately avoid taking action towards longer-term goals and meaningful values in life because doing so could involve confronting these painful thoughts and associated feelings. As a result, important aspects of our lives begin to suffer. We might find ourselves unable to perform at school or work, or isolated from those that we care about, therefore exacerbating the self-critical thoughts and living a life that is less consistent with our values. This is just one of many possible examples of how fusion can impact our lives.

In therapy, we look at how ‘defusing’ from our thoughts can help to lessen their grip on our behaviour. This is a vital step in enabling us to act flexibly, in accordance with our core values, rather than being pulled around by inflexible rules, reasons, judgements, etc.

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So How Do We Do This?

In practice, once we have identified the thoughts that would benefit from defusion, or building defusion skills, there are a number of excercies that we use to help us open up to the feelings and behaviour that they evoke for us.

Holding it Lightly

We might think about how to make room for the uncomfortable experience rather than pushing it away. We might ask you to consider holding a particular thought, belief, rule, or judgement more lightly and noticing how that compares to when it’s held more tightly.

Naming the Story

We might ‘name the story’ to practice identifying it when it shows up, noticing the impact on your feelings and behaviour. Understanding the impact of our ‘narratives’ (the stories that we tell ourselves and believe to be true) on what our bodies are experiencing at these times can be very useful. We can then create space to choose how we respond when a particular narrative about ourselves shows up.

Thanking our Minds

It can be helpful to remind ourselves that our minds are not trying to cause us distress, but rather that they have evolved over millions of years to alert us to possible threat to keep us safe. ‘Thanking our mind’ and reminding us of it’s purpose when a particular thought shows up and during times of discomfort or emotional pain can be helpful to add context to our experience, and add distance between us and that thought.

Observing our Thoughts

Have you ever tried to observe your thoughts? It might sound strange, but we are not able to determine the thoughts that pop into our minds, and then leave. Guided mindfulness exercises, or less formal practices on a daily basis can be helpful to take a step back and not engage with the content of thoughts that might be unhelpful. I often use the metaphor of placing your thoughts on a train carriage as you stand on the station platform, and watching them pass through the station without deciding to get on at this stop.

Labelling Thoughts and Feelings

Sometimes simply noticing our bodily sensations and feelings in the form of a body scan, and labelling those sensations as they show up can be helpful. Our emotions as they are experienced in the body are a useful tool for guiding our behaviour. Any thoughts, or judgements about the feelings that we notice are observed with curiosity, labelled, and allowed to come and go of their own accord.

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Give it a Try!

For a fun experiment with thought defusion, why don’t you try singing one of your self-critical thoughts to the tune of Happy Birthday (or your favourite upbeat song)? Observe how it changes meaning of the words and the impact on how you feel. Despite no changes to the content of the words, you might notice that you feel very different. This is because it’s our relationship to those thoughts that’s important.

Get in touch to find out how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Defusion can help you.